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plorable fact, that the ill-fated class here referred to has, as we are credibly informed, greatly increased of late, in consequence of "the utter impossibility (according to the testimony of Dr. Van Rensselaer, confirmed by that of Justice Wyman) of procuring the necessaries of life by honest industry."
Let us not, fellow-citizens, “lay the flattering unction to our souls” that this hideous picture is “a fancy sketch,” drawn to excite a morbid sensibility! Would to heaven it were! But unfortunately it is a dreadful reality, susceptible of judicial proof, to which we wish it submitted, to remove the last ray of doubt from the minds of the most sceptical. And perhaps the worst feature in the case, is, that it is not temporary, that might be expected to pass off with the present prostration of trade and
Were this the case, we might feel some consolation, and submit without murmuring to the present distress.
The industry and virtue of the labouring poor appear undeniable, from the fact, that there is no occupation, however deleterious or disgraceful, at which there is any difficulty in procuring labourers, even at the most inadequate wages. The labour on canals in marshy situations, in atmospheres replete with pestilential miasmata, is full proof on this point. Although the almost certain consequence of labouring in such situations is a prostration of health, and danger of life--and that no small portion of the labourers, as I have already stated, return to their families in the fall or winter with health and vigour destroyed, and labouring under protracted fevers and agues, which in many cases undermine their constitutions, and return in after-years, and too often hurry them prematurely into eternity—their places are readily supplied by other victims who offer themselves up on the altars of industry.
This is one of those decisive facts which ought to silence cavil for ever on this important subject.
Let us now turn to the appalling case of seamstresses, employed on coarse work, and to that of spoolers ; and here “ I will a tale unfold, to harrow up the soul” of all those endowed with feelings of humanity. Coarse shirts and duck pantaloons are frequently
made for eight and ten cents. The highest rate in the United States, with two highly honourable exceptions, which I shall notice presently, is 12 cents. WOmen, free from the incumbrance of children, in perfect health, and with constant, uninterrupted employment, cannot, by the testimony of ladies of the first respectability, who have fully scrutinized the affair, make more than nine shirts per week, working from twelve to fifteen hours per day, and possessing considerable expertness.
The Boston Society for the employment of seamstresses, of which I know not the exact title, pays, as I am credibly informed, but ten cents for those shirts, thus limiting the ill-fated women to 90 cents per week, if fully employed, which is seldom the case. Rent of rooms in Boston is higher than here; but suppose it the same, there remain for food, drink, clothes, fuel, soap, candles, &c., 40 cents per week, or less than six cents (three pence) per day !
Extract of a letter from J. W. Wyman, a New York Police Magistrate.
“ New York, Jan. 25, 1830. “ It is most undoubtedly true that the compensation which poor women with small children obtain for their labour is so scanty, that the least in
Copy of a Statement signed by thirty Philadelphia Ladies of respectability, intelligence, and competence to decide on the subject.
“ Phladelphia, June 5th, 1830. “The undersigned, having seriously considered the case of those seamstresses who work in their own lodgings, and whose dependence is on their needles, are convinced that the prices they receive for their work are inadequate for their support; that expert seamstresses, if fully employed, and unincumbered with children, cannot make more, working early and late, than eight or nine shirts, or duck pantaloons, per week; that the highest price paid here for those articles is 12 cents each, which amounts only to one dollar twelve and a half cents per week : that the women in question almost universally pay 50 cents per week for their lodgings, which leaves but 62 cents per week, or 9 cents per day, for meat, drink, clothing, fuel, &c., for an expert woman, constantly employed, and without children! That cases very frequently occur of the above articles being made for 10, and even for 8, and sometimes for 6 cents ; and that these women are frequently unemployed ; that many of them are widows, who formerly lived in affluence ; that no small number are aged and infirm, and unfit for any other occupation; that the occasional want of employment and sickness make a serious drawback on their slender means of support; that many of them, but for the assistance they receive from charitable individuals and benevolent societies, would not only be unable to pay their rent, but be often sorely distressed for want of the common necessaries of life! Taking the whole of these afflicting circumstances under consideration, they strongly recommend their case to the consideration of the public at large, but more particularly to that of those by whom they are employed, in the hope that some alleviation of the sufferings of this numerous class may be devised and effected.
“ Various other species of female labour are equally ill paid, particu
larly those of spoolers and winders of thread ; but they have not judged it necessary to go into more particulars.' Philadelphia, May 24th, 1830.
* The ladies' names are omitted from motives of delicacy.
Testimony of leading citizens of Philadelphia on the subject of the above
certificate “ It is impossible to peruse this statement without extreme regret and surprise that such a state of things should have existed in this Hourishing city, wholly unknown, as it must have been, to the mass of our citi
That the case of the unfortunate women referred to calls loudly for a remedy, so far as may be practicable, cannot for a moment be doubted. That a complete and radical remedy is practicable, we do not flatter ourselves, while the demand for employment so far exceeds the demand for that species of labour. “ CADWALLADER EVANS,
Paul Beck, Jun.
J. K. MITCHELL., M.D.
L. P. GEBHARD, M.D.
SAMUEL D. BREED,
W. GARRIGUES, Jun.
CHARLES D. MEIGS, M.D.
“ Philadelphia, June 10, 1830." Those seamstresses encumbered with children, or in indifferent health, or inexpert, cannot make more than six or seven shirts. They are, moreover, as I have already stated, very partially employed. But laying aside all the various disadvantages and drawbacks, and placing the circumstances in the most favourable point of light, let us consider the case of a woman in perfect health, without children, and with uninterrupted employment; and see the result of her painful labours, and how little attention is paid to the awful denunciation against those that “grind the faces of the poor.” Allowing nine shirts per week, at 12 cents, and constant, uninterrupted employment, let us view the appalling result:
dls, cts. 9 shirts per week-1.12
58 50 Rent at 50 cents
26 00 Shoes and clothes, suppose
10 00 Fuel per week, say 15 cents
7 80 Soap, candles, &c., 8 cents
4 16 Remain for food and drink 20 cents per week, or about 24 cents per day
58 50 * A similar statement has been signed by a number of ladies in New York and Baltimore.
But suppose the woman to have one or two children; to work for ten cents, which is not below the usual average ; to be a part of her time unemployed, say one day in each week; and to make, of course, six, but say seven shirts :
7 shirts, or 70 cents per week, is, per annum Rent, fuel, soap, candles, &c. as before Deficit
dls. cts. dls, cts.
36 40 47 96 11 56
Here is no declamation ; no pathetic appeal; no solemn invocation, to arouse the dormant feelings of humanity. It is all a plain statement of harrowing facts that defy the severest scrutiny. It exhibits a state of suffering which, I had almost said, cries to Heaven for vengeance.
In speaking of the effect on some of the unfortunate seamstresses, to drive them to licentious courses, I ought to use the strongest language the subject would admit of, in order to make a deep impression on the reader, somewhat commensurate with the magnitude of the evil, and the enormity of the oppression under which they groan. A due consideration of their actual situation, and the gloomy prospects before them, would lead, à priori, to anticipate such a deplorable and fatal result. Beset on one side by poverty and wretchedness, with scanty and poor fare, miserable lodgings, clothing inferior in quality and often inadequate in quantity, without the most distant hope of a melioration of condition, by a course of honest and unremitting industry; and, on the other side, tempted by the allurements of present enjoyment, comfortable apartments, fine dress, with a round of pleasures : all these held out by vice and crime to entice them from the paths of virtue, is it wonderful that many of them fall victims, and enter on the “ broad path that leads to destruction ?” Is not the trial almost too severe for poor human nature ? Let those who pass a heavy censure on them, and are ready exultingly to cry out, with the Pharisees in the gospel, “ Thank God, we are not like one of these," ponder well what might have been their conduct in similar circumstances.
But that this is too often the result does not depend on an elaborate process of reasoning, which, notwithstanding its plausibility, might lead to erroneous conclusions. We have the evidence of various citizens, whose opportunities duly qualify them to decide the question by the infallible test of facts.
New York, 5th April, 1830. “My DEAR SIR, 6 The subject of conversation at our last interview is one of greeat importance in every well-regulated community, and cannot fail to interest
every benevolent mind. I mean the inadequate price usually paid for female labour, particularly to poor widows who are burdened with small children. It is a subject which ought to arouse the feelings of every philanthropist : for I have no hesitation in saying, from my own obser-, vation, as one of the acting magistrates of this city, that no inconsiderable portion of female distress and female depravity is to be attributed to the very scanty remuneration they receive for honest industry. I hope, therefore, most sincerely, that your unceasing efforts in the cause you have so disinterestedly espoused will be crowned with ultimate success.
“ Yours sincerely, “ Mr. Carey."
“ John W. WYMAN.
Extract of a Letter from the Rev. Ezra Stiles Ely, D.D. “ From intimate acquaintance with many of the industrious poor, for eighteen years past, both in New York and in this city, I am constrained to say, that your remarks concerning the inadequate payment which females receive for their labour are just, and ought deeply to affect every benevolent person, who has any wish to do justly, and see honest industry suitably rewarded. A common slave, in the states of Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, is much better compensated for his labour, by his necessary food, clothing, lodging, and medicines, than many respectable mothers and daughters in this city, who apply themselves diligently to their work, two hours for every one occupied by the negro in his master's service. Your remarks will apply to the folding and stitching of books, to the sewing of carpet rugs, to the binding of shoes less than to the work done for the army and navy.”.
PHILADELPHIA POOR LAWS.
It is due to those, says Mr. Carey, who took an active part in the abortive attempt to procure a repeal of the prohibitory clause in the poorlaw, to state the situation in 1835 of the out-door poor, on whom that clause first operated, and to whom it gave the alternatives—the almshouse, where a moral classification is impracticable-mendicity-or starvation. Not one of them, according to the statements of the guardians, having gone into the almshouse, the alternatives were reduced to mendicity or starvation. It is due, I say, to those persons to make this statement, in order to prove that their zeal and ardour were expended in a cause which could plead in its defence every feeling of benevolence-every sentiment of humanity-every impulse of the divine quality of charity-and the most imperative of the mandates of the Christian religion.
Statement of the out-door poor in 1835, assuming that the numbers and disorders were about the same as in 1830, when the last statistics on the subject were published :