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Title: Working With the Working Woman
Author: Parker, Cornelia Stratton, 1885-
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                       CORNELIA STRATTON PARKER
                    _Author of_ “AN AMERICAN IDYLL”

                          NEW YORK AND LONDON
                     HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS


                 Copyright, 1922, by Harper & Brothers
                Printed in the United States of America



     INTRODUCTION                    vii

I.   NO. 1075 PACKS CHOCOLATES         1

II.  286 ON BRASS                     42

III. 195 IRONS “FAMILY”               75

IV.  IN A DRESS FACTORY              109


VI.  NO. 1470, “PANTRY GIRL”         173

     CONCLUSION                      226


The number of books on the labor problem is indeed legion. The tragedy
of the literature on any dynamic subject is that most of it is written
by people who have time to do little else. Perhaps the best books on
many subjects will never be written because those folk, who would be
most competent to do the writing, through their vital connection with
the problem at hand, never find the spare minutes to put their
findings down on paper.

There could be no more dynamic subject than labor, since labor is
nothing less than human beings, and what is more dynamic than human
beings? It is, therefore, the last subject in the world to be
approached academically. Yet most of the approach to the problems of
labor is academic. Men in sanctuaries forever far removed from the
endless hum and buzz and roar of machinery, with an intellectual
background and individual ambitions forever far removed from the
interests and desires of those who labor in factory and mill,
theorize—and another volume is added to the study of labor.

But, points out some one, there are books on labor written by
bona-fide workers. First, the number is few. Second, and more
important, any bona-fide worker capable of writing any kind of book on
any subject, puts himself so far above the rank and file that one is
justified in asking, for how many does he speak?

Suppose that for the moment your main intellectual interest was to
ascertain what the average worker—not the man or woman so far
advanced in the cultural scale that he or she can set his ideas
intelligently on paper—thought about his job and things in general.
To what books could you turn? Indeed I have come to feel that in the
pages of O. Henry there is more to be gleaned on the psychology of the
working class than any books to be found on economic shelves. The
outstanding conclusion forced upon any reader of such books as
consciously attempt to give a picture of the worker and his job is
that whoever wrote the books was bound and determined to find out
everything that was wrong in every investigation made, and tell all
about the wrongs and the wrongs only. Goodness knows, if one is
hunting for the things which should be improved in this world, one
life seems all too short to so much as make a start. In all honesty,
then, such books on labor should be classified under “Troubles of
Workers.” No one denies they are legion. Everybody's troubles are, if
troubles are what you want to find.

The Schemer of Things has so arranged, praise be, that no one's life
shall be nothing but woe and misery. Yea, even workers have been known
to smile.

       *       *       *       *       *

The experiences lived through in the following pages may strike the
reader as superficial, artificial. In a way they were. Yet, they
fulfilled their object in my eyes, at least. I wanted to feel for
myself the general “atmosphere” of a job, several jobs. I wanted to
know the worker without any suspicion on the part of the girls and
women I labored among that they were being “investigated.” I wanted to
see the world through their eyes—for the time being to close my own

There are no startling new facts or discoveries here recorded. Nothing
in these pages will revolutionize anything. To such as wish the lot of
the worker painted as the most miserable on earth, they will be

Yet in being as honest as I could in recording the impressions of my
experiences, I am aware that I have made possible the drawing of false
conclusions. Already such false conclusions have been drawn. “See,”
says an “old-fashioned” employer, “the workers are happy—these
articles of Mrs. Parker's show it. Why should they have better
conditions? They don't want them!”

A certain type of labor agitator, or a “parlor laborite,” prefer to
see only the gloomy side of the worker's life. They are as dishonest
as the employer who would see only the contentment. The picture must
be viewed in its entirety—and that means considering the workers not
as a labor problem, but as a social problem. Workers are not an
isolated group, who keep their industrial adversities or industrial
blessings to themselves. They and their families and dependents are
the majority of our population. As a nation, we rise no higher in the
long run than the welfare of the majority. Nor can the word “welfare,”
if one thinks socially, ever be limited to the word “contentment.” It
is quite conceivable—nay, every person has seen it in actuality—that
an individual may be quite contented in his lot and yet have that lot
incompatible with the welfare of the larger group.

It is but as a part of the larger group that worker, employer, and the
public must come to view the labor problem. When a worker is found who
appears perfectly amenable to long hours, bad air, unhygienic
conditions in general—and many are—somebody has to pay the price.
There are thousands of contented souls, as we measure contentment, in
the congested tenement districts of East Side New York. Does that fact
add to our social welfare? Because mothers for years were willing to
feed their children bad milk, was then the movement to provide good
milk for babies a waste of time and money? Plenty of people always
could be found who would willingly drink impure water. Society found
that too costly, and cities pride themselves to-day on their pure
water supply and low typhoid rate.

There are industrial conditions flourishing which insidiously take a
greater toll of society than did ever the death of babies from unclean
milk, the death of old and young from impure water. The trouble is
that their effects permeate in ways difficult for the unwilling eye to

Perhaps in the long run, one of the most harmful phases of modern
civilization is this very contentment of not only the workers, but the
employer and society at large, under conditions which are not building
up a wholesome, healthy, intelligent population. Indeed, it is not so
much the fault of modern industrialism as such. Perhaps it is because
there are so many people in the world and the ability of us human
beings, cave men only ten thousand years ago, to care for so many
people has not increased with the same rapidity as the population. Our
numbers have outrun our capacities. Twentieth century development
calls for large-scale organization for which the human mind has shown
itself inadequate.

It is well to keep in mind that no situation is the product of its own
day. The working woman, for instance, we have had with us since the
beginning of women—and they began a good spell ago. The problem of
the working woman, as we think of it to-day, began with the beginning
of modern industry. Nor is it possible to view her past without
realizing that the tendency has ever been, with but few interruptions,
toward improvement.

In the early factory days in our country it is known that women rose
at four, took their breakfast with them to the mills, and by five were
hard at work in badly constructed buildings, badly heated, badly
lighted. From seven-thirty to eight-thirty there was an hour for
breakfast, at noon half an hour, and from then on steady work until
half past seven at night. It would be perhaps eight o'clock before the
mill girls reached home, sometimes too tired to stay awake till the
end of supper. Later, hours were more generally from five in the
morning until seven at night. In Lowell the girls worked two hours
before breakfast and went back to the mills again in the evening after
supper. By 1850 twelve hours had come to be the average working

    [Footnote 1: Abbot, _Women in Industry_.]

Wages were very low—around seventy-five cents or a dollar a week with
board. Mills and factories were accustomed to provide room and board
in the corporation boarding houses, poorly constructed, ill-ventilated
buildings, girls often sleeping six and eight in a room. In 1836 it
was estimated that the average wage for women in industry (excluding
board) was thirty-seven and one-half cents a day, although one
thousand sewing women investigated received on an average twenty-five
cents a day. In 1835 the New York _Journal of Commerce_ estimated that
at the beginning of the century women's labor brought about fifty
cents a week, which was equivalent to twenty-five cents in 1835. In
1845 the New York _Tribune_ reported fifty thousand women averaging
less than two dollars a week wages, and thousands receiving one dollar
and fifty cents. Another investigation in 1845 found “female labor in
New York in a deplorable degree of servitude, privation and misery,
drudging on, miserably cooped up in ill-ventilated cellars and
garrets.” Women worked fifteen to eighteen hours a day to earn one to
three dollars a week.

And yet authorities tell us that some of the mill towns of New
England, Lowell in particular, are looked back upon as being almost
idyllic as regards the opportunities for working women. On examination
it is found that what was exceptional from our point of view was not
the conditions, but the factory employees. In those days work in the
mills was “socially permissible.” Indeed there was practically no
other field of employment open to educated girls. The old domestic
labors had been removed from the household—where could a girl with
spirit and ability make the necessary money to carry out her
legitimate desires? Her brothers “went west”—she went into the
factories—with the same spirit. Ambitious daughters of New England
farmers formed the bulk of cotton mill employees the first half of the
nineteenth century. Their granddaughters are probably college
graduates of the highest type to-day. After the long factory hours
they found time for reading, debating clubs, lectures, church
activities, French, and German classes. Part of the time some of the
mill operatives taught school. Many of them looked forward to
furthering their own education in such female seminaries as existed in
those days, the expense to be met from their mill earnings. Poorly
paid as mill hands were, it was often six to seven times what teachers

“The mills offered not only regular employment and higher wages, but
educational advantages which many of the operatives prized even more
highly. Moreover, the girl who had worked in Lowell was looked upon
with respect as a person of importance when she returned to her rural
neighborhood. Her fashionable dress and manners and her general air of
independence were greatly envied by those who had not been to the
metropolis and enjoyed its advantages.”[2]

    [Footnote 2: Abbot, _Women in Industry_.]

By 1850 the situation had altered. With the opening of the west,
opportunities for women of gumption and spirit increased. The
industrial depression of 1848-49 lowered wages, and little by little
the former type of operative left the mill, her place being filled
largely by Irish immigrants.

The Civil War saw a great change in the world of working women.
Thousands of men were taken from industry into war, and overnight
great new fields of opportunity were opened to women. The more
educated were needed as nurses, for teaching positions, and for
various grades of clerical work deserted by men. After the close of
the war farmers became more prosperous and their daughters were not
forced to work for the wherewithal to acquire advantages. Add to all
this the depression caused in the cotton industry due to the war—and
the result of these new conditions was that when the mills reopened it
was with cheap immigrant labor. What then could have been considered
high wages were offered in an attempt to induce the more efficient
American women operatives back to the mills, but the cost of living
had jumped far higher even than high wages. The mills held no further
attractions. Even the Irish deserted, their places being filled with
immigrants of a lower type.

Since the Civil War look at us—8,075,772 women in industry, as
against 2,647,157 in 1880. Almost a fourth of the entire female
population over ten years of age are at work, as against about
one-seventh in 1880. The next census figures will show a still larger
proportion. Those thousands of women the World War threw into
industry, who never had worked before, did not all get out of industry
after the war. Take just the railroads, for example. In April, 1918,
there were 65,816 women employed in railroad work; in October, 1918,
101,785; and in April, 1919, 86,519. In the 1910 census, of all the
kinds of jobs in our country filled by men, only twelve were not also
filled by women—and the next census will show a reduction there:
firemen (either in manufacturing or railroads), brakemen, conductors,
plumbers, common laborers (under transportation), locomotive
engineers, motormen, policemen, soldiers, sailors, and marines. The
interesting point is that in only one division of work are women
decreasing in proportion to men—and that was women's work at the
beginning—manufacturing. In agriculture, in the professions, in
domestic and personal service, in trade and transportation, the number
of women is creeping up, up, in proportion to the number of men. From
the point of view of national health and vitality for this and the
next generation, it is indeed a hopeful sign if women are giving way
to men in factories, mills, and plants, and pushing up into work
requiring more education and in turn not demanding such physical and
nervous strain as does much of the machine process. Also, since on
the whole as it has been organized up to date, domestic service has
been one of the least attractive types of work women could fill, it is
encouraging (though not to the housewife) to find that the proportion
of women going into domestic and personal service has fallen from
forty-four and six-tenths per cent, in 1880, to thirty-two and
five-tenths per cent, in 1910.

Women working at everything under the sun—except perhaps being
locomotive engineers and soldiers and sailors. Why?

First, it is part of every normal human being to want to work.
Therefore, women want to work. Time was when within the home were
enough real life-sized jobs to keep a body on the jump morning and
night. Not only mother but any other females handy. There are those
who grumble that women could find enough to do at home now if they
only tried. They cannot, unless they have young children or unless
they putter endlessly at nonessentials, the doing of which leaves them
and everybody else no better off than before they began. And it is
part of the way we are made that besides wanting to work, we need to
work at something we feel “gets us some place.” We prefer to work at
something desirable and useful. Perhaps what we choose is not really
so desirable and useful, looked at in the large, but it stacks up as
more desirable and more useful than something else we might be doing.
And with it all, if there is to be any real satisfaction, must go some
feeling of independence—of being on “one's own.”

So, then, women go out to work in 1921 because there is not enough to
do to keep them busy at home. They follow in part their age-old
callings, only nowadays performed in roaring factories instead of by
the home fireside. In part they take to new callings. Whatever the job
may be, women _want_ to work in preference to the nonproductiveness of
most home life to-day.

Graham Wallas, in his _Great Society_, quotes the answers given by a
number of girls to a woman who held their confidence as to why they
worked. He wished to learn if they were happy. The question meant to
the girls evidently, “Are you happier than you would have been at
home?” and practically every answer was “Yes.”

In a “dismal and murky,” but fairly well-managed laundry, six Irish
girls all answered they were happy. One said the work “took up her
mind, she had been awfully discontented.” Another that “you were of
some use.” Another, “the hours went so much faster. At home one could
read, but only for a short time. Then there was the awful lonesome
afternoon ahead of you.” “Asked a little girl with dyed hair but a
good little heart. She enjoyed her work. It made her feel she was
worth something.”

At another laundry, the first six girls all answered they were happy
because the “work takes up your mind,” and generally added, “It's
awful lonesome at home,” or “there is an awful emptiness at home.”
However, one girl with nine brothers and sisters was happy in the
collar packing room just because “it was so awful lonesome”—she
could enjoy her own thoughts. An Irishwoman at another laundry who had
married an Italian said, “Sure I am always happy. It leaves me no time
to think.” At a knitting plant one girl said “when she didn't work,
she was always thinking of dead people, but work always made her cheer
up directly.”

The great industrial population comes from crowded tenements. It is
inconceivable that enough work could be found within those walls to
make life attractive to the girls and young women growing to maturity
in such households.

So much for the psychological side. The fact remains that the great
bulk of women in industry work because they _have_ to work—they enter
industrial life to make absolutely necessary money. The old tasks at
which a woman could be self-supporting in the home are no longer
possible in the home. She earns her bread now as she has earned it for
thousands of years—spinning, weaving, sewing, baking, cooking—only
to-day she is one of hundreds, thousands in a great factory. Nor is
she longer confined to her traditional tasks. Men are playing a larger
part in what was since time began and up to a few years ago woman's
work. Women, in their need, are finding employment at any work that
can use unskilled less physically capable labor.

Ever has it been the very small proportion of men who could by their
unaided effort support the entire family. At no time have all the men
in a country been able to support all the women, regardless of
whether that situation would be desirable. Always must the aid of
womenfolk be called in as a matter of course. We have a national ideal
of a living wage to the male head of the family which will allow him
to support his family without forcing his wife and children into
industry. Any man who earns less than that amount during the year must
depend on the earnings of wife and children or else fall below the
minimum necessary to subsistence, with all which that implies. In
1910, four-fifths of the heads of families in the United States earned
under eight hundred dollars a year. At that same time, almost
nine-tenths of the women workers living at home in New York City
working in factories, mills, and such establishments, paid their
entire earnings to the family. Of 13,686 women investigated in
Wisconsin in 1914, only 2 per cent gave nothing to the family support.
Of girls in retail stores living at home in New York City, 84 per cent
paid their entire earnings to the family. Work, then, for the majority
of women, is more apt to be cold economic necessity—not only for
herself, but for her family.

Besides the fact that great numbers of women must work and many want
to work, there are the reasons for women's work arising in modern
industry itself. First, a hundred years ago, there was the need for
hands in the new manufactures, and because of the even more pressing
agricultural demands, men could not be spared. The greater the
subdivisions of labor up to a certain point, the simpler the process,
and the more women can be used, unskilled as they are ever apt to be.
Also they will work at more monotonous, more disagreeable work than
men, and for less wages. Again, women's entrance into new industries
has often been as strike breakers, and once in, there was no way to
get them out. Industrial depressions throw men out of work, and also
women, and in the financial pressure following, women turn to any sort
of work at any sort of pay, and perhaps open a new wedge for women's
work in a heretofore untried field, desirable or undesirable.

The freedom from having to perform every and all domestic functions
within the four walls of home is purchased at the expense of millions
of toilers outside the home, the majority of whom do not to-day
receive enough wages, where they are the menfolk, to support their own
families; nor where they are single women, to support themselves. The
fact that men cannot support their families forces women in large
numbers into industry. There would be nothing harmful in that, if only
industry were organized so that participation in it enriched human
lives. Remembering always that where industry takes women from the
care of young children, society and the nation pay dearly; for,
inadequate and ignorant as mothers often are regarding child care,
their substitutes to-day are apt to be even less efficient.

Pessimists marshal statistics to show that modern industrialism is
going to rack and ruin. Maybe it is. But pessimism is more a matter of
temperament than statistics. An optimist can assemble a most cheerful
array of figures to show that everything is on the up. Temperament
again. Industry is what industry does. If you are feeling gloomy
to-day, you can visit factories where it is plain to see that no human
being could have his lot improved by working there. Such factories
certainly exist. If you would hug your pessimism to your soul, then
there are many factories you must stay away from. Despite all the
pessimists, there is a growing tendency to increase the welfare of
human beings in industry.

It is but an infinitesimal drop any one individual can contribute to
hasten a saner industrialism. Yet some of us would so fain contribute
our mite! Where the greatest need of all lies is that the human beings
in industry, the employer and the employees, shall better understand
one another, and society at large better understand both. My own
amateur and humble experiences here recorded have added much to my own
understanding of the problems of both manager and worker.

Can they add even a fraction to the understanding of anyone else?

                                        CORNELIA STRATTON PARKER.

  Woods Hole,
    _August_, 1921.



                      _No. 1075 Packs Chocolates_

Wise heads tell us we act first—or decide to act first—and reason
afterward. Therefore, what could be put down in black and white as to
why we took up factory work is of minor value or concern. Yet everyone
persists in asking why? So then, being merely as honest as the Lord
allows, we answer first and foremost because we wanted to. Isn't that
enough? It is the why and wherefore of almost everything anyone does
any place at any time. Only the more adept can concoct much weightier
reasons as an afterthought. There is only one life most of us doubting
humans are absolutely sure of. That one life gets filled with so much
of the same sort of performance day in and day out; usually only an
unforeseen calamity—or stroke of luck—throws us into a way of living
and doing things which is not forever just as we lived and did things
yesterday and the day before.

Yet the world is so full of the unexplored! To those who care more for
people than places, around every corner is something new—a world only
dreamt of, if that. Why should all one's life be taken up with the
kind of people we were born among, doing the sort of things our aunts
and our uncles and our cousins and our friends do? Soon there creeps
in—soon? yes, by six years or younger—that comforting belief that as
we and our aunts and our uncles and our cousins and our friends do, so
does—or should do—the world. And all the time we and our aunts and
our uncles and our cousins and our friends are one little
infinitesimal drop in one hundred million people, and what those above
and below and beyond and around about think and do, we know nothing,
nor care nothing, about. But those others are the world, with us, a
speck of—well, in this case it happened to be curiosity—in the midst
of it all.

Therefore, being curious, we decided to work in factories. In addition
to wanting to feel a bona-fide part of a cross section of the world
before only viewed second or third hand through books, there was the
desire better to understand the industrial end of things by trying a
turn at what some eight million or so other women are doing. “Women's
place is the home.” All right—that side of life we know first hand.
But more and more women are not staying home, either from choice or
from necessity. Reading about it is better than nothing. Being an
active part of it all is better still. It is one thing to lounge on an
overstuffed davenport and read about the injurious effect on women of
long hours of standing. It is another to be doing the standing.

Yet another reason for giving up some months to factory work, besides
the adventure of it, besides the desire to see other angles of life
for oneself, to experience first hand the industrial end of it. So
much of the technic of the world to-day we take as a matter of course.
Clothes appear ready to put on our backs. As far as we know or care,
angels left them on the hangers behind the mirrored sliding doors.
Food is set on our tables ready to eat. It might as well have been
created that way, for all our concern. The thousands of operations
that go into an article before the consumer buys it—no, there is no
reason why use and want should make us callous and indifferent to the
hows and wherefores. Never was there such an age. Let's poke behind
the scenes a bit.

So, factories it was to be. Not as a stranger snooping in to
“investigate.” As a factory girl working at her job—with all that, we
determined to peek out of the corner of our eyes, and keep both ears
to the wind, lest we miss anything from start to finish. Artificial,
of course. Under the circumstances, since we were born how and as we
were, and this had happened and that, we were not an honest Eyetalian
living in a back bedroom on West Forty-fourth Street near the river.

We did what we could to feel the part. Every lady in the land knows
the psychology of dress—though not always expressed by her in those
terms. She feels the way she looks, not the other way round. So then,
we purchased large green earrings, a large bar pin of platinum and
brilliants ($1.79), a goldy box of powder (two shades), a lip stick.
During the summer we faded a green tam-o'shanter so that it would not
look too new. For a year we had been saving a blue-serge dress
(original cost $19) from the rag bag for the purpose. We wore a pair
of old spats which just missed being mates as to shade, and a button
off one. Silk stockings—oh yes, silk—but very darned. A blue
sweater, an orange scarf, and last, but not least—

If you had been brought up in a fairly small city by female relatives
who were one and all school-teachers, who had watched over your
vocabulary (unsuccessfully) as they hung over your morals; if you had
been taught, not in so many words, but insidiously, that breaking the
Ten Commandments (any one or the entire ten), split infinitives, and
chewing gum, were one in the sight of God, or the devil—then you
could realize the complete metamorphosis when, in addition to the
earrings and the bar pin, the green tam and the lip stick, you stepped
up to the Subway newsstand and boldly demanded a package of—chewing
gum. And then and there got out a stick and chewed it, and chewed it
on the Subway and chewed it on the streets of New York. Some people
have to go to a masquerade ball to feel themselves some one else for a
change. Others, if they have been brought up by school-teachers, can
get the same effect with five cents' worth of chewing gum.

After all, one of the most attractive features about being “well
brought up” is the fun of sloughing off. The fun of sloughing off a
lot at once! Had it ever been known ahead of time the fascination of
doing forbidden things, just that first factory morning would have
been worth the whole venture. To read the morning paper over other
people's shoulders—not furtively, but with a bold and open eye. To
stare at anything which caught one's attention. (Bah! all that is
missed in New York because it has been so ground into the bone that it
is impolite to stare!) And to talk to any one, male or female, who
looked or acted as if he or she wanted to talk to you. Only even a
short experience has taught that that abandon leads to more trouble
than it is worth. What a pity mere sociability need suffer so much
repression! We hate to make that concession to our upbringers.

When the time for beginning factory work came there appeared but one
advertisement among “Help Wanted—Female” which did not call for
“experience.” There might have to be so much lying, direct and
indirect, to do. Better not start off by claiming experience when
there was absolutely none—except, indeed, had we answered
advertisements for cooks only, or baby tenders, or maids of all work.
One large candy factory bid for “girls and women, good wages to start,
experience not necessary,” and in a part of town which could be
reached without starting out the night before. At 7.15 of a Monday
morning we were off, with a feeling something akin to stage fright.
Once we heard a hobo tell of the first time he ever tried to get on a
freight train in the dark of night when it was moving. But we chewed
our gum very boldly.

One of the phases of finding a job often criticized by those who would
add somewhat of dignity to labor is the system of hiring. Like a lot
of other things, perhaps, you don't mind the present system if you get
by. Here was this enormous good-looking factory. On one side of the
front steps, reaching all the way up into the main entrance hall,
stood a line of men waiting for jobs; on the other side, though not
near so long a line, the girls. The regular employees file by. At
last, about eight o'clock, the first man is beckoned. Just behind the
corner of a glassed-in telephone booth, but in full view of all, he is
questioned by an employee in a white duck suit. Man after man is sent
on out, to the growing discouragement, no doubt, of those remaining in
line. At last, around a little corner in the stairs, the first girl is
summoned. The line moves up. A queer-looking man with pop eyes asks a
few questions. The girl goes on upstairs. I am fourth in line—a steam
heater next and the actions of my insides make the temperature seem
120 at least. My turn.

“How much experience you've had?”


“What you work in last?”

“Didn't work in a factory—been doin' housework—takin' care of kids.”

“Well, I start you packing. You get thirteen dollars this week,
fourteen dollars next—you understand?”

He writes something on a little card and I go upstairs with it. There
I am asked my name, age (just did away with ten years while I was at
it). Married or single? Goodness! hadn't thought of that. In the end a
lie there would make less conversation. Single. Nationality—Eyetalian?
No, American. It all has to be written on a card. At that point my eye
lights on a sign which reads: “Hours for girls 8 A.M.-6 P.M. Saturdays
8-12.” Whew! My number is 1075. The time clock works so. My key hangs
on this hook; then after I ring up, it hangs here. (That was an
entrancing detail I had not anticipated—made me wish we had to ring up
at noon as well as morning and night.) Locker key 222. A man takes me
in the elevator to the third floor and there hands me over to Ida. The
locker works thus and so. Didn't I have no apron? No—but to-morrow I'd
bring it, and a cap. Sure.

Three piles of boxes and trucks and barrels and Ida opens a great door
like a safe, and there we are in the packing room—from the steam
heater downstairs to the North Pole. Cold? Nothing ever was so cold.
Ten long zinc-topped tables, a girl or two on each side. At the right,
windows which let in no air and little light, nor could you see out at
all. On the left, shelves piled high with wooden boxes. Mostly all a
body can think of is how cold, cold, cold it is. Something happens to
chocolates otherwise.

That first day it is half-pound boxes. My side of the table holds some
sixty at a time. First the date gets stamped on the bottom, then
partitions are fitted in. “Here's your sample. Under the table you'll
find the candies, or else ask Fannie, there. You take the paper cups
so, in your left hand, give them a snap so, lick your fingers now and
then, slip a cup off, stick the candy in with your right hand.” And
Ida is off.

The saints curse the next person who delicately picks a chocolate from
its curled casing and thinks it grew that way—came born in that paper
cup. May he or she choke on it! Can I ever again buy chocolates
otherwise than loose in a paper bag? You push and shove—not a cup
budges from its friends and relatives. Perhaps your fingers need more
licking. Perhaps the cups need more “snapping.” In the end you hold a
handful of messed-up crumpled erstwhile cup-shaped paper containers,
the first one pried off looking more like a puppy-chewed mat by the
time it is loose and a chocolate planted on its middle. By then,
needless to remark, the bloom is off the chocolate. It has the look of
being clutched in a warm hand during an entire circus parade. Whereat
you glance about furtively and quickly eat it. It is nice the room is
cold; already you fairly perspire. One mussed piece of naked brown
paper in a corner of a box.

The table ahead, fingers flying like mad over the boxes, works Annie.
It is plain she will have sixty boxes done before I have one. Just
then a new girl from the line of that morning is put on the other side
of my table. She is very cold. She fares worse with brown paper cups
than I. Finally she puts down the patient piece of chocolate candy
and takes both hands to the job of separating one cup from the others.
She places what is left of the chocolate in the middle of what is left
of the paper, looks at me, and better than any ouija board I know what
is going on in her head. I smile at her, she smiles back, and she eats
that first chocolate. Tessie and I are friends for life.

Then we tackle the second union of chocolate and paper. Such is life.
Allah be praised, the second goes a shade less desperately than the
first, the third than the second, and in an hour chocolate and paper
get together without untoward damage to either. But the room stays
feeling warm. Anon a sensation begins to get mixed up with the hectic
efforts of fingers. Yes, yes—now it's clear what it is—feet! Is one
never to sit down again as long as one lives? Clumsy fingers—feet.
Feet—clumsy fingers. Finally you don't give a cent if you never learn
to pry those paper cups loose without wrenching your very soul in the
effort. If once before you die—just once—you can sit down! Till 12
and then after, 1 till 6. Help!

A bell rings. “All right, girls!” sings Ida down the line. Everyone
drops everything, and out into the warm main third floor we go. All
the world is feet. Somehow those same feet have to take their
possessor out to forage for food. Into a little dirty, crowded grocery
and delicatessen store we wedge ourselves, to stand, stand, stand,
until at last we face the wielder of a long knife. When in Rome do as
the Romans do. “A bologna and a ham sandwich and five cents' worth of
pickles.” Slabs of rye bread, no butter, large, generous slices of
sausage and ham which hang down curtainlike around the bread—twenty-one
cents. Feet take me back to the factory lunch room. At last I flop on
a chair. Sing songs to chairs; write poems to chairs; paint chairs!

Dear German Tessie, pal of the morning, she who ate more chocolates
than I and thus helped to sustain my moral courage—Tessie and I eat
bologna sausage sandwiches together and _sit_. The feet of Tessie are
very, very badly off—ach!—but they feel—they feel—jus' fierce—and
till six o'clock—“Oh, my Gawd!” says Tessie, in good English.

A gong sounds. Up we go to the ice box packing room. It sends the
shivers down our spines. But already there is a feeling of sauntering
in like an old hand at the game. What's your business in life? Packing
chocolates. The half-pound boxes get finished, wax paper on top,
covered, stacked, counted, put on the truck.

“Lena! Start the girl here in on 'assorteds.'”

Pert little Lena sidles up alongside and nudges me in the ribs.

“Say, got a fella?”

I give Lena one look, for which Belasco should pay me a thousand
dollars a night. Lena reads it out loud quick as a wink. She snickers,
pokes me in the ribs again, and, “What to hell do I think you are,
hey?” That's just what I'd meant. “Gee!” says Lena. “Some fool what
can't get some kind of a dope!”

“You said it!”

“Say, got more 'n one dope?” asks Lena, hopefully. Meanwhile she sets
out, with my aid, row after row of dinky little deep boxes.

“Say now,” say I to Lena, “and what would a girl be doin' with jus'
_one_ dope?”

“You said it!” says Lena.

At which follows a discussion on dopes, ending by Lena's promising
never to vamp my dope if I won't vamp hers.

“Where'd ya work last?” asks Lena.

One thing the first day taught me. If you want to act the part and
feel the part, earrings and gum help, but if there is one thing you
are more conscious of than all else, it is such proper English as you
possess—which compared to Boston is not much, but compared to Lena
and Ida and Mary and Louise and Susie and Annie is painfully flawless.
Chew hard as ever you can, if you tell Fannie, “There aren't any more
plantations,” it echoes and re-echoes and shrieks at you from the four
sides of Christendom. But holler, “Fannie, there ain't no more
plantations!” and it is like the gentle purring of a home cat by
comparison. Funny how it is easier to say “My Gawd!” and “Where t'
hell's Ida!” than “I 'ain't got none.” Any way round, you never do get
over being conscious of your grammar. If it is correct, it is lonesome
as the first robin. If it is properly awful, there are those
school-teacher upbringers. I am just wondering if one might not be
dining with the head of the university philosophy department and his
academic guests some night and hear one's voice uttering down a
suddenly silent table, “She ain't livin' at that address no more.”
Utterly abashed, one's then natural exclamation on the stillness would
be, “My Gawd!” Whereat the hostess would busily engage her end of the
table in anguished conversation, giving her husband one look, which,
translated into Lena's language, would say, “What t' hell did we ask
her for, anyhow?”

Is one to write of factory life as one finds it, or expurgated? I can
hear the upbringers cry “expurgated”! Yet the way the girls talked was
one of the phases of the life which set the stamp of difference on it
all. What an infinitesimal portion of the population write our books!
What a small proportion ever read them! How much of the nation's
talking is done by the people who never get into print! The proportion
who read and write books, especially the female folk, live and die in
the belief that it is the worst sort of bad taste, putting it mildly,
to use the name of the Creator in vain, or mention hell for any
purpose whatsoever. Yet suddenly, overnight, you find yourself in a
group who would snap their fingers at such notions. Sweet-faced,
curly-headed Annie wants another box of caramels. Elizabeth
Witherspoon would call, “Fannie, would you be so kind as to bring me
another box of caramels?” Annie, without stopping her work or so much
as looking up, raises her voice and calls down the room—and in her
heart she is the same exactly as Elizabeth W.—“Fannie, you bum, bring
me a box of car'mels or I'll knock the hell clean out o' ya.”

According to Elizabeth's notions Fannie should answer her, “One
moment, Miss Elizabeth; I'm busy just now.” What Fannie (with her soul
as pure as drifted snow) does call back to Annie is, “My Gawd! Keep
your mouth shut. 'Ain't you got sense enough to see I'm busy!”

Annie could holler a hundred times, and she does, that she'd knock the
hell out of Fannie, and God would love her every bit as much as he
would love Miss Elizabeth Witherspoon, who has been taught otherwise
and never said hell in her life, not even in a dark closet. Fannie and
all the other Fannies and Idas and Louisas, say, “My Gawd!” as Miss
Elizabeth says “You don't say!” and it is all one to the Heavenly
Father. Therefore, gentle reader, it must be all one to you. There is
not the slightest shade of disrespect in Annie's or Fannie's hearts as
they shower their profanity on creation in general. There is not the
slightest shade in mind as I write of them.

So then, back that first day Lena asked, “Where'd ya work last?”

“Didn't work in a factory before.”

“'Ain't ya?”

“No, I 'ain't.” (Gulp.) “I took care of kids.”

“Gee! but they was fresh.”

“You said it!”

“Lena!” hollers Ida. “Get ta work and don't talk so much!” Whereat
Lena gives me another poke in my cold ribs and departs. And Tessie and
I pack “assorteds”: four different chocolates in the bottom of each
box, four still different ones in the top—about three hundred and
fifty boxes on our table. We puff and labor on the top layer and Ida
breezes along. “My Gawd! Look at that! Where's your cardboards?”

Tessie and I look woebegone at one another. Cardboards? Cardboards?

Ida glues her Eyetalian eye on Lena down the line. “Lena, you fool,
didn't you tell these here girls about cardboards?... My Gawd! My
Gawd!” says Ida. Whereat she dives into our belabored boxes and grabs
those ached-over chocolates and hurls them in a pile. “Get all them
top ones out. Put in cardboards. Put 'em all in again.” Tessie and I
almost could have wept. By that time it is about 4. We are all feet,
feet, FEET. First I try standing on one foot to let the other think I
might really, after all, be sitting down. Then I stand on it and give
the other a delusion. Then try standing on the sides, the toes, the
heels. FEET! “Ach! Mein Gott!” moans Tessie. “To-morrow I go look for
a job in a biscuit factory.”

“Leave me know if you get a sit-down one.”

And in that state—FEET—Ida makes us pack over the whole top layer in
three hundred and fifty boxes. Curses on Lena and her “dopes.” Or
curses on me that I could so suddenly invent such picturesque love
affairs that Lena forgot all about cardboards.

About then my locker key falls through a hole in my waist pocket and
on to the floor and out of sight. In the end it takes a broom handle
poked about diligently under the bottom shelf of our table to make a
recovery. Before the key appear chocolates of many shapes and sizes,
long reposing in oblivion under the weighty table. The thrifty Spanish
woman behind me gathers up all the unsquashed ones and packs them.
“Mus' be lots of chocolates under these 'ere tables, eh?” she notes
wisely and with knit brows. As if to say that, were she boss, she'd
poke with a broom under each and every bottom shelf and fill many a

At least my feet get a moment's rest while I am down on my hands and
knees among the debris from under the tables.

By five o'clock Tessie thinks she'll throw up her job then and there.
“Ach! Ach! My feet!” she moans. I secretly plan to kill the next
person who gives me a box of chocolate candy.

Surely it is almost 6.

Five minutes after 5.

The bell has forgotten to ring. It must be 7.

Quarter after 5.

Now for sure and certain it is midnight.

Half-past 5.

My earrings begin to hurt. You can take off earrings. But FEET—

Tessie says she's eaten too many candies; her stomach does her pain.
Her feet aren't so hurting now her _magen_ is so bad. I couldn't eat
another chocolate for five dollars, but my stomach refused to feel in
any way that takes my mind in the least off my feet.

Eternity has passed on. It must be beyond the Judgment Day itself.

Ten minutes to 6.

When the bell does ring I am beyond feeling any emotion. There is no
part of me with which to feel emotion. I am all feet, and feet either
do not feel at all or feel all weary unto death. During the summer I
had played one match in a tennis tournament 7-5, 5-7, 13-11. I had
thought I was ready to drop dead after that. It was mere knitting in
the parlor compared to how I felt after standing at that table in that
candy factory from 8 A.M. to 6 P.M., with a bit of a half-hour's
sitting at noon.

Somehow you could manage to endure it all if it were not for the
crowning agony of all—standing up on the Subway going home. I am no
aggressive feminist, and I am no old-fashioned clinging vine, but I
surely do hate, hate, hate every man in that Subway who sits back in
comfort (and most of them look as if they had been sitting all day)
while I and my feet stand up. When in my utter anguish I find myself
swaying with the jerks and twists of the express in front of a person
with a Vandyke beard reading _The Gospel According to St. John_, I
long with all the energy left in me (I still have some in my arms) to
grab that book out of his hands, fling it in his face, and hiss,
“Hypocrite!” at him. I do not believe I ever knew what it was really
and honestly to hate a person before. If it had been the _Police
Gazette_ I could have borne up under it. But _The Gospel According to
St. John_—my Gawd!

Thus ends my first factory day. It is small comfort to calculate I
stepped on more chocolates in those nine hours than I usually eat in a
year. To be sure, it was something new on the line of life's
experiences. If that man in front of me were only a chocolate with
soft insides and I could squash him flat! Yes, there was enough energy
in my feet for that. To get my heel square above him and then
_stamp_—ugh! the sinner! He continues reading _The Gospel According
to St. John_, nor so much as looks up to receive my last departing
glare as I drag myself off at 116th Street.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, the next morning my feet feel as if they
had never been stood on before. What if we do have to stand up in the
Subway all the way down? Who minds standing in the Subway? And then
stand in the jammed and elbowing cross-town car. Who cares? And how we
do walk up those factory steps as if we owned the world! The
chestiness of us as we take our key off left-hand hook 1075, ring up
under the clock (twenty minutes early we are) and hang up on No. 1075
right; but it seems you are late if you are not ten minutes early. It
is the little tricks like that you get wise about.

I saunter over to the elevator with a jam of colored girls—the
majority of the girls in that factory were colored. I call out,
“Third, please.” Oh, glory be! Why were we ever born? That elevator
man turns around and pierces me with his eye as though I were the man
with the Vandyke beard in the Subway, and he, the elevator man, were
I. “_Third_ floor did ya say? And since when does the elevator lift
ya to the _third_ floor? If ya want the sixth floor ya can ride.
_Third_ floor! My Gawd! _Third_ floor!” And on and on he mutters and
up and up I go, all the proud feelings of owning the world stripped
from me—exposed before the multitudes as an ignoramus who didn't know
any better than to ride in the elevator when she was bound only for
the third floor. “_Third_ floor,” continues muttering the elevator
man. At last there is no one left in the elevator but the muttering
man and me. “Well,” I falter, chewing weakly on my Black Jack, “What
shall I do, then?”

“I'll leave ya off at the third this time, but don't ya try this trick

“Again? Goodness! You don't think I'd make this mistake twice, do

“_Twice?_” he bellows. “_Twice?_ Didn't I have this all out with ya
yesterday mornin'?”

“Goodness, no!” I try to assure him, but he is putting me off at third
and calling after me: “Don't I know I did tell ya all this yesterday
mornin'? And don't ya forget it next time, neither.” It must be awful
to be that man's wife. But I love him compared to the Vandyke beard in
the Subway reading _The Gospel According to St. John_.

Everybody is squatting about on scant corners and ledges waiting for
the eight o'clock bell. I squat next the thrifty Spanish lady, whereat
she immediately begins telling me the story of her life.

“You married?” she asks. No. “Well don' you do it,” says the fat and
mussy Espaniole, as the girls called her. “I marry man—five years,
all right. One morning I say, 'I go to church—you go too?' He say
'No, I stay home.' I go church. I come home. I fin' him got young girl
there. I say, 'You clear out my house, you your young girl!' Out he
go, she go. 'Bout one year 'go he say he come back. I say no you don'.
He beg me, beg me come home. I say no, no, no. He write me letter,
letter, letter. I say no, no, no. Bymby I say alright, you come live
my house don't you _touch_ me, hear? Don' you _touch_ me. He live one
room, I live one room. He no touch me. Two weeks 'go he die. Take all
my money, put him in cemetery. I have buy me black waist, black skirt.
I got no money more. I want move from that house—no want live that
house no more—give me bad dreams. I got no money move. Got son
thirteen. He t'ink me fool have man around like that. I no care. See
he sen's letter, letter, letter. Now I got no money. I have work.” The
bell rings. We shiver ourselves into the ice box.

No Tessie across the table. Instead a strange, unkempt female who
sticks it out half an hour, announces she has the chills in her feet,
and departs. Her place is taken by a slightly less disheveled young
woman who claims she'd packed candy before where they had seats and
she thought she'd go back. They paid two dollars less a week, but it
was worth two dollars to sit down. How she packs! The sloppiest work I
ever saw. It outrages my soul. The thrill of new pride I have when Ida
gets through swearing at her and turns to me.

“Keep your eye on this girl, will ya? Gee! she packs like a fright!”
And to the newcomer: “You watch that girl across the table” (me, she
means—me!) “and do the way she does.”

No first section I ever got in economics gave me such joy.

But, ah! the first feeling of industrial bitterness creeps in. Here is
a girl getting fourteen dollars a week. Tessie was promised fourteen
dollars a week. I packed faster, better, than either of them for
thirteen dollars. I would have fourteen dollars, too, or know the
reason why. Ida fussed and scolded over the new girls all day. The
sweetness of her entire neglect of me!

By that noon my feet hardly hurt at all. I sit in a quiet corner to
eat rye-bread sandwiches brought from home, gambling on whom I will
draw for luncheon company. Six colored girls sit down at my table. A
good part of the time they spend growling on the subject of overtime.
I am too new to know what it is all about.

The lunch room is a bare, whitewashed, huge affair, with uplifting
advice on the walls here and there. “Any fool can take a chance; it
takes brains to be careful,” and such like. One got me all upset:
“America is courteous to its women. Gentlemen will, therefore, please
remove their hats in this room.” That Vandyke beard in the Subway!

By 4.30 again I think my feet will be the death of me. That last hour
and a half! Louie, the general errand boy of our packing room, brushes
by our table with some trays and knocks about six of my carefully
packed boxes on the floor. “You Louie!” I holler, and I long to have
acquired the facility to call lightly after him, as anyone else would
have done, “Say, you go to hell!” Instead, mustering all the reserve
force I can, the best showing I am able to make is, “You Louie! Go off
and die!” I almost hold my own—468 boxes of “assorteds” do I pack.
And again the anguishing stand in the Subway. I hate men—hate them. I
just hope every one of them gets greeted by a nagging wife when he
arrives home. Hope she nags all evening.... If enough of those wives
really did do enough nagging, would the men thereupon stay downtown
for dinner and make room in the Subway for folk who had been standing,
except for one hour, from 7.15 A.M.? At last I see a silver lining to
the dark cloud of marital unfelicity....

       *       *       *       *       *

Lillian of the bright-pink boudoir cap engaged me in conversation this
morning. Lillian is around the Indian summer of life—as to years, but
not atmosphere. Lillian has seen better days. Makes sure you know it.
Never did a lick of work in her life. At that she makes a noise with
her upper lip the way a body does in southern Oregon when he uses a
toothpick after a large meal. “No, sir, never did a lick.” Lillian
says “did” and not “done.” Practically no encouragement is needed for
Lillian to continue. “After my husband died I blew in all the money he
left me in two years. Since then I have been packing chocolates.” How
long ago was that?

“Five years.”

“My Gawd,” I say, and it comes natural-like. “What did you do with
your feet for five years?”

“Oh, you get used to it,” says Lillian. “For months I cried every
night. Don't any more. But I lie down while I'm warmin' up my supper,
and then I go to bed soon as its et.”

Five years!

“Goin' to vote?” asks Lillian.


“I'm not,” allows Lillian. “To my notions all that votin' business is
nothing for a lady to get mixed up in. No, sir.” Lillian makes that
noise with her upper lip again. Lillian's lips are very red, her
eyebrows very black. I'll not do anything, though, with my eyebrows.
Says Lillian: “No, siree, not for a lady. I got a good bet up on the
election. Yes, sir!—fifty dollars on Harding.”

And five years of going to bed every night after supper.

Tessie is back. I do love Tessie, and I know Tessie loves me. She had
not gone hunting for another job, as I thought. Her husband had had
his elbow broken with an electric machine of some sort where he works
on milk cans. The morning before she had taken him to the hospital.
That made her ten minutes late to the factory. The little pop-eyed man
told her, “You go on home!” and off she went. “But he tell me that
once more I no come back again,” said Tessie, her cheeks very red.

I begin to get the “class feeling”—to understand a lot of things I
wanted to know first hand. In the first place, there is no thought
ever, and I don't see in that factory how there can be, for the boss
and his interests. Who is he? Where is he? The nearest one comes to
him is the pop-eyed man at the door. Once in a while Ida hollers “For
Gawd's sake, girls, work faster!” Now that doesn't inspire to
increased production for long. There stands Tessie across the table
from me—peasant Tessie from near München, with her sweet face and
white turned-up cap. She packs as fast as she can, but her hands are
clumsy and she can't seem to get the difference between chocolates
very well. It is enough to drive a seer crazy. They change the
positions on the shelves every so often; the dipping-machine tenders
cut capers and mark the same kind of chocolates differently to-day
from yesterday. By three in the afternoon you're too sick of
chocolates to do any more investigating by sampling. Even Ida herself
has sometimes to poke a candy in the bottom—if it feels one way it's
“marsh”; another, it's peach; another, it's coconut. But my feeling is
not educated and I poke, and then end by having to bite, and then,
just as I discover it is peach, after all, some one has run off with
the last box and Ida has to be found and a substitute declared.

Tessie gives up in despair and hurls herself on me. So then Tessie is
nearest to me in the whole factory, and Tessie is slow. The faster I
pack the more it shows up Tessie's slowness. If Ida scolded Tessie it
would break my heart. The thought of the man who owns that factory,
and his orders and his profits and his obligations, never enter my or
any other packer's head. I will not pack so many boxes that Tessie
gets left too far behind.

Then a strange thing happens. All of a sudden I get more interested in
packing chocolates than anything else on earth. A little knack or
twist comes to me—my fingers fly (for me). I forget Tessie. I forget
the time. I forget my feet. How many boxes can I pack to-day? That is
all I can think of. I don't want to hear the noon bell. I can't wait
to get back after lunch. I fly out after the big boxes to pack the
little boxes in. In my haste and ignorance I bring back covers by
mistake and pack dozens of little boxes in covers. It must all be done
over again. Six hundred boxes I pack this day. I've not stopped for
breath. I'm not a bit tired when 6 o'clock comes round. I ask Ida when
she will put me on piecework—it seems the great ambition of my life
is to feel I am on piecework. “When you can pack about two thousand
boxes a day,” says Ida. Two thousand! I was panting and proud over six
hundred! “Never mind,” says Ida, “you're makin' out fine.” Oh, the
thrill of those words! I asked her to show me again about separating
the paper cups. I didn't have it just right, I was sure. “My Gawd!”
sighed Ida, “what ambition!” Yes, but the ambition did not last more
than a few days at that pitch.

Tessie wanted to tell me something about her _Mann_ to-day so badly,
but could not find the English words. Her joy when I said, “Tell me in
German”! How came I to speak German? I'd spent three years in Germany
with an American family, taking care of the children. Honest for once.

“That was luck for you,” says Tessie.

“That was sure luck for me,” says I—honest again.

Wherever Lena works there floats conversation for a radius of three
tables. The subject matter is ever the same—“dopes.” “Is he big?...
Gee! I say!... More like a sister to him.... He never sees the
letters.” “Lena” (from Ida), “shut up and get to work!” ... “I picked
him up Sunday.... Where's them waxing papers?... Third she vamped in
two days.... Sure treats a girl swell.... Them ain't pineapples....”
“Lee-na! get to work or I'll knock the hell out a ya!” And pretty Lena
giggles on: “He says.... She says to him.... Sure my father says if he
comes 'round again....”

And Tessie and I; I bend over to hear Tessie's soft, low German as she
tells me how good her _Mann_ is to her; how he never, never scolds, no
matter if she buys a new hat or what; how he brings home all his pay
every week and gives it to her. He is such a good _Mann_. They are
saving all their money. In two years they will go back near München
and buy a little farm.

Tessie and her poor _Mann_, with his broken elbow and his swollen arm
all black and blue, couldn't sleep last night. Oh dear! this New York!
One man at one corner he talk about Harding, one man other corner he
talk about Cox; one man under their window he talk MacSwiney—New York
talk, talk, talk!

Looked like rain to-day, but how can a body buy an umbrella
appropriate to chocolate packing at thirteen dollars a week when the
stores are all closed before work and closed after? I told Lillian my
troubles. I asked Lillian if a cheap umbrella could be purchased in
the neighborhood.

“Cheap,” sniffs Lillian. “I don't know. I got me a nice one—sample
though—at Macy's for twelve-fifty.” Lillian may take to her bed after
supper, but while she is awake she is going to be every inch to the
manner born.

By the time I pack the two thousandth box of “assorteds” my soul turns
in revolt. “If you give me another 'assorted' to pack,” says I to Ida,
“I'll lie down here on the floor and die.”

“The hell you will,” says Ida. But she gets me fancy pound boxes with
a top and bottom layer, scarce two candies alike, and Tessie beams on
me like a mother with an only child. “That takes the brains!” says
Tessie. “Not for me! It gives me the ache in my head to think of it.”

Indeed it near gives me the ache in mine. Before the next to the last
row is packed the bottom looks completely filled. Where can four fat
chocolates in cups find themselves? I push the last row over gently to
make room,—three chocolates in the middle rear up and stand on end.
Press them gently down and two more on the first row get out of hand.
At last the last row is in—only to discover four candies here and
there have all sprung their moorings. For each one I press down
gently, another some place else acts up. How long can my patience
hold out? Firmly, desperately I press that last obstreperous chocolate
down in its place. My finger goes squash through the crusty brown, and
pink goo oozes up and out. A fresh strawberry heart must be found.
“Ain't no more,” announces Fannie. Might just as well tell an artist
there is only enough paint for one eye on his beautiful portrait. Of
course another chocolate can be substituted. But a strawberry heart
was what belonged there!

At last the long rows of boxes are packed, wax paper laid over
each—to blow off every time Louie goes by. Then come covers with
lovely ladies in low-neck dresses on the tops—and the room so cold,
anyhow. Why are all the pictures on all the boxes smiling ladies in
scanty attire, instead of wrapped to the ears in fur coats so that a
body might find comfort in gazing on them in such a temperature?

Ida comes along and peers in one box. “You can consider yourself a
fancy packer now—see?” Harding the night of the election felt less
joyous than do I at her words.

This night there is a lecture at the New School for Social Research to
be attended. If some of those educated foreigners in our room can go
to night school, I guess I can keep up my school. They are all
foreigners but Lillian and Sadie and I. Sadie is about the same
Indian-summer stage as Lillian and uses even better English. Her
eyebrows are also unduly black; her face looks a bit as if she had
been trying to get the ring out of the flour with her teeth
Halloween. Her lips are very red. Sadie has the air of having just
missed being a Vanderbilt. Her boudoir cap is lacy. Her smile is
conscious kindness to all as inferiors. One wonders, indeed, what
brought Sadie to packing chocolates in the autumn of life—a very
wrinkly, powdered autumn. So Lillian, Sadie, and I are the
representatives of what the nation produces—not what she gets
presented with. As for the rest, there are a Hungarian, two Germans,
four Italians, two Spaniards, a Swede, an Englishwoman, and numerous
colored folk. Louie is an Italian. Fannie (bless her dear heart! I
love Fannie) is colored, with freckles. She is Indian summer too—with
a heart of gold. Fannie trudges on her feet all day. Years and years
she has been there. At noon she sits alone in the lunch room, and
after eating puts her head on her arms and, bending over the cold
marble-topped table, gets what rest she can. She was operated on not
so long ago, and every so often still has to go to the hospital for a
day or so. Everything is at sixes and sevens when Fannie is away.

So then, that night I take my sleepy way to a lecture on “The Role of
the State in Modern Civilization.” And it comes over me in the course
of the evening, what a satisfactory thing packing chocolates is. The
role of the State—some say this, some say that. A careful teacher
guards against being dogmatic. When it comes to the past, one
interpreter gives this viewpoint, due to certain prejudices; another
that viewpoint, due to certain other prejudices. When it comes to the
future, no sane soul dare prophesy at all. Thus it is with much which
one studies nowadays—we have evolved beyond the era of intellectual
surety. What an almighty relief to the soul, then, when one can pack
six rows of four chocolates each in a bottom layer, seven rows of four
chocolates each in the top, cover them, count them, stack them, pile
them in the truck, and away they go. One job _done_—done now and
forever. A definite piece of work put behind you—and no one coming
along in six months with documents or discoveries or new theories or
practices to upset all your labors. I say it is blessed to pack
chocolates when one has been studying labor problems for some years.
Every professor ought to have a fling at packing chocolates.

Folks wonder why a girl slaves in a factory when she could be earning
good money and a home thrown in doing housework. I think of that as I
watch Annie. Imagine Annie poking about by her lonesome, saying, “No,
ma'm,” “Yes, ma'm,” “No, sir,” “Yes, sir.” “Can I go out for a few
moments, Mrs. Jones?” “Oh, all right, ma'm!” Annie, whose talk echoes
up and down the room all day. She is Annie to every Tom, Dick, and
Harry who pokes his nose in our packing room, but they are Tom, Dick,
and Harry to her. It is not being called by your first name that makes
the rub. It is being called it when you must forever tack on the Mr.
and the Mrs. and the Miss. Annie is in awe of no human being. Annie is
the fastest packer in the room and draws the most pay. Annie sasses
the entire factory. Annie never stops talking unless she wants to.
Which is only now and then when her mother has had a bad spell and
Annie gets a bit blue. Little Pauline, an Italian, only a few months
in this country, only a few weeks in the factory, works across the
table from Annie. Pauline is the next quickest packer in our room. She
cannot speak a word of English. Annie gives a sigh audible from one
end of the room to the next. “My Gawd!” moans Annie to the entire
floor. “If this here Eyetalian don't learn English pretty soon I gotta
learn Eyetalian. I can't stand here like a dead one all day with
nobody to talk to.” Pauline might perhaps be reasoning that, after
all, why learn English, since she would never get a silent moment in
which to practice any of it.

I very much love little Pauline. All day long her fingers fly; all day
long not a word does she speak, only every now and then little Pauline
turns around to me and we smile at each other. Once on the street, a
block or so from the factory, little Pauline ran up to me, put her arm
through mine, and caught my hand. So we walked to work. Neither could
say a word to the other. Each just smiled and smiled. For the first
time in all my life I really felt the melting pot first hand. To
Pauline I was no agent of Americanization, no superior proclaiming the
need of bathtubs and clean teeth, no teacher of the “Star-spangled
banner” and the Constitution. To Pauline I was a fellow-worker, and
she must know, for such things are always known, that I loved her. To
myself, I felt suddenly the hostess—the generation-long inhabitant
of this land so new and strange to little Pauline. She was my guest
here. I would indeed have her care for my country, have her glad she
came to my home. That day Pauline turned around and smiled more often
than before.

I finally settled down to eating lunch daily between Tessie and Mrs.
Lewis, the Englishwoman. We do so laugh at one another's jokes. I know
everything that ever happened to Tessie and Mrs. Lewis from the time
they were born; all the heartbreaking stories of the first homesick
months in this my land, all the jobs they have labored at. Mrs. Lewis
has worked “in the mills” ever since she was born, it would seem,
first in England, later in Michigan. Tessie and her husband mostly
have hired out together in this country for housework, and she likes
that better than packing chocolates standing up, she says. Mrs. Lewis
is—well, she's Indian summer, too, along with Lillian and Sadie and
Fannie, only she makes no bones about it (nor does black Fannie, for
that matter). Mrs. Lewis is thin and wrinkled, with a skimpy little
dust cap on her head. Her nose is very long and pointed, her teeth
very false. Her eyes are always smiling. She loves to laugh. One day
we were talking about unemployment.

“Don't you know, it's awful in Europe,” volunteers Mrs. Lewis.

“One hundred thousand unemployed in Paris alone—saw it in headlines
this morning,” I advance.

“Paris?” said Tessie. “Paris? Where's Paris?”

If one could always be so sure of one's facts.


Mrs. Lewis wheels about in her chair, looks at me sternly over the top
of her spectacles, and:

“Do you know, they're telling me that's a pretty fast country, that

“You don't say!” I look interested.

“No—no I haven't got the details _yet_”—she clasped her chin with
her hand—“but 'fast' was the word I heard used.”

Irene is a large, florid, bleached blonde. She worked at the table
behind me about four days. “Y'know”—Irene has a salon air—“y'know, I
jus' can't stand steppen on these soft chocolates. Nobody knows how I
suffer. It just goes through me like a knife.” She spent a good part
of each day scraping off the bottoms of her French-heeled shoes with a
piece of cardboard. It evidently was too much for her nerves. She is
no more.

The sign reads, “Saturdays 8-12.” When Saturday came around Ida
hollered down the room, “Everybody's gotta work to-day till five.” The
howl that went up! I supposed “gotta” meant “gotta.” But Lena came up
to me.

“You gonna work till five? Don't you do it. We had to strike to get a
Saturday half holiday. Now they're tellin' us we gotta work till
five—pay us for it, o' course. If enough girls'll stay, pretty soon
they'll be sayin: 'See? What ud we tell ya? The girls want to work
Saturday afternoons'; and they'll have us back regular again.” In the
end not a girl in our room stayed, and Ida wrung her hands.

Monday next, though, Ida announced, “Everybody's gotta work till seven
to-night 'cause ya all went home Saturday afternoon. Three nights a
week now you gotta work till seven.” To stand from 1 to 7! One girl in
the room belonged to some union or other. She called out, “Will they
pay time and a half for overtime?” At which everyone broke into
laughter. “Gee! Ida, here's a girl wants time and a half!” Tessie,
Mrs. Lewis, Sadie, and I refused to work till 7. Ida used threats and
argument. “I gotta put down your numbers!” We stood firm—6 o'clock
was long enough. “Gee! You don't notice that last hour—goes like a
second,” argued Ida. We filed out when the 6-o'clock bell rang.

The girls all fuss over the hour off at noon. It takes at best twenty
minutes to eat lunch. For the rest of the hour there is no place to
go, nothing to do, but sit in the hard chairs at the marble-topped
tables in the whitewashed room for half an hour till the bell rings at
12.50, and you can sit on the edge of a truck upstairs for ten minutes
longer. They all say they wish to goodness we could have half an hour
at noon and get off half an hour earlier at night.

       *       *       *       *       *

A tragedy the first pay day. I was so excited when that Saturday came
round, to see what it would all be like—to get my first pay envelope.
About 11.30 two men came in, one carrying a wooden box filled with
little envelopes. Girls appear suddenly from every place and crowd
around the two men. One calls out a number, the girl takes her
envelope and goes off. I keep working away, thinking you are not
supposed to step up till your number is called. But, lo! everyone
seems paid off and the men departing, whereat I leave my work with
beating heart and announce: “You didn't call 1075.” But it seems I was
supposed to step up and give 1075. I get handed my little envelope.
Connie Parker in one corner, 1075 in the other, the date, and $6.81.
Six dollars and eighty-one cents, and I had expected fourteen dollars.
(I had told Ida at last that I thought I ought to get fourteen
dollars, and she thought so, too, and said she'd “speak to the man”
about it.) I clutched Ida—“only six dollars and eighty one cents!”
“Well, what more do ya want.”

“But you said fourteen dollars.”

It seems the week goes Thursday to Thursday, instead of Monday to
Saturday, so my first pay covered only three days and a deduction for
my locker key.

At that moment a little cry just behind me from Louisa. Louisa had
been packing with Irene—dark little, frail little Yiddish Louisa; big
brawny bleached-blond Irene.

“I've lost my pay envelope!”

Wan little Louisa! She had been talking to Topsy, Fannie's helper. Her
envelope had slipped out of her waist, and when she went to pick it
up, lo! there was nothing there to pick—fourteen dollars gone! There
was excitement for you. Fourteen dollars in Wing 13, Room 3, was equal
to fourteen million dollars in Wall Street. Everybody pulled out
boxes and searched, got down on hands and knees and poked, and the
rest mauled Louisa from head to foot.

“Sure it ain't in your stocking? Well, look _again_.”

“What's this?”—jabbing Louisa's ribs—“this?”

Eight hands going over Louisa's person as if the anguished slip of a
girl could not have felt that stiff envelope with fourteen dollars in
it herself had it been there. She stood helpless, woebegone.

Ida rose Napoleon-like to the rescue. “I'll search everybody in the

Whereat she made a grab at Topsy and removed her. “They” say Topsy was
stripped to the breezes in Ida's fury, but no envelope.

Topsy, be it known, was already a suspicious character. That very week
Fannie's purse had disappeared under circumstances pointing to Topsy.
Which caused a strained relationship between the two. One day it
broke—such relationship as existed.

Fannie up at her end of the boxes was heard to screech down the line
to where Topsy was sorting chocolate rolls:

“How dare you talk to me like that?”

“I ain't talkin' to you!”

“You am. You called me names.”

“I never. I called you nothin', you ole white nigger.”

“You stand lie to me like that and call me names?”

“Who say lie? I ain't no liar. You shut up; you ain't my boss. I'll
call you anythin' I please, sassin' me that way!”

“I didn't sassed you. You called me names.”

“I don't care what I called you—I know what you _is_.” Here Topsy
gathered all her strength and shouted up to Fannie, “You're a
_heifer_, you is.”

Now there is much I do not know about the world, and maybe heifer is a
word like some one or two others you are never supposed to set down in
so many letters. If so, it is new to me and I apologize. The way Topsy
called it, and the way Fannie acted on hearing herself called it,
would lead one to believe it is a word never appearing in print.

“You—call—me a _heifer_?” shrieked Fannie. “I'll tell ya landlady on
ya, I will!”

“Don' yo' go mixin' up in my private affairs. You shut yo' mouth, yo'
hear me? yo' _heifer_!”

“I _ain't_ no heifer!”

Fortunately Ida swung into our midst about then and saved folk from
bodily injury. A few days later Fanny informed me privately that she
don't say nothin' when that nigger starts rowin' with her, but if she
jus' has her tin lunch box with her next time when that nigger starts
talkin' fresh—callin' her a heifer—_her!_—she'll slug her right
'cross the face with it.

So Topsy was searched. When she got her garments back on she appeared
at the door—a small black goddess of fury. “Yo' fresh Ida,
yo'—yessa—yo' jus' searched me 'cause I'm black. That's all, 'cause
I'm black. Why don't you search all that white trash standin' there?”
And Topsy flung herself out. Monday she appeared with a new maroon
embroidered suit. Cost every nickel of thirty-eight dollars, Fannie
informed me. In the packing room she had a hat pin in her cap. Some
girl heard Topsy tell some other girls she was going stick that pin in
Fannie if Fannie got sassin' her again. Ida made her remove the hat
pin. In an hour she disappeared altogether and stayed disappeared
forever after. “Went South,” Fannie told me. “Always said she was
goin' South when cold weather started.... Huh! Thought she'd stick me
with a hat pin. I was carryin' a board around all mornin'. If she so
much as come near me I was goin' to give her a crack aside the head.”

       *       *       *       *       *

But there was little Louisa—and no longer could she keep back the
tears. Nor could ever the pay envelope be unearthed. Later I found her
sitting on the pile of dirty towels in the washroom, sobbing her heart
out. It was not so much that the money was gone—that was awful
enough—fourteen dollars!—fourteen dollars!—oh-h-h,—but her mother
and father—what would they do to her when she came home and told 'em?
They mightn't believe it was lost and think she'd spent it on
somethin' for herself. The tears streamed down her face. And that was
the last we ever saw of Louisa.

Had “local color” been all we were after, perhaps Wing 13, Room 3,
would have supplied sufficient of that indefinitely, with the
combination of the ever-voluble Lena and the ever-present labor
turnover. Even more we desired to learn the industrial feel of the
thing—what do some of the million and more factory women think about
the world of work? Remaining longer in Wing 13 would give no deeper
clue to that. For all that I could find out, the candy workers there
thought nothing about it one way or the other. The younger unmarried
girls worked because it seemed the only thing to do—they or their
families needed the money, and what would they be doing otherwise?
Lena claimed, if she could have her way in the world, she would sleep
until 12 every day and go to a show every afternoon. But that life
would pall even on Lena, and she giggled wisely when I slangily
suggested as much.

The older married women worked either because they had to, since the
male breadwinner was disabled (an old fat Irishwoman at the chocolate
dipper had a husband with softening of the brain. He was a discharged
English soldier who “got too much in the sun in India”) or because his
tenure of job was apt to be uncertain and they preferred to take no
chances. Especially with the feel and talk of unemployment in the air,
two jobs were better than none. A few, like Mrs. Lewis, worked to lay
by toward their old age. Mrs. Lewis's husband had a job, but his wages
permitted of little or no savings. Some of her friends told her: “Oh,
well, somebody's bound to look out for you somehow when you get old.
They don't let you die of hunger and cold!” But Mrs. Lewis was not so
sure. She preferred to save herself from hunger and cold.

Such inconveniences of the job as existed were taken as being all in
the day's work—like the rain or a cold in the head. At some time they
must have shown enough ability for temporary organization to strike
for the Saturday half holiday. I wish I could have been there when
that affair was on. Which girls were the ringleaders? How much
agitation and exertion did it take to acquire the momentum which would
result in enforcing their demands? Had I entered factory work with any
idea of encouraging organization among female factory workers, I
should have considered that candy group the most hopeless soil
imaginable. Those whom I came in contact with had no class feeling, no
ideas of grievances, no ambitions over and above the doing of an
uninteresting job with as little exertion as possible.

I hated leaving Tessie and Mrs. Lewis and little Pauline. Already I
miss the life behind those candy scenes. For the remainder of my days
a box of chocolates will mean a very personal—almost too personal for
comfort!—thing to me. But for the rest of the world....

       *       *       *       *       *

Some place, some moonlight night, some youth, looking like a collar
advertisement, will present his fair love with a pound box of fancy
assorted chocolates—in brown paper cups; and assured of at least a
generous disposition, plus his lovely collar-advertisement hair, she
will say yes. On the sofa, side by side, one light dimly shining, the
nightingale singing in the sycamore tree beside the front window,
their two hearts will beat as one—for the time being. They will eat
the chocolates I packed and life will seem a very sweet and peaceful
thing indeed. Nor will any disturbing notion of how my feet felt ever
reach them, no jarring “you heifer!” float across the states to where
they sit. Louie to them does not exist—Louie, forever on the run
with, “_Louie_, move these trays!” “_Louie_, bottoms!” “_Louie_,
tops!” “_Louie_, cardboards!” “_Louie_, the truck!” “_Louie_, sweep
the floor! How many times I told you that to-day!” “_Louie_, get me a
box a' ca'mels, that's a good dope!” “_Louie_, turn out them lights!”
“_Louie_, turn on them lights!” “_Louie_, ya leave things settin'
round like that!” “_Louie_, where them covers?” and then Louie smashes
his fingers and retires for ten minutes.

Nor is Ida more than a strange name to those two on the sofa. No
echoes reach them of, “Ida, where them wax papers?” “Ida, where's
Fannie?” “Ida, where them picture tops?” “Ida, ain't no more
'coffees.' What'll I use instead?” “Ida! Where's Ida? Mike wants ya by
the elevator.” “Ida, I jus' packed sixty; ten sixty-two is my number.”
“Ida, Joe says they want 'drops' on the fifth.” “Ida, ain't no more
trays.” “Ida, gimme the locker-door key. 'M cold—want ma sweater.
(Gee! it 'u'd freeze the stuffin' outa ya in this ice box!)”

Those chocolates appeared in a store window in Watertown, and that's
enough. Not for their moonlit souls the clang of the men building a
new dipper and roller in our room—the bang of the blows of metal on
metal as they pierce your soul along about 5 of a weary afternoon.
Lena's giggles and Ida's “Lee-na, stop your talk and go to work!...
Louie, stop your whistlin'!... My Gawd! girls, don' you know no better
n' to put two kinds in the same box? ... Hey, Lena, this yere
Eyetalian wants somethin'; come here and find out what's ailin'
her.... Fannie, ain't there no more plantations?... Who left that door
open?... Louie, for Gawd's sake how long you gonna take with that
truck?... Lena, stop your talkin' and go to work....”

And 'round here, there, and every place, “My Gawd! my feet are like
ice!” “Say, len' me some of yo'r cardboards—hey?” “You Pearl White
[black as night], got the tops down there?” “Hey, Ida, the Hungarian
girl wants somethin'. I can't understand her....”

Those two sit on the sofa. The moon shines on the nightingale singing
in the sycamore tree. Nor do they ever glimpse a vision of little
Italian Pauline's swift fingers dancing over the boxes, nor do they
ever guess of wan Louisa's sobs.


                            _286 On Brass_

Sweetness and Light.

So now appears the candy factory in retrospect.

Shall we stumble upon a job yet that will make brass seem as a haven
of refuge? Allah forbid!

After all, factory work, more than anything so far, has brought out
the fact that life from beginning to end is a matter of comparisons.
The factory girl, from my short experience, is not fussing over what
her job looks like compared to tea at the Biltmore. She is comparing
it with the last job or with home. And it is either slightly better or
slightly worse than the last job or home. Any way round, nothing to
get excited over. An outsider, soul-filled college graduate with a
mission, investigates a factory and calls aloud to Heaven: “Can such
things be? Why do women _stay_ in such a place?”

The factory girl, if she heard those anguished cries, would as like as
not shrug her shoulders and remark: “Ugh! she sh'u'dda seen ——'s
factory where I worked a year ago.” Or, “Gawd! what does she think a
person's goin' to do—sit home all day and scrub the kitchen?”

And yet the fact remains that some things get too much on even a
philosophical factory girl's nerves. Whereat she merely walks out—if
she has gumption enough. The labor turnover, from the point of view of
production and efficiency, can well be a vital industrial concern. To
the factory girl, it saves her life, like as not. Praise be the labor

If it were not for that same turnover, I, like the soul-filled college
graduate, might feel like calling aloud, not to Heaven, but to the
President of the United States and Congress and the Church and Women's
clubs: “Come quick and rescue females from the brassworks!” As it is,
the females rescue themselves. If there's any concern it's “the boss
he should worry.” He must know how every night girls depart never to
cross those portals again, so help them Gawd. Every morning a new
handful is broken in, to stay there a week or two, if that long, and
take to their heels. Praise be the labor turnover, as long as we have
such brassworks.

Before eight o'clock of a cold Monday morning (thank goodness it was
not raining, since we stood in shivering groups on the sidewalk) I
answered the Sunday-morning “ad”:

                            GIRLS AND WOMEN

     between 16 and 36; learners and experienced assemblers and
     foot-press operators on small brass parts; steady; half day
     Saturday all year around; good pay and bonus. Apply
     Superintendent's office.

The first prospects were rather formidable—some fifty men and boys,
no other girl or woman. Soon two cold females made their appearance
and we shivered together and got acquainted in five minutes, as is
wont under the circumstances. One rawboned girl with a crooked nose
and frizzled blond hair had been married just two months. She went
into immediate details about a party at her sister-in-law's the night
before, all ending at a dance hall. The pretty, plump Jewess admitted
she had never danced.

“What?” almost yelled the bride, “Never _danced_? Good Gawd! girl, you
might as well be _dead_!”

“You said it!” I chimed in. “Might as well dig a hole in the ground
and crawl in it.”

“You said it!” and the husky bride and erstwhile (up to the week
before) elevator operator at twenty-three dollars a week (she said)
gave me a smart thump of understanding. “Girl, you never _danced_?
It's—it's the grandest thing in _life_!”

The plump Jewess looked a little out of things. “I know,” she sighed,
“they tell me it 'u'd make me thin, too, but my folks don't let me go
out no place.”

Whereat we changed to polishing off profiteers and the high cost of
living. The Jewish girl's brother knew we were headin' straight for
civil war. “They'll be comin' right in folks' homes and killen 'em
before a year's out. See if they don't.” I asked her if she'd ever
worked in a union shop. “Na, none of that stuff for me! Wouldn't go
near a union.” Both girls railed over the way people were losing their
jobs. Anyhow, the bride was goin' to a dance that night, you jus' bet.

At last some one with a heart came out and told the girls we could
step inside. By that time there were some ten of us, all ages and
descriptions. What would a “typical” factory girl be like, I wonder.
Statistics prove she is young and unmarried more than otherwise, but
each factory does seem to collect the motleyest crew of a little of
everything—old, young, married, single, homely, stupid, bright,
pretty, sickly, husky, fat, thin, and so on down the line. Certain it
is that they who picture a French-heeled, fur-coated, dolled-up
creature as the “typical factory girl” are far wide of the mark. The
one characteristic which so far does seem pretty universal is that one
and all, no matter what the age or looks, are perfectly willing to
tell you everything they know on short acquaintance. At first I felt a
hesitancy at asking questions about their personal lives, yet I so
much wanted to know what they did and thought, what they hoped and
dreamed about. It was early apparent that sooner or later everything
would come out with scant encouragement, and no amount of questioning
ever is taken amiss. They in turn ask me questions, and I lie until I
hate myself.

The plump Jewess was the first interviewed. When she heard the pay she
departed. The elevator bride and I were taken together, and together
we agreed to everything—wages thirteen dollars a week, “with one
dollar a week bonus” (the bonus, as was later discovered, had numerous
strings to it. I never did get any). Work began at 7.45, half hour for
lunch, ended at 5. The bride asked if the work was dangerous. “That's
up to you. Goin' upstairs is dangerous if you don't watch where you
put your feet. Eh?” We wanted to start right in—I had my apron under
my arm—but to-morrow would be time. I got quite imploring about
beginning on that day. No use.

The bride and I departed with passes to get by with the next morning.
That was the last I saw of the bride—or any of that group, except one
little frozen thing without a hat. She worked three days, and used to
pull my apron every time she went by and grin.

The factory was 'way over on the East Side. It meant gettin' up in the
dark and three Subways—West Side, the Shuttle, East Side which could
be borne amicably in the morning, but after eight and three-quarter
hours of foot-press work, going home with that 5-6 rush—that mob who
shoved and elbowed and pushed and jammed—was difficult to bear with
Christian spirit. Except that it really is funny. What idea of human
nature must a Subway guard between the hours of 5 and 6 be possessed

At noon I used to open my lunch anxiously, expecting to see nothing
but a doughy mass of crumpled rye bread and jam. Several times on the
Subway the apple got shoved into my ribs over a period where it seemed
as if either the apple or the ribs would have to give in. But by noon
my hunger was such that any state of anything edible was as nectar and

I am thinking that even a hardened factory hand might remember her
first day at the brassworks. Up three flights of stairs, through a
part of the men's factory, over a narrow bridge to a back building,
through two little bobbing doors, and there you were admitted to that
sanctuary where, according to the man who hired you, steady work and
advancement to a rosy future awaited one.

True, I had only the candy factory as a basis of comparison, as far as
working experience went. But I have been through factories and
factories of all sorts and descriptions, and nothing had I ever seen
like the brassworks. First was the smell—the stale smell of gas and
metal. (Perhaps there is no such smell as stale metal, but you go down
to the brassworks and describe it better!) Second, the darkness—a
single green-shaded electric light directly over where any girl was
working, but there were areas where there were no workers. Up the end
of the floor, among the power presses, all belts and machines and
whirring wheels, there were only three or four shaded lights. Windows
lined both sides of the floor, but they had never been washed since
the factory was built, surely. Anyhow, it was dark and rainy outside.
The walls once had been white, but were now black. Dim, dirty, uneven
boxes containing brass parts filled the spaces between the long tables
where the foot presses stood. Third, the noise—the clump of the foot
presses, the whirring of the pattern cutters—one sounded ever like a
lusty woodpecker with a metal beak pecking on metal; rollings and
rumblings from the floor above; jarrings and shakings from below.

Two-thirds of the entire floor was filled with long tables holding the
foot presses—tables which years ago were clean and new, tables which
now were worn, stained, and uneven, and permanently dirty. On each
side of each long table stood five black iron presses, but there
seemed to be never more than one or two girls working at a side. Each
press performed a different piece of work—cut wick holes, fitted or
clamped parts together, shaped the cones, and what not, but with only
two general types of operation so far as the foot part went. One type
took a long, firm, forward swing on the pedal; the other a short,
hard, downward “kick.” With the end of the pressure the steel die cut
through the thin brass cone, or completed whatever the job was. As the
pedal and foot swung back to position the girl removed the brass part,
dropping it in a large box at her right. She kept a small bin on the
table at the left of the press filled with parts she was to work on.
Around the sides of the floor were the table workers—girls adjusting
parts by hand, or soldering.

The other third of the floor was taken up with the machine presses,
which mostly clicked away cutting patterns in the brass parts to hold
the lamp chimney. In a far corner were the steaming, bleaching tubs
where dull, grimy brass parts were immersed in several preparations, I
don't know what, to emerge at last shining like the noonday sun.

The cold little girl with no hat, a strange, somewhat unsociable, new
person, and I stood there waiting one hour. Some one took our names.
The experienced feeling when they asked me where I had worked last
and how long was I there, and why did I leave! At the end of an hour
the forelady beckoned me—such a neat, sweet person as she was—and I
took my initial whack at a foot press. If ever I do run an automobile
the edge of first enjoyment is removed. A Rolls-Royce cannot make me
feel any more pleased with life than the first ten minutes of that
foot press. In ten minutes the job was all done and there I sat for an
hour and a half waiting for another. Hard on a person with the
foot-press fever. The times and times later I would gratefully have
taken any part of that hour and a half to ease my weary soul!

Be it known, if I speak feelingly at times of the weariness of a foot
press, that, though nothing as to size, I am a very husky
person—perhaps the healthiest of the eight million women in industry!
It was a matter of paternal dismay that I arrived in the world female
instead of male. What Providence had overlooked, mortal ability would
do everything possible to make up for—so argued a disappointed
father. From four years of age on I was taught to do everything a boy
could or would do; from jumping off cars while they were moving to
going up in a balloon. A good part of my life I have played tennis and
basketball and hockey, and swum, and climbed mountains, and ridden
horseback, and rowed, and fished. I do not know what it is to have an
ache or a pain from one end of the year to the other. All of which is
mentioned merely because if certain work taxes my strength, who
seldom has known what it is to be weary, what can it do to the average
factory worker, often without even a fighting physical chance from
birth on?

The jobs on our third floor where the girls and women worked concerned
themselves with lamps—the old-fashioned kind, city folks are apt to
think. Yet goodness knows we seemed during even my sojourn to make
more lamp parts than creation ever had used in the heyday of lamps.
Well, all but five per cent of farm women still use kerosene lamps, so
the government tells us. Also fat Lizzie informed me, when I asked her
who in the world could ever use just them lamp cones I made some one
particular day, “Lor', child, they send them lamps all over the
world!” She made a majestic sweep with both arms. “Some of 'em goes as
far—as far—as _Philadelphia_!” Once we were working on a rush order
for fifty thousand lamps of one certain kind. Curiosity got the better
of me and I took occasion to see where the boxes were being addressed.
It was to a large mail-order house in Chicago.

The first noon whistle—work dropped—a rush for the washroom. Let no
one think his hands ever were dirty until he labors at a foot press in
a brassworks. Such sticky, grimy, oily, rough blackness never was—and
the factory supplies no soap nor towels. You are expected to bring
your own—which is all right the second day when you have found it out
and come prepared.

The third floor had seemed dark and dismal enough during the morning;
at noon all lights are turned off. Many of the workers went out for
lunch, the rest got around in dismal corners, most of them singly, and
ate by their machines, on the same hard seats they have been on since
a quarter to 8. What a bacchanal festival of color and beauty now
appeared the candy-factory whitewashed lunch room with the
marble-topped tables! The airy sociability of it! I wandered about
with my lunch in my hand, to see what I could see. Up amid the belts
and power machines sat one of the girls who began that morning—not
the cold, hatless one.

“You gonna stick it out?” she asked me.

“Sure. I guess it's all right.”

“Oh gee! Ain't like no place I ever worked yet. Don't catch me
standin' this long.”

She did stand it four days. Minnie suggested then she stick it out
till Christmas. “You'll need the money for Christmas y'know, an' you
might not get the next job so easy now.”

“Damn Christmas!” was all the new girl had to say to that.

“Sure now,” said Irish Minnie, “an' she's takin her chances. It's an
awful disgrace y'know, to be gettin' presents when y'ain't got none to
give back. Ain't it, now? I'd never take no chances on a job so close
to Christmas.”

I talked to five girls that noon. None of them had been there longer
than a week. None of them planned to stay.

All afternoon I worked the foot press at one job. My foot-press
enthusiasm weakened—four thousand times I “kicked”—two thousand
lamp-wick slots I make in the cones. Many of the first five hundred
looked a bit sad and chewed at. The “boss” came by and saw that I was
not one hundred per cent perfect. He gave me pointers and I did
better. Each cone got placed over a slanted form just so; kick, and
half the slot is made. Lift the cone up a wee bit, twist it round to
an exact position, hold it in place, kick, and the other half is cut.
The kick must be a stout kick—bing! down hard, to make a clean job of
it. The thing they gave you to sit on! A high, narrow, homemade-looking,
wooden stool, the very hardest article of furniture under the blue
canopy of heaven. Some of them had little, narrow, straight backs—just
boards nailed on behind. All of them were top heavy and fell over if
you got off without holding on. By 4.30 standing up at the candy job
seemed one of the happiest thoughts on earth. What rosy good old days
those were! Dear old candy factory! Happy girls back there bending
over the chocolates!

Next sat Louisa, an Italian girl who stuttered, and I had to stop my
press to hear her. She stopped hers to talk. She should worry. It's
the worst job she ever saw, and for thirteen dollars a week why should
she work? She talked to me, kicked a few times, got a drink, kicked,
talked, stood up and stretched, kicked, talked, got another drink. She
is married, has a baby a year old, another coming in three months. She
will stay her week out, then she goes, you bet. Her husband was
getting fifty dollars a week in a tailor job—no work now for
t-t-t-two months. He does a little now and then in the b-b-barber
business. Oh, but life was high while the going was good! She leaned
way over and told me in a hushed, inspired tone, to leave me
awestruck, “When we was m-m-married we t-t-took a h-h-h-honeymoon!” I
gasped and wanted details. To West Virginia they'd gone for a month.
The fare alone, each way, had come to ten dollars apiece, and then
they did no work for that month, but lived in a little hotel. Her
husband was crazy of her, and she was of him now, but not when she was
married. He's very good to her. After dinner every single night they
go to a show.

“Every night?”

“Sure, every night, and Sundays two times.”

It all sounded truly glowing.

“You married?”


“Well, don' you do it. Wish I wasn't married. Oh gee! Wish I wasn't
married. I'm crazy of my husband, but I wish I wasn't married.
See—once you married—pisht!—there you are—stay that way.”

I agreed I was in no hurry about matrimony.

“Hurry? Na, no hurry; that's right. The h-h-hurrier you are the
b-b-b-badder off you get!”

The next morning the Italian girl was late. The forelady gave her
locker to some one else. Such a row! Louisa said: “I got mad, I did. I
told her to go to hell. That's only w-w-w-way anybody gets anything in
this world—get mad and say you go to h-h-hell. Betcha.”

A little later the forelady, when the Italian was on one of her trips
after a drink, leaned over and gave me her side of the story. She is
such a very nice person, our forelady—quiet, attractive, neat as a
pin. Her sister addresses boxes and does clerical work of one sort or
another. Two subdued old maids they are; never worked any place but
right on our third floor. “Ain't like what it used to be,” she told
me. “In the old days girls used to work here till they got married. We
used to have parties here and, say! they was nice girls in them days.
Look at 'em now! Such riffraff! New ones comin' in all the time, new
ones worse each time. Riffraff, that's what they are. It sure looks
nice to see a girl like you.” (What good were the earrings doing?)
“We'll make it just as nice here for you as we can.” (Oh, how guilty I
began to feel!)

She looked around to see if the Italian was about.

“Now you take this Eyetalian girl next to you. Gee! she's some fright.
Oughtta heard her this morning. 'Spected me to keep her locker for her
when she was late. How'd I know she was comin' back? I gave it to
another girl. She comes tearin' at me. 'What the hell you think you're
doin'?' she says to me. Now I ain't used to such talk, and I was for
puttin' my hat and coat on right then and there and walkin' out. I
must say I gotta stand all sorts of things in my job. It's awful what
I gotta put up with. I never says nothin' to her. But any girl's a
fool 'l talk to a person that way. Shows she's got nothin' up here
[knocking her head] or she sure'd know better than get the forelady
down on her like that. Gee! I was mad!”

Louisa returned and Miss Hibber moved on. “Some fright, that
forelady,” remarked Louisa. That night Louisa departed for good.

The second day I kicked over six thousand times. It seemed a lot when
you think of the hard stool. It was a toss between which was the
worse, the stool or the air. This afternoon, I was sure it must be
3.30. I looked back at the clock—1.10. It had seemed like two hours
of work and it was forty minutes. No ventilation whatever in that
whole room—not a crack of air. Wonder if there ever was any since the
place was built decades ago. Once Louisa and I became desperate and
got Tony to open a window. The forelady had a fit; so did Tillie. Both
claimed they'd caught cold.

Tony is the Louis of the brassworks. He is young and very lame—one
leg considerably shorter than the other. It makes me miserable to see
him packing heavy boxes about. He told me he must get another job or
quit. Finally they did put him at a small machine press. So many
maimed and halt and decrepit as they employed about the works! Numbers
of the workers were past-telling old, several were very lame, one
errand boy had a fearfully deformed face, one was cross-eyed. I
remarked to Minnie that the boss of the works must have a mighty good
heart. Minnie has been working twenty-three years and has had the
bloom of admiration for her fellow-beings somewhat worn off in that
time. “Hm!” grunted Minnie. “He gets 'em cheaper that way, I guess.”

The elevator man is no relation to the one at the candy factory. He is
red faced and grinning, most of his teeth are gone, and he always
wears a derby hat over one eye. One morning I was late. He jerked his
head and thumb toward the elevator. “Come on, I'll give ya a lift up!”
and when we reached our floor, though it was the men's side, “Third
Avenue stop!” he called out cheerily, and grinned at the world. He had
been there for years. The boss on our floor had been there for
years—forty-three, to be exact. Miss Hibber would not tell how many
years she had worked there, nor would Tillie. Tillie said she was born

If it were only the human element that counted, everyone would stay at
the brassworks forever. I feel like a snake in the grass, walking off
“on them” when they all were so nice. Nor was it for a moment the
“dearie” kind of niceness that made you feel it was orders from above.
From our floor boss down, they were people who were born to treat a
body square. All the handicaps against them—the work itself, the
surroundings, the low pay—had so long been part of their lives, these
“higher ups” seemed insensible to the fact that such things were

To-day was sunny and the factory not so dark—in fact, part of the
time we worked with no electric lights. The crisp early morning air
those four blocks from the Subway to the factory—it sent the spring
fever through the blood. In the gutter of that dirty East Side street
a dirty East Side man was burning garbage. The smoke curled up lazily.
The sun just peeping up over the hospital at the end of the street
made slanting shafts through the smoke. As I passed by it suddenly was
no longer the East Side of New York City....

    Now the Four Way Lodge is open,
    Now the hunting winds are loose,
    Now the smokes of spring go up to clear the brain....

Breakfast in a cañon by the side of a stream—the odor of pines....
The little bobbing doors went to behind me and there I stood in floor
three, the stale gas and metal smell ... the whirs of the belts ...
the jarring of the presses....

Next to me this glorious morning sat a snip of a little thing all in
black—so pretty she was, so very pretty. I heard the boss tell her
it's not the sort of work she's been used to, she'll find it hard. Is
she sure she wants to try it? And in the course of the morning I heard
the story of Mame's life.

Mame's husband died three weeks ago. They had been married one month
and two days—after waiting three years. Shall I write a story of Mame
on the sob-sister order to bring the tears to your eyes? It could
easily be done. But not honestly. Little Mame—how could her foot ever
reach the press? And when she walked off after a drink, I saw that she
was quite lame. A widow only three weeks. She'd never worked before,
but there was no money. She lived all alone, wandered out for her
meals—no mother, no father, no sisters or brothers. She cried every
night. Her husband had been a traveling salesman—sometimes he made
eighty-five dollars a week. They had a six-room apartment and a
servant! She'd met him at a dance hall. A girl she was with had dared
her to wink at him. Sure she'd do anything anybody dared her to. He
came over and asked her what she was after, anyhow. That night he left
the girl he'd taken to the dance hall to pilot her own way back to
home and mother, and he saw Mame to her room. He was swell and tall.
She showed me his picture in a locket around her neck. Meanwhile Mame
kicked the foot press about twice every five minutes.

Why had they waited so long to get married? Because of the war. He was
afraid he'd be killed and would leave her a widow. “He asked me to
promise never to get married again if he did marry me and died.
But,”—she leaned over my way—“that only meant if he died during the
war, ain't that so? Lookit how long the war was over before he died.”

He was awful good to her after they got married. He took her to a show
every night—jes swell; and she had given him a swell funeral—you bet
she did. The coffin had cost eighty-five dollars—white with real
silver handles; and the floral piece she bought—“Gee! What's your
name?... Connie, you oughtta seen that floral piece!” and Mame laid
off work altogether to use her hands the better. It was shaped so, and
in the middle was a clock made out of flowers, with the hands at the
very minute and hour he'd died. (He passed away of a headache—very
sudden.) Then below, in clay, were two clasped hands—his and hers.
“Gee! Connie, you never seen nothin' so swell. Everybody seen it said

Once he bought her a white evening dress, low neck, fish-tail train,
pearls all over the front—cost him one whole week's salary,
eighty-five dollars! She had diamond earrings and jewels worth at
least one thousand dollars. She had lovely clothes. Couldn't she just
put a black band around the arms and go on wearing them? She took a
look at my earrings. Gee! they were swell. She had some green ones
herself. Next morning she appeared in her widow's weeds with
bright-green earrings at least a quarter of an inch longer than mine.

From the first Mame clung to me morning and night. Usually mornings
she threw her arms around me in the dressing room. “Here's my Connie!”
I saw myself forced to labor in the brassworks for life because of
Mame's need of me. This need seemed more than spiritual. One day her
pocketbook with twelve dollars had been stolen in the Subway. I lent
her some cash. Another time she left her money at the factory. I lent
her the wherewithal to get home with, etc. One day I was not at work.
Somehow the other girls all were down on Mame. I have pondered much on
that. When it came to the needed collection Mame found it hard
pickings. She got a penny from this girl, another from that one, until
she had made up a nickel to get home with. Irish Minnie gave her a
sandwich and an apple. The girls all jumped on me: “The way you let
that Frenchie work ya! Gee! you believe everything anybody tells ya.”

“But,” says I, “she's been a widow only three weeks and I'm terrible
sorry for her.”

“How d'ya know she ever had a husband?” “How d'ya know he's dead?”
“How'd ya....”

The skepticism of factory workers appals me. They suspect everybody
and everything from the boss down. I believed almost everything about
Mame, especially since she paid back all she ever borrowed. No one
else in that factory believed a word she said. They couldn't “stand
her round.”

“How d'ya know she lost her pocketbook?” (Later she advertised and got
it back—a doctor's wife found it on the early Subway.)

“Doctor's wife,” sniffed Minnie. “Who ever heard of a doctor's wife up
at seven o'clock in the mornin'?”

And now I have walked off and left Mame to that assemblage of
unbelievers. At least Mame has a tongue of her own she is only too
glad of a chance to use. It is meat and drink to Mame to have a man
look her way. “Did you see that fella insult me?” and she calls back
protective remarks for half a block. Sentiments that usually bring in
mention of the entertained youth's mother and sisters, and wind up
with allusions to a wife, which if he doesn't possess now, he may some
day. Once I stopped with Mame while she and Irene phoned a “fella” of
Irene's from a drug-store telephone booth. Such gigglings and goings
on, especially since the “fella” was unknown to Mame at the time.
Outside in the store a pompous, unromantic man grew more and more
impatient for a turn at that booth. When Mame stepped out he remarked
casually that he hoped she felt she'd gotten five cents' worth. The
dressing down Mame then and there heaped upon that startled gentleman!
Who was he to insult her? I grew uneasy and feared a scene, but the
pompous party took hasty refuge in the telephone booth and closed the
door. Mame was very satisfied with the impression she must have made.
“The fresh old guy!”

Another time Mame sought me out in the factory, her eyes blazing.
“Connie, I been insulted, horribly insulted, and I don't see how I can
stay in this factory! You know that girl Irene? Irene she says to me,
'Mamie, you plannin' to get married again?'

“'I dunno,' I says to her, 'but if I do it'll be to some single

“'Huh!' Irene says to me, 'You won't get no single fella; you'll have
to marry a widower with two or three children.' Think of her insultin'
me like that! I could 'a' slapped her right in the face!”

I asked Mame one Saturday what she'd be doing Sunday. She sighed.
“I'll be spendin' the day at the cemetery, I expect.”

Monday morning I asked Mame about Sunday. She'd been to church in the
morning (Mame, like most of the girls at the brassworks, was a
Catholic), a show in the afternoon, cabaret for dinner, had danced
till 1, and played poker until 4 A.M. “If only my husband was alive,”
said Mame, “I'd be the happiest girl on earth.”

One night Mame's landlady wanted to go out and play poker. She asked
Mame to keep her eye and ear out for the safety of the house. Every
five minutes Mame thought she heard a burglar or somethin'. “Gee! I
hardly slept at all; kep' wakin' up all the time. An' that landlady
never got in till six this mornin'!”

“My Gawd!” I exclaimed. “Hope she was lucky after playin' poker that

“She sure was,” sighed Mame. “Gee! I jus' wish ya c'u'd see the swell
prize she won!—the most beau-teful statue—stands about three feet
high—of Our Blessed Lady of the Immaculate Conception.”

Mame's friendship could become almost embarrassing. One day she
announced she wanted me to marry one of her brothers-in-law. “I got
two nice ones and we'll go out some Sunday afternoon and you can have
your pick. One's a piano tuner; the other's a detective.” I thought
offhand the piano tuner sounded a bit more domestic. He was swell,
Mame said.

Mame didn't think she'd stay long in the brassworks. It was all
right—the boss she thought was sort of stuck on her. Did he have a
wife? (The boss, at least sixty years old.) Also Charlie was making
eyes at her. (Charlie was French; so was Mame. Charlie knew six words
of English. Mame three words of French. Charlie was sixteen). No,
aside from matrimony, Mame was going to train in Bellevue Hospital and
earn sixty dollars a week being a children's nurse. She'd heard if you
got on the right side of a doctor it was easy, and already a doctor
was interested in getting Mame in.

And I've just walked off and left Mame.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kicked the foot press 7,149 times by the meter to-day and expected to
die of weariness. Thumped, thumped, thumped without stopping. As with
candy, I got excited about going on piecework. Asked Miss Hibber what
the rates were for my job—four and a half cents for one hundred and
fifty. Since I had to kick twice for every cone top finished, that
would have meant around one dollar fifteen cents for the day. Vanished
the piece-rate enthusiasm. Tillie seemed the only girl on our floor
doing piecework. Tillie, who “was born there.” She was thin and stoop
shouldered, wore spectacles, and did her hair according to the
pompadour styles of some twenty years ago. The work ain't so bad.
Tillie don't mind it. There's just one thing in the world Tillie
wants. What's that? “A man!” Evidently Tillie has made no bones of her
desire. The men call back kindly to Tillie as she picks her way up the
dark stairs in the morning, “Hello there, sweetheart!” That week had
been a pretty good one for Tillie—she'd made sixteen dollars
forty-nine cents.

“Ain't much, p'raps, one way, but there's jus' this about it, it's
steady. They never lay anybody off here, and there's a lot. You hear
these girls 'round here talk about earnin' four, five, six dollars a
day. Mebbe they did, but why ain't they gettin' it now? 'Shop closed
down,' or, 'They laid us off.' That's it. Add it up over a year and my
sixteen forty-nine'll look big as their thirty dollars to forty
dollars a week, see if it don't.”

Tillie's old, fat, wheezy mother works on our floor—maybe Tillie
really was born there.

One day I decided to see what could be done if I went the limit.
Suppose I had a sick mother and a lame brother—a lot of factory girls
have. I was on a press where you had to kick four separate times on
each piece—small lamp cones, shaped, slot already in. My job was to
punch four holes for the brackets to hold the chimney. The day before
I had kicked over 10,000 times. This morning I gritted my teeth and
started in. Between 10 and 11 I had gotten up to 2,000 kicks an hour.
Miss Hibber went by and I asked her what piece rates for that machine
were. She said six and one-quarter cents for one hundred and fifty. I
did not stop then to do any figuring. Told her rather chestily I could
kick 2,000 times an hour. “That all? You ought to do much more than
that!” Between 11 and 12 I worked as I had never worked. It was
humanly impossible to kick that machine oftener than I did. Never did
I let my eyes or thoughts wander. When the whistle blew at 12 I had
kicked 2,689. For a moment I figured. It takes about an hour in the
morning to get on to the swing. From 11 to 12 was always my best
output. After lunch was invariably deadly. From 12.30 until 2.30 it
seemed impossible to get up high speed. That left at best 2.30 to 4
for anything above average effort. From 4 to 5 it was hard again on
account of physical weariness. But say I could average 2,500 an hour
during the day. That would have brought me in, four kicks to each
cone, around two dollars and a quarter a day. The fact of the matter
was that after kicking 8,500 times that morning I gave up the ghost as
far as that job went. I ached body and soul. By that time I had been
on that one job several days and was sick to death of it. Each cone I
picked up to punch those four holes in made something rub along my
backbone or in the pit of my stomach or in my head—or in all of them
at once. Yet the old woman next me had been at her same job for over a
week. The last place she'd worked she'd done the identical thing six
months—preferred it to changing around. Most of the girls took that
attitude. Up to date that is the most amazing thing I have learned
from my factory experiences—the difference between my attitude toward
a monotonous job, and the average worker's. In practically every case
the girl has actually preferred the monotonous job to one with any
variety. The muscles in my legs ached so I could almost have shed
tears. The day before I had finished at 5 tired out. That morning I
had wakened up tired—the only time in my life. I could hardly kick at
all the first half hour. There was a gnawing sort of pain between my
shoulders. Suppose I really had been on piecework and had to keep up
at that breaking rate, only to begin the next morning still more worn
out? My Gawd!

Most of the girls kick with the same leg all the time. I tried
changing off now and then. With the four-hole machine, using the left
leg meant sitting a little to the right side. Also I tried once using
my left hand to give the right a rest. Thus the boss observed me.

“Now see here, m'girl, why don't you do things the way you're taught?
That ain't the right way!”

He caught me at the wrong moment. I didn't care whether the earth
opened up and swallowed me.

“I know the right way of runnin' this machine good as you do,” I
fairly glared at him. “I'm sick and tired of doin' it the right way,
and if I want to do it wrong awhile for a change I guess I can!”

“You ain't goin' to get ahead in this world if you don't do things
_right_, m'girl.” And he left me to my fate.

At noon that day the girls got after me. “You're a fool to work the
way you do. You never took a drink all this mornin'—jus' sit there
kickin', kickin', kickin'. Where d'ya think ya goin' to land? In a
coffin, that's where. The boss won't thank ya for killin' yourself on
his old foot press, neither. You're jus' a fool, workin' like that.”
And that's just what I decided. “Lay off now and then.” Yes indeed, I
was going to lay off now and then.

“I see myself breakin' my neck for thirteen dollars a week,” Bella
chipped in.

“You said it!” from all the others.

So I kicked over 16,000 times that day and let it go as my final swan
song. No more breaking records for me. My head thumped, thumped,
thumped all that night. After that I strolled up front for a drink and
a gossip or back to a corner of the wash room where two or three were
sure to be squatting on some old stairs, fussing over the universe.
When the boss was up on the other end of the floor, sometimes I just
sat at my machine and did nothing. It hurt something within my soul at
first, but my head and hands and legs and feet and neck and general
disposition felt considerably better.

Lunch times suited me exactly at the brassworks, making me feel I was
getting what I was after. Three of us used to gather around Irish
Minnie, put two stools lengthwise on the floor, and squat along the
sides. Bella, who'd worked in Detroit for seven dollars a day (her
figures), a husky good-looking person; Rosie, the prettiest little
sixteen-year-old Italian girl; and I. Such conversations! One day they
unearthed Harry Thaw and Evelyn Nesbit and redid their past, present,
and probable future. We discussed whether Olive Thomas had really
committed suicide or died of an overdose of something. How many nights
a week could a girl dance and work next day? Minnie was past her
dancing days. She'd been married 'most twenty years and was getting
fat and unformed-looking; shuffled about in a pair of old white tennis
shoes and a pink boudoir cap. (No one else wore a cap at the
brassworks.) Minnie had worked fifteen years at a power press, eleven
years at her last job. She was getting the generous stipend of
fourteen dollars a week (one dollar more than the rest of us). She had
earned as much as twenty-five dollars a week in her old job at the tin
can company, piecework. Everybody about the factory told her troubles
to Minnie, who immediately told them to everybody else. It made for a
certain community interest. One morning Minnie would tell me, as I
passed her machine, “Rosie 'n' Frank have had a fight.” With that cue
it was easy to appear intelligent concerning future developments.
Frank was one of the machinists, an Italian. Rosie had let him make
certain advances—put his arm around her and all that—but she told us
one lunch time, “he'd taken advantage of her,” so she just sassed him
back now. Bella announced Frank was honeying around her. “Well, watch
out,” Rosie advised, with the air of Bella's greataunt.

As to dancing, Bella's chum in Detroit used to go to a dance every
single night and work all day. Sundays she'd go to a show and a dance.
Bella tried it one week and had to lay off three days of the next week
before she could get back to work. Lost her twenty-one dollars. No
more of that for Bella. Just once in a while was enough for her.

They did not talk about “vamping dopes” at the brassworks. Everyone
asked you if you were “keepin' company,” and talked of fellas and
sweethearts and intended husbands. That was the scale. As before, all
the married ones invariably advised against matrimony. Irish Minnie
told us one lunch time that it was a bad job, this marrying business.
“Of course,” she admitted, pulling on a piece of roast pork with her
teeth, “my husband ain't what you'd call a _bad_ man.” That was as far
as Minnie cared to go.

Perhaps one reason why the brassworks employed so many crooked and
decrepit was as an efficiency measure. The few males who were whole
caused so many flutterings among the female hands that it seriously
interfered with production. Rosie's real cause for turning Frank down
was that she was after Good Lookin'. Good Lookin' would not have been
so good lookin' out along the avenue, but in the setting of our third
floor he was an Adonis. Rosie worked a power press. I would miss the
clank of her machine. There she would be up in the corner of the floor
where Good Lookin' worked. Good Lookin' would go for a drink. Rosie
would get thirsty that identical moment. They would carry on an
animated conversation, to be rudely broken into by a sight of the boss
meandering up their way. Rosie would make a dash for her machine, Good
Lookin' would saunter over to his.

       *       *       *       *       *

From the start I had pestered the boss to be allowed on a power press,
for two reasons: one just because I wanted to—the same reason why a
small boy wants to work at machinery; secondly, I wanted to be able to
pose at the next job as an experienced power-press worker and sooner
or later get a high-power machine. One day the boss was watching me
at the foot press. “Y'know, m'girl, I think you really got
intelligence, blessed if I don't. I'm goin' to push you right ahead.
I'll make a machinist out of you yet, see if I don't. You stay right
on here and you'll be making big money yet.” (Minnie—eleven years in
her last job—fourteen dollars a week now.) Anyway, one morning he
came up—and that morning foot presses of every description had lost
all fascination for me—and he said, “You still want a power press?”

“Bet your life I do!”

And he gave me a power press deserted that morning by one of the boys.
Life looked worth living again. All I had to do to work miracles was
press ever so lightly a pedal. The main point was to get my foot off
it as quick as I got it on, or there was trouble. I wasn't to get my
fingers here or there, or “I'd never play the piano in this life.” If
the belt flew off I wasn't to grab it, or I'd land up at the ceiling.
For the rest, I merely clamped a round piece on the top of a nail-like
narrow straight piece—the part that turned the lamp wick up and down.
Hundreds and thousands of them I made. The monotony did not wear on me
there; it was mixed with no physical exertion. I could have stayed on
at the brassworks the rest of my life—perhaps.

One night I was waiting at a cold, windy corner on Fifth Avenue for a
bus. None came. A green Packard limousine whirled by. The chauffeur
waved and pointed up the Avenue. In a flash I thought, now if I really
were a factory girl I'd surely jump at a chance to ride in that green
Packard. Up half a block I ran, and climbed in the front seat, as was
expected of me. He was a very nice chauffeur. His mistress, “the old
lady,” was at a party and he was killing time till 11.30. Would I like
to ride till then? No, I wanted to get home—had to be up too early
for joy riding. Why so early? The factory. And before I realized it
there I sat, the factory girl. Immediately he asked me to dinner any
night I said. Now I really thought it would be worth doing; no one
else I knew had been out to dine with a chauffeur. Where would he take
me? What would he talk about? But my nerve failed me. No, I didn't
think I'd go. I fussed about for some excuse. I was sort of new in New
York—out West, it was different. There you could pick up with
anybody, go any place. “Good Gawd! girl,” said the chauffeur,
earnestly, “don't try that in New York; you'll get in awful trouble!”
All through Central Park he gave me advice about New York and the
pitfalls it contained for a Westerner. He'd be very careful about me
if I'd go out with him, any place I said, and he'd get me home early
as I said. But I didn't say. I'd have to think it over. He could
telephone to me. No, he couldn't. The lady I lived with was very
particular. Well, anyhow, stormy days he'd see to it he'd be down by
the factory and bring me home. Would I be dressed just the way I was
then? Just the way—green tam and all.

The next day while I thumped out lamp parts I tried to screw my
courage up to go out with that chauffeur. Finally I decided to put it
up to the girls. I meandered back to the wash room. There on the old
stairs sat Irish Minnie and Annie, fat and ultradignified. They were
discussing who the father of the child really was. I breezed in

“Vamped a chauffeur last night.”


“Sure. He asked me to ride home with him an' I did.”

“Got in the machine with him?”


“You _fool_! You young _fool_!”

Goodness! I was unprepared for such comment.

“What did he do to ya?”

“Nothin'. An' he wants me to go to dinner with him. What'll I say?”

Both pondered. “Sure,” said Minnie, “I b'lieve in a girl gettin' all
that's comin' to her, but all I want to tell ya is, chauffeurs are a
bad lot—the worst, I tell ya.”

“You said it!” nodded fat Annie, as if years of harrowing experience
lay behind her. “He was all right to ya the first time so as to lure
you out the next.”

“But,” says Minnie, “if ya go to dinner with him, don't you go near
his machine. Steer clear of machines. Eat all ya can off him, but
don't do no ridin'.”

“You said it!” again Annie backed her up. Annie was a regular sack
slinger. She could have hurled two men off Brooklyn Bridge with one
hand. “If you was as big an' strong as me you c'u'd take 'most any
chance. I'd like to see a guy try to pull anythin' on me.” I'd like to
see him, too.

“Some day”—Minnie wanted to drive her advice home by concrete
illustration—“some day a chauffeur'll hold a handkerchief under your
nose with somethin' on it. When ya come to, goodness knows where
you'll be.”

I began to feel a little as if I'd posed as too innocent.

“You see, out West—” I began.

“My Gawd!”—Minnie waved a hand scornfully—“don't be tryin' to tell
me all men are angels out West.”

Just then Miss Hibber poked her head in and we suddenly took ourselves

“You go easy, now,” Minnie whispered after me.

I lacked the nerve, anyhow, and they put on the finishing touches. A
bricklayer would not have been so bad. How did I know the chauffeur
was not working for a friend of mine? That, later on, would make it
more embarrassing for him than me. I should think he would want to
wring my neck.

It was about time to find a new job, anyhow. But leaving the
brassworks is like stopping a novel in the middle. What about Rosie
and good looking Bella and her brother she was trying to rescue from
the grip of the poolroom? Mame—Mame and her kaleidoscope romances,
insults, and adventures? I just hate walking off and leaving it all.
And the boss and Miss Hibber so nice to me about everything.

Before a week is gone Minnie will be telling in an awed voice that she
knows what happened. She told me not to go out with that chauffeur. I
went, anyhow, and they found my mangled body in the gutter in


                         _195 Irons “Family”_

How long, I wonder, does one study or work at anything before one
feels justified in generalizing?

I have been re-reading of late some of the writings of some of the
women who at one time or another essayed to experience first hand the
life of the working girl. They have a bit dismayed me. Is it exactly
fair, what they do? They thought, because they changed their names and
wore cheap clothes, that, presto! they were as workers and could pass
on to an uninformed reading public the trials of the worker.
(Incidentally they were all trials.) I had read in the past those
heartrending books and articles and found it ever difficult to hold
back the tears. Sometimes they were written by an immigrant, a
bona-fide worker. The tragedy of such a life in this business-ridden
land of ours tore one's soul.

An educated, cultured individual, used to a life of ease, or easier,
if she had wished to make it that, would find the life of the factory
worker well-nigh unbearable. An emotional girl longing for the higher
things of life would find factory life galling beyond words. It is to
be regretted that there are not more educated and cultured
people—that more folk do not long for the higher things of life—that
factory work is not galling to everybody. But the fact seems to be, if
we dare generalize, that there are a very great many persons in this
world who are neither educated nor “cultured” nor filled with
spiritual longings. The observation might be made that all such are
not confined to the working classes; that the country at large, from
Fifth Avenue, New York, to Main Street, Gopher Prairie, to Market
Street, San Francisco, is considerably made up of folk who are not
educated or “cultured” or of necessity filled with unsatiable longings
of the soul.

It is partly due to the fact that only recently—as geologic time is
reckoned—we were swinging in trees, yearning probably for little else
than a nut to crack, a mate, a shelter of sorts, something of ape
company, and now and then a chance for a bit of a scrap. It is partly
due to the fact that for the great majority of people, the life they
live from the cradle up is not the sort that matures them with a
growing ambition or opportunity to experience the “finer” things of
life. One point of view would allow that the reason we have so few
educated, cultured, and aspiring people is due to a combination of
unfortunate circumstances to do with heredity and environment. They
would be cultured and spiritual if only....

The other viewpoint argues that the only reason we have as many cultured
and spiritual people as we have is due to a fortunate—“lucky”—combination
of circumstances to do with heredity and environment. These more
advanced folk would be far fewer in number if it had not happened

It is mostly the “educated and cultured” persons who write the more
serious books we read and who tell us what they and the rest of the
world think and feel and do—or ought to do. The rest of the world
never read what they ought to think and feel and do, and go
blithely—or otherwise—on their way thinking and feeling and
doing—what they please, or as circumstances force them.

After all, the world is a very subjective thing, and what makes life
worth living to one person is not necessarily what makes it worth
living to another. Certain fundamental things everybody is apt to
want: enough to eat (but what a gamut that “enough” can run!); a mate
(the range and variety of mates who do seem amply to satisfy one
another!); a shelter to retire to nights (what a bore if we all had to
live complacently on the Avenue!); children to love and fuss over—but
one child does some parents and ten children do others, and some
mothers go into a decline if everything is not sterilized twice a day
and everybody clean behind the ears, and other mothers get just as
much satisfaction out of their young when there is only one
toothbrush, if that, for everybody (we are writing from the mother's
viewpoint and not the welfare of the offspring); some possessions of
one's own, but not all stocks and bonds and a box of jewels in the
bank, or a library, or an automobile, or even a house and lot, before
peace reigns.

Everyone likes to mingle with his kind now and then; to some it is
subjectively necessary to hire a caterer, to others peanuts suffice.
Everyone likes to wonder and ponder and express opinions—a prize
fight is sufficient material for some; others prefer metaphysics.
Everyone likes to play. Some need box seats at the Midnight Frolic,
others a set of second-hand tools, and yet others a game of craps in
the kitchen.

No one likes to be hungry, to be weary, to be sick, to be worried over
the future, to be lonely, to have his feelings hurt, to lose those
near and dear to him, to have too little independence, to get licked
in a scrap of any kind, to have no one at all who loves him, to have
nothing at all to do. The people of the so-called working class are
more apt to be hungry, weary, and sick than the “educated and
cultured” and well-to-do. Otherwise there is no one to say—because
there is no way it can be found out—that their lives by and large are
not so rich, subjectively speaking, as those with one hundred thousand
dollars a year, or with Ph. D. degrees.

Most folk in the world are not riotously happy, not because they are
poor, or “workers,” but because the combination making for riotous
happiness—shall we say health, love, enough to do of what one longs
to do—is not often found in one individual. The condition of the
bedding, of the clothing; the pictures on the wall; the smells in the
kitchen—and beyond; the food on the table—have so much, and no more,
to do with it. Whether one sorts soiled clothes in a laundry, or
reclines on a chaise-longue with thirty-eight small hand-embroidered
and belaced pillows and a pink satin covering, or sits in a library
and fusses over Adam Smith, no one of the three is in a position to
pass judgment on the satisfaction or lack of satisfaction of the other

All of which is something of an impatient retort to those who look at
the world through their own eyes and by no means a justification of
the _status quo_. And to introduce the statement—which a month ago
would have seemed to me incredible—that I have seen and heard as much
contentment in a laundry as I have in the drawing-room of a Fifth
Avenue mansion or a college sorority house—as much and no more. Which
is not arguing that no improvements need ever be made in laundries.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was one place I was not going to work, and that was a laundry! I
had been through laundries, I had read about laundries, and it was too
much to ask anyone—if it was not absolutely necessary—to work in a
laundry. And yet when the time came, I hated to leave the laundry. I
entered the laundry as a martyr. I left with the nickname, honestly
come by without a Christian effort, of “Sunbeam.” But, oh! I have a
large disgust upon me that it takes such untold effort every working
day, all over the “civilized,” world to keep people “civilized.” The
labor, and labor, and labor of first getting cloth woven and buttons
and thread manufactured and patterns cut and garments made up, and
fitted, or not, and then to keep those garments _clean_! We talk with
such superiority of the fact that we wear clothes and heathen savages
get along with beads and rushes. For just that some six hundred and
fifty thousand people work six days a week doing laundry work
alone—not to mention mother at the home washboard—or electric
machine. We must be clean, of course, or we would not be civilized,
but I do not see why we need be so fearfully sot up about it.

A new Monday morning came along, and I waited from 7.40 to 9.15 in a
six-by-nine entry room, with some twenty-five men and women, to answer
the advertisement:

                            GIRLS, OVER 18

     with public school education, to learn machine ironing,
     marking, and assorting linens; no experience necessary;
     splendid opportunity for right parties; steady positions;
     hours 8 to 5.30; half day Saturday.

What the idea was of advertising for superior education never became
clear. No one was asked how far she had progressed intellectually. I
venture to say the majority of girls there had had no more than the
rudiments of the three r's. It looked well in print. One of the girls
from the brassworks stood first in line. She had tried two jobs since
I saw her last. She did not try the laundry at all.

I was third in line. The manager himself interviewed us inside, since
the “Welfare Worker” was ill. What experience had I? I was experienced
in both foot and power presses. He phoned to the “family” floor—two
vacancies. I was signed up as press ironer, family. I wouldn't find it
so hard as the brassworks—in fact, it really wasn't hard at all. He
would start me in at fourteen dollars a week, since I was experienced,
instead of the usual twelve. At the end of two weeks, if I wasn't
earning more than fourteen dollars—it was a piecework system, with
fourteen dollars as a minimum—I'd have to go, and make room for some
one who could earn more than fourteen dollars.

I wonder if the Welfare Worker would have made the same speech. That
manager was a fraud. On our floor, at least, no one had ever been
known to earn more than her weekly minimum. He was a smart fraud. Only
I asked too many questions upstairs, he would have had me working like
a slave to hold my job.

By the time clock, where I was told to wait, stood the woman just
ahead of me in the line. She was the first really bitter soul I had
run across in factory work. Her husband had been let out of his job,
along with all workers in his plant, without notice. After January 1st
they might reopen, but at 1914 wages. There was one child in the
family. The father had hunted everywhere for work. For one week the
mother had searched. She had tried a shoe polish factory; they put her
on gluing labels. The smell of the glue made her terribly sick to her
stomach—for three days she was forced to stay in bed. Three times she
had tried this laundry. Each day, after keeping her waiting in line an
hour or so, they had told her to come back the next day. At last she
had gotten as far as the time clock. I saw her several times in the
evening line after that; she was doing “pretty well”—“shaking” on the
third floor. Her arms nearly dropped off by evening, but she sure was
glad of the thirteen dollars a week. Her husband had found nothing.

The third to join our time-clock ranks was a Porto-Rican. She could
speak no English at all. They put her at scrubbing floors for twelve
dollars a week. About 4 that afternoon she appeared on our floor, all
agitated. She needed a Spanish girl there to tell the boss she was
leaving. She was one exercised piece of temper when it finally
penetrated just what her job was.

“Family” occupied two-thirds of the sixth and top floor—the other
third was the “lunch room.” Five flights to walk up every morning. But
at least there was the lunch room without a step up at noon. And it
was worth climbing five flights to have Miss Cross for a forelady.
Sooner or later I must run into a disagreeable forelady, for the
experience. To hear folks talk, plenty of that kind exist. Miss Cross
was glad I was to be on her floor. She told the manager and me she'd
noticed me that morning in line and just thought I'd made a good press
ironer. Was I Eyetalian?

She gave me the second press from the door, right in front of a
window, and a window open at the top. That was joy for me, but let no
one think the average factory girl consciously pines for fresh air.
Miss Cross ironed the lowers of a pair of pajamas to show me how it
was done, then the coat part. While she was instructing me in such
intricacies, she was deftly finding out all she could about my past,
present, and future—married or single, age, religion, and so on. And
I watched, fascinated, crumpled pajama legs, with one mighty press of
the foot, appear as perfect and flawless as on the Christmas morning
they were first removed from the holly-decorated box.

“Now you do it.”

I took the coat part of a pair of pink pajamas, smoothed one arm a bit
by hand as I laid it out on the stationary side of the ironing press,
shaped somewhat like a large metal sleeve board. With both hands I
gripped the wooden bar on the upper part, all metal but the bar. With
one foot I put most of my weight on the large pedal. That locked the
hot metal part on the padded, heated, lower half with a bang. A press
on the release pedal, the top flew up—too jarringly, if you did not
keep hold of the bar with one hand. That ironed one side of one
sleeve. Turn the other side, press, release. Do the other sleeve on
two sides. Do the shoulders all around—about four presses and
releases to that. Another to one side of the front—two if it is for a
big fat man. One under the arm, two or three to the back, one under
the other arm, one or two to the other half of the front, one, two, or
three to the collar, depending on the style. About sixteen clanks
pressing down, sixteen releases flying up, to one gentleman's pajama
coat. I had the hang of it, and was left alone. Then I combined
ironing and seeing what was what. If a garment was very damp—and most
of them were—the press had to be locked several seconds before being
released, to dry it out. During those seconds one's eyes were free to

On my left, next the door, worked a colored girl with shell-rimmed
spectacles, very friendly, whose name was Irma. Of Irma later. On my
right was the most woebegone-looking soul, an Italian widow, Lucia, in
deep mourning—husband dead five weeks, with two daughters to support.
She could not speak a word of English, and in this country sixteen
years. All this I had from the forelady in between her finding out
everything there was to know about me. Bless my soul, if Lucia did not
perk up the second the forelady left, edge over, and direct a volume
of Italian at me. What won't green earrings do! Old Mrs. Reilly called
out, “Ach, the poor soul's found a body to talk to at last!” But,
alas! Lucia's hope was short lived. “What!” called Mrs. Reilly, “you
ain't Eyetalian? Well, you ought to be, now, because you look it, and
because there ought to be somebody here for Lucy to talk to!” Lucia
was diseased-looking and unkempt-looking and she ironed very badly.
Everyone tried to help her out. They instructed her with a flow of
English. When Lucia would but shake her head they used the same flow,
only much louder, several at once. Then Lucia would mumble to herself
for several minutes over her ironing. At times, late in the afternoon,
Miss Cross would grow discouraged.

“Don't you understand that when you iron a shirt you put the sleeves
over the puffer _first_?”

Lucia would shake her head and shrug her shoulders helplessly. Miss
Cross would repeat with vehemence. Then one girl would poke Lucia and
point to the puffer—“Puffer! puffer!” Another would hold up a shirt
and holler “Shirt! shirt!” and Lucia would nod vaguely. The next shirt
she did as all the others—puffer last, which mussed the ironed
part—until some one stopped her work and did a whole shirt for Lucia
correct, from beginning to end.

Next to Lucia stood Fanny, colored. She was a good-hearted, helpful,
young married thing, not over-cleanly and not overstrong. That first
morning she kept her eye on me and came to my rescue on a new article
of apparel every so often. Next to Fanny stood the three puffers for
anyone to use—oval-shaped, hot metal forms, for all gathers, whether
in sleeves, waists, skirts, or what not. Each girl had a large
egg-shaped puffer on her own table as well. Next to the puffers stood
the two sewing machines, where Spanish Sarah and colored Hattie darned
and mended.

At the side, behind the machines, stood Ida at her press. All the
presses were exactly alike. Ida was a joy to my eyes. At first glance
she appeared just a colored girl, but Ida was from Trinidad; her skin
was like velvet, her accent Spanish. As the room grew hot from the
presses and the steam, along about 4, and our feet began to burn and
grow weary, I would look at Ida. It was so easy to picture the exact
likes of her, not more than a generation or two ago, squatting under
a palm tree with a necklace of teeth, a ring through her nose, tropic
breezes playing on that velvet skin. (Please, I know naught of
Trinidad or its customs and am only guessing.) And here stood Ida,
thumping, thumping on the ironing press, nine hours, lacking ten
minutes, a day, on the sixth floor of a laundry in Harlem, that we in
Manhattan might be more civilized.

Once she told me she had lost fifteen pounds in this country. “How?”

“Ah, child,” she said, “it's tha mother sickness. Don't you ever know
it? Back home in Trinidad are my mother, my father, my two little
boys. Oh, tha sickness to see them! But what is one to do when you
marry a poor man? He must come to this country to find work, and then,
after a while, I must come, too.”

Behind Ida stood two other colored girls, and at the end press a white
girl who started the day after I did. She stayed only five days, and
left in disgust—told me she'd never seen such hard work. Beyond the
last press were the curtain frames and the large, round padded table
for ironing fancy table linen by hand. Then began the lunch tables.

Behind the row of presses by the windows stood the hand ironers who
did the fancy work. First came Ella, neat, old, gray-haired, fearfully
thin, wrinkled, with a dab of red rouge on each cheek. After all, one
really cannot be old if one dabs on rouge before coming to work all
day in a laundry. Ella had hand ironed all her life. She had been ten
years in her last job, but the place changed hands. She liked
ironing, she said. Ella never talked to anybody, even at lunch time.

Behind Ella ironed Anna Golden, black, who wore striped silk
stockings. She always had a bad cold. Most of the girls had colds most
of the time—from the steam, they said. Anna had spent two dollars on
medicine that week, which left her fourteen dollars. Anna was the one
person to use an electric iron. It had newly been installed. The
others heated their irons over gas flames. Every so often Miss Cross
would call out, “I smell gas!” So did everybody else. After Anna,
Lucile, blackest of all and a widow. And then—Mrs. Reilly.

Mrs. Reilly and Hattie were the characters of the sixth floor. Mrs.
Reilly was old and fat and Irish. She had stood up hand ironing so
long the part of her from the waist up seemed to have settled down
into her hips. Eleven years had Mrs. Reilly ironed in our laundry. She
was the one pieceworker in the building. In summer she could make from
twenty to twenty-five dollars a week, but she claimed she lost a great
part of it in winter. She said she was anxious to get on timework. One
afternoon I saw Mrs. Reilly iron just two things—the rest of the
while, nothing to do, she sat on an old stool with her eyes closed.

The first afternoon, Mrs. Reilly edged over to me on pretext of
ironing out a bit of something on my press.

“An' how are you makin' out?”

“All right, only my feet are awful tired. Don't your feet never get

”Shure, child, an' what good would it do for my feet to get tired when
they're all I got to stand on? An' did you ever try settin' nine hours
a day? Shure an' that would be the death of anybody.

Mrs. Reilly's indoor sport was marrying the sixth floor off. Poor
Lucia's widow's weeds of five weeks were no obstacle to Mrs. Reilly.
She frequently made the whole floor giggle, carrying on an animated
Irish conversation with Lucia over the prospects of a second
marriage—or rather, a monologue it was, since Lucia never knew she
was being talked to. If ever there was a body with a ”sex complex it
was old Mrs. Reilly! When I asked her once why she didn't get busy
marrying off herself, she called back: “The Lord be praised! And
didn't I get more than enough of the one man I had?”

At least twice a week Mrs. Reilly saw a ghost, and she would tell us
about it in the morning. She laughed then, and we all laughed, but you
could easily picture the poor old fearful soul meeting that inevitable
2 A.M. guest, quaking over it in her lonely bed. Once the ghost was
extra terrifying. “It may have been the banama sauce,” admitted Mrs.
Reilly. And Mrs. Reilly's feet did hurt often. She used sometimes to
take off her worn shoes and try tying her feet up in cardboards.

The other workers on our floor were Mabel and Mary, two colored girls
who finished off slight rough edges in the press ironing and folded
everything; Edna, a Cuban girl who did handkerchiefs on the mangle;
Annie, the English girl, lately married to an American. She had an
inclosure of shelves to work in and there she did the final sorting
and wrapping of family wash. Annie was the most superior person on our

And Miss Cross. In face, form, neatness, and manners Miss Cross could
have held her own socially anywhere. But according to orthodox
standards Miss Cross's grammar was faulty. She had worked always in
our laundry, beginning as a hand ironer. She knew the days when hours
were longer than nine and pay lower than fourteen dollars a week. She
remembered when the family floor had to iron Saturdays until 10 and 11
at night, instead of getting off at 12.45, as we did now. They stood
it in those days; but how? As it was now, not a girl on our floor but
whose feet ached more or less by 4 or 4.30. Ordinarily we stopped at
5.30. Everyone knew how everyone else felt that last half hour. During
a week with any holiday the girls had to work till 6.15 every night,
and Saturday afternoon. They all said—we discussed it early one
morning—that in such weeks they could iron scarcely anything that
last hour, their feet burned so.

The candy factory was hard—one stood nine hours, but the work was
very light.

The brassworks was hard—one sat, but the foot exercise was wearying
and the seat fearfully uncomfortable.

Ironing was hardest—one stood all day and used the feet for hard
pressure besides. Yet I was sorry to leave the laundry!

Perhaps it was just as well for me that Lucia could not talk English.
She might have used it on me, and already the left ear was talked off
by Irma. Miss Cross stood for just so much conversation, according to
her mood. Even if she were feeling very spry, our sixth-floor talk
could become only so general and lively before Miss Cross would call:
“Girls! girls! not so much noise!” If it were late in the afternoon
that would quiet us for the day—no one had enough energy to start up

The first half hour Irma confided in me that she had cravings.
“Cravings? Cravings for what?” I asked her.

“Cravings for papers.”

It sounded a trifle goatlike.


“Yes, papers. I want to read papers on the lecture platform.”

Whereat I heard all Irma's spiritual longings—cravings. She began in
school to do papers. That was two years ago. Since then she has often
been asked to read the papers she wrote in school before church
audiences. Just last Sunday she read one at her church in New York,
and four people asked her afterward for copies.

What was it about?

It was about the True Woman. When she wrote it, she began, “Dear
Teacher, Pupils, and Friends.” But when she read it in churches she
skipped the Teacher and Pupils and began: “Dear Friends, ... now we
are met together on this memorable occasion to consider the subject of
the True Woman. First we must ask” (here Irma bangs down on a helpless
nightshirt and dries it out well beyond its time into a nice bunch of
wrinkles) “What is woman? Woman was created by God because Dear
Friends God saw how lonely man was and how lonesome and so out of
man's ribs God created woman to be man's company and helpmate....”

“Irma!” Miss Cross's voice had an oft-repeated tone to it. She called
out from the table where she checked over each girl's work without so
much as turning her head. “You ironed only one leg of these pajamas!”

Irma shuffled over on her crooked high heels and returned with the
half-done pajamas. “That fo'-lady!” sighed Irma, “she sure gets on ma
nerves. She's always hollerin' at me 'bout somethin'. She never
hollers at the other girls that way—she just picks on me.”

And Irma continued with the True Woman: “There's another thing the
True Woman should have and that's a good character....”

“Irma!” (slight impatience in Miss Cross's tone) “you ironed this
nightgown on the wrong side!”

Irma looked appealingly at me. “There she goes again. She makes me
downright nervous, that fo'-lady does.”

Poor, persecuted Irma!

During that first morning Irma had to iron over at least six things.
Then they looked like distraction. I thought of the manager's
introductory speech to me—how after two weeks I might have to make
way for a more efficient person.

“How long you been here?” I asked Irma.

“Four months.”

“What you makin'?”

“Thirteen a week.”

“Ever get extra?”


Suspicions concerning the manager.

Irma had three other papers. One was on Testing Time. What was Testing
Time? It might concern chemical tubes. It might be a bit of romance.
And she really meant Trysting Time. No, to everybody a time comes when
he or she must make a great decision. It was about that.

“Irma! you've got your foot in the middle of that white apron!”

Another paper was on Etee-quette (q pronounced).

“Irma! you creased one of these pajama legs down the middle! Do it

I pondered much during my laundry days as to why they kept Irma. She
told me she first worked down on the shirt-and-collar floor and used
to do “one hundred and ten shirts an hour,” but the boss got down on
her. It took her sometimes three-quarters of an hour to do one boy's
shirt on our floor, and then one half the time she had it to do over.
Her ironing was beyond all words fearful to behold (there must be an
Irma in every laundry). She was all-mannered slow. She forgot to tag
her work. She hung it over her horse so that cuffs and apron strings
were always on the floor. Often she was late. Sometimes Miss Cross
would grow desperate—but there Irma remained. Below, in that little
entryway, were girls waiting for jobs. Did they figure that on the
whole Irma wrecked fewer garments than the average new girl, or what?
And the manager had tried to scare me!

The noon bell rings—we dash for the lunch-room line. You can purchase
pies and soup and fruit, hash and stew, coffee and tea, cafeteria
style. There are only two women to serve—the girls from the lower
floors have to stand long in line. I do not know where to sit, and by
mistake evidently get at a wrong table. No one talks to me. I surely
feel I am not where I belong. The next day I get at another wrong
table. It is so very evident I am not wanted where I am. Rather
disconcerting. I sit and ponder. I had thought factory girls so much
more friendly to one another on short acquaintance than “cultured”
people. But it is merely that they are more natural. When they feel
friendly they show it with no reserves. When they do not feel friendly
they show that without reserve. Which is where the unnaturalness of
“cultured” folk sometimes helps.

It seems etee-quette at the laundry requires each girl sit at the
table where her floor sits. That second day I was at the
shirt-and-collar table, and they, I was afterward told, are
particularly exclusive. Indeed they are.

At 12.45 the second bell rings. Miss Cross calls out, “All right,
girls!” Clank, the presses begin again, and all afternoon I iron
gentlemen's underpinnings. During the course of my days in the laundry
I iron three sets round for every man in New York and thereby acquire
a domestic attitude toward the entire male sex in the radius sending
wash to our laundry. Nobody loves a fat man. But their underclothes do
fit more easily over the press.

I iron and I iron and I iron, and along about 4.30 the first afternoon
it occurs to my cynical soul to wonder what the women are doing with
themselves with the spare time which is theirs, because I am thumping
that press down eight hours and fifty minutes a day. Not that it is
any of my business.

Also along about five o'clock it irritates me to have to bother with
what seems to me futile work. I am perfectly willing to take great
pains with a white waistcoat—in one day I learn to make a work of art
of that. But why need one fuss over the back of a nightshirt? Will a
man sleep any better for a wrinkle more or less? Besides, so soon it
is all wrinkles.

The second day I iron soft work all morning—forever men's
underclothes, pajamas, and nightshirts. Later, when I am promoted to
starched work, I tend to grow antifeminist. Why can men live and move
and have their beings satisfactorily incased in soft garments, easy to
iron, comfortable to wear, and why must women have everything starched
and trying on the soul to do up? One minute you iron a soft
nightshirt; the next a nightgown starched like a board, and the worst
thing to get through with before it dries too much that ever appears
in a laundry.

After lunch I am promoted to hospital work. All afternoon I iron
doctors' and interns' white coats and trousers. It is more interesting
doing that. But a bit hard on the soul. For it makes you think of
sickness and suffering. Yet sickness and suffering white-coated men
relieve. It makes you think, too, of having babies—that being all you
know of hospitals personally. But on such an occasion you never
noticed if the doctor had on a white coat or not, and surely spent no
time pondering over who ironed it. Yet if a doctor wore a coat Irma
ironed I think the woman would note it even in the last anguished
moments of labor.

Irma did an officer's summer uniform once. I do wish I could have
heard him when he undid the package. While Irma was pounding down on
it she was discoursing to me how, besides papers, she had cravings for

“You remember that last snowstorm? I sat at my window and I wrote:

    “Oh, beautiful snow
    When will you go?
    Not until spring,
    When the birds sing.”

There were several other stanzas. And about then Miss Cross dumped a
bundle of damp clothes into Irma's box and said, “Iron these next and
do them decent!” I peered suspiciously into the box. It was my own
family laundry!

“Hey, Irma,” I said, cannily, “leave me do this batch, eh?”

I might as well be paying myself for doing up my own wash, and it
would look considerably better than if Irma ironed it.

The third day my feet are not so weary, and while I iron I mull over
ideas on women in industry. After all, have not some of us with the
good of labor at heart been a bit too theoretical? Take the welfare
idea so scoffed at by many. After all, there is more to be said for
than against. Of course, provided—It is all very well to say labor
should be allowed to look after itself, and none of this paternalism.
Of course, the paternalism can be overdone and unwisely done. But, at
least where women workers are concerned, if we are going to wait till
they are able to do things for themselves we are going to wait,
perhaps, too long for the social good while we are airing our
theories. It is something like saying that children would be better
off and have more strength of character if they learned to look after
themselves. But you can start that theory too young and have the child
die on your hands, or turn into a gutter waif. The child needs entire
looking after up to a point where he can begin little by little to
look after himself. And after he has learned to dress himself it does
not necessarily mean he can select his own food, his hour of retiring,
his habits of cleanliness and hygiene.

I look about at the laundry workers and think: Suppose we decide
nothing shall be done for these girls until they demand it themselves
and then have charge of it themselves. In other words, suppose we let
welfare work and social legislation wait on organization. The people
who talk that way are often college professors or the upper crust of
labor. They have either had no touch or lost touch with the rank and
file of women workers. It is going to be years and years and years, if
ever, before women in this country organize by and large to a point
where they can become permanently effective. What organization demands
more than any other factor is, first, a sense of oppression; second,
surplus energy. Women have been used to getting more or less the tag
end of things for some thousands of years. Why expect them suddenly,
in a second of time, as it were, to rear up and say, “We'll not stand
for this and that”? If we are going to wait for working women to feel
oppressed enough to weld themselves together into a militant class
organization, capable of demanding certain conditions and getting
them, we shall wait many a long day. In the meantime, we are putting
off the very situation we hope for—when women, as well as men, shall
have reached the point where they can play a dignified part in the
industrial scheme of things—by sending them from work at night too
weary and run down to exert themselves for any social purpose. I say
that anything and everything which can be done to make women more
capable of responsibility should be done. But the quickest and sanest
way to bring that about is not to sit back and wait for factory women
to work out their own salvation. Too few of them have the intelligence
or gumption to have the least idea how to go about it, did it ever
occur to them that things might be radically improved. (And the pity
of it is that so often telling improvements could be made with so
little effort.)

Nor is it anything but feminist sentimentality, as far as I can see,
to argue against special legislation for women. What women can do
intellectually as compared with men I am in no position to state. To
argue that women can take a place on a physical equality with man is
simply not being honest. Without sentimentalizing over motherhood, it
seems allowable to point out the fact that women are potential
mothers, and this fact, with every detail of its complexities,
feminists or no to the contrary, is a distinct handicap to women's
playing a part in the industrial field on a par with man. And society
pays more dearly for a weary woman than for a tired man.

Therefore, why not lunch rooms, and attractive lunch rooms, and good
food, well cooked? Yes, it is good business, and besides it puts a
woman on a much more efficient level to herself and society. At our
tables the girls were talking about different lunch-room conditions
they had come across in their work. One girl told of a glass company
she had worked for that recently was forced to shut down. She dwelt
feelingly on the white lunch room and the good food, and especially
the paper napkins—the only place she had worked where they gave
napkins. She claimed there was not a girl who did not want to cry when
she had to quit that factory. “Everybody loved it,” she said. I tried
to find out if she felt the management had been paying for the
polished brass rails, the good food, and the napkins out of the
workers' wages. “Not on your life!” she answered. She had been a file

Take dental clinics in the factories. Four teeth on our floor were
extracted while I was at the laundry. For a couple of days each girl
moaned and groaned and made everybody near her miserable. Then she got
Miss Cross's permission to go to some quack dentist, and out came the
tooth. Irma had two out at one dollar each. It was going to cost her
forty dollars to get them back in. A person with his or her teeth in
good condition is a far better citizen than one suffering from the

If I had my way I should like to see a rest room in every factory
where women are employed, and some time, however short, allowed in the
middle of the afternoon to make use of it.

Eight hours is long enough for any woman to do sustained physical
work, with no possibility for overtime.

Nor have we so much as touched on what it means to live on thirteen
dollars or fourteen dollars a week.

“But then you have taken away all the arguments for organization!”

Should organization be considered as an end in and of itself, or as
one possible means to an end?

Word was passed this morning that “company” was coming! The bustling
and the hustling and the dusting! Every girl had to clean her press
from top to bottom, and we swept the floor with lightning speed. Miss
Cross dashed to her little mirror and put powder on her nose. Hattie
tied a curtain around her head to look like a Red Cross nurse. Every
time the door opened we all got expectant palpitations. We were not
allowed to speak, yet ever and anon Hattie or Mrs. Reilly would let
out some timely remarks. Whereat we all got the giggles. Miss Cross
would almost hiss, “GIRLS!” whereat we subsided. It was nerve
wracking. And the company never came! They got as far as the third
floor and gave out. But it was not until afternoon that we knew
definitely that our agony was for naught.

Lucia's machine got out of order—steam escaped at a fearful rate.
While the mechanic was fixing it he discoursed to me on the laundry.
He had been there nine months—big, capable-looking six-footer. Out of
the corner of his mouth he informed me, “Once anybody comes to work
here they never leave!” It surely does seem as if they had no end of
people who had worked there years and years. Miss Cross says they used
to have more fun than nowadays, before so many colored girls were
employed. They gave parties and dances and everyone was chummy with
everyone else.

To-day, in the midst of hilarity and all unannounced, “company” did
appear. We subsided like a schoolroom when the teacher suddenly
re-enters. A batch of women, escorted by one of the management. He
gesticulated and explained. I could not catch his words, for the noise
of the presses, though goodness knows I craned my ears. They
investigated everything. Undoubtedly their guide dwelt eloquently on
the victrola in the lunch room; it plays every noon. On their way out
two of the young women stopped by my press. “Didn't this girl iron
that nightgown nicely?” one said to the other. I felt it obligatory to
give them the “once over.”

The second the door was closed I dashed for Miss Cross. “Who were them
females?” I asked her.

Miss Cross grunted. “Them were Teachers College girls.” She wrinkled
her nose. “They send 'em over here often. And let me tell _you_, I
never seen _one_ of 'em with any class _yet_.... They talk about
college girls—pooh! I never seen a college girl yet looked any
classier than us laundry girls. Most of 'em don't look _as_ classy.
Only difference is, if you mixed us all up, they're gettin' educated.”

One of my erstwhile jobs at the University of California had been
piloting college girls around through factories in just that fashion.
I had to laugh in my sleeve as I suspected the same remarks may have
been passed on us after our departure!

       *       *       *       *       *

We have much fun at our lunch table. A switchboard operator and file
clerk from the office eats with us. She and I “guy” each other a good
deal during the meal. Miss Cross wipes her eyes and sighs: “Gee!
Ain't it fun to laugh!” and Eleanor and I look pleased with ourselves.

In the paper this morning appeared a picture of one of New York's
leading society women “experiencing the life of the working girl first
hand.” She was shown in a French bonnet, a bunch of orchids at her
waist, standing behind a perfumery counter. What our table did to Mrs.

“These women,” fusses Miss Cross, “who think they'll learn what it's
like to be a working girl, and stand behind a perfumery counter!
Somebody's always trying to find out what it's like to be a
worker—and then they get a lot of noteriety writin' articles about
it. All rot, I say. Pity, if they really want to know what workin's
like, they wouldn't try a laundry.”

“She couldn't eat her breakfast in bed if she did that!” was my
cutting remark.

“Or quit at three,” from Annie.

“Hisst!” I whisper, “I'm a lady in disguise!” And I quirk my little
finger as I drink my coffee and order Eleanor to peer without to see
if my limousine waits.

We discuss rich folk and society ladies, and no one envies or is
bitter. Miss Cross guesses some of them think they get as weary flying
around to their parties and trying on clothes as we do in the laundry.
I guess she is partly right.

Then we discuss what a bore it would be not to work. At our table sit
Miss Cross, Edna (Miss Cross calls her Edner), the Cuban girl, who
refused to eat with the colored girls; Annie, the English girl, who
had worked in a retail shoe shop in London; Mrs. Reilly, who is always
morose at lunch and never speaks, except one day when she and Miss
Cross nearly came to blows over religion. Each got purple in the face.
Then it came out that there was a feud between them—two years or more
it had lasted—and neither ever speaks to the other. (Yet Mrs. Reilly
gave one dollar, twice as much as the rest of us, toward Miss Cross's
Christmas present.) Then there are three girls from the office
downstairs. Everyone there had had some experience in being out of
work or not working. To each of them at such a time life has been a
wearisome thing. Each declared she would 'most rather work at any old
thing than stay home and do nothing.

Between the first and second bells after lunch the sixth-floor girls
foregather and sit on the ironing tables, swing our heels, and pass
the time of day. To-day I start casually singing, “Jesus Wants Me for
a Sunbeam.” Everyone on our floor knows the song and there the whole
lot of us sit, swinging our heels, singing at the top of our lungs, “A
_sunbeam_, a _sunbeam_, Jesus wants me for a _sunbeam_,” which is how
I got the name of “Sunbeam” on our floor. Except that Miss Cross, for
some reason of her own, usually called me “Constance.”

I teach them “My Heart's a Little Bird Cage,” and we add that to our
repertoire. Then we go on to “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” “Lead, Kindly
Light,” “Rock of Ages.”

It appears we are a very religious lot on our floor. All the colored
girls are Baptists. Miss Cross is an ardent Presbyterian, Annie is an
Episcopalian, Edna and Mrs. Reilly are Catholics, but Edna knows all
the hymns we daily sing.

And, lo! before many days I am startled by hearing Lucia
sing—woebegone Lucia. She sings to no tune whatever and smiles at me,
“Sunbeam, Sunbeam, Sunbeam, Sunbeam.” So she has learned one English
word in sixteen years. That is better in quality than German Tessie
did. She told me, at the candy factory, that the first thing she
learned in English was “son of a gun.”

But as a matter of fact Lucia does know two other words. Once I ironed
a very starched nightgown. It was a very, very large and gathered
nightgown. I held it up and made Lucia look at it.

Lucia snickered. “Da big-a, da fat-a!” said Lucia.

Mrs. Reilly let out a squeal. “She's learnt English!” Mrs. Reilly
called down the line.

“And,” I announce, “I'll teach her 'da small-a, da thin-a.'”

Thereafter I held up garments to which those adjectives might apply,
and tried to “learn” Lucia additional English. Lucia giggled and
giggled and waited every evening to walk down the six flights of
stairs with me, and three blocks until our ways parted. Each time I
patted her on the back when we started off and chortled: “Hey, Lucia,
da big-a, da fat-a!” Lucia would giggle again, and that is all we
would have to say. Except one night Lucia pointed to the moon and
said, “Luna.” So I make the most of knowing that much Italian.

Oh yes, Lucia and I had one other thing in common. One day at the
laundry I found myself humming a Neapolitan love song, from a victrola
record we have. Lucia's face brightened. The rest of the afternoon I
hummed the tune and Lucia sang the words of that song, much to Mrs.
Reilly's delight, who informed the floor that now, for sure, Lucia was
in love again.

There was much singing on our floor. Irma used often to croon negro
religious songs, the kind parlor entertainers imitate. I loved to
listen to her. It was not my clothes she was ironing. Hattie, down the
line, mostly dwelt on “Jesus wants me for a Sunbeam.” Hattie had
straight, short hair that stood out all over her head, and a face like
a negro kewpie. She was up to mischief seven hours of the nine, nor
could Miss Cross often subdue her. Hattie had been on our floor four
years. One lively day Irma was singing with gusto “Abide With Me.” For
some reason I had broken into the rather unfactory-like ballad of
“Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms,” and Lucia was
caroling some Italian song lustily—all of us at one and the same
time. Finally Miss Cross called over, “For land's sakes, two of you
girls stop singing!” Since Irma and I were the only two of the three
to understand her, we made Christian martyrs of ourselves and let
Lucia have the floor.

Miss Cross was concerned once as to how I happened to know so many
hymns. Green earrings do not look particularly hymny. The fact was, I
had not thought of most of the hymns our sixth floor sang since I was
knee high. In those long ago days a religious grandmother took me once
to a Methodist summer camp meeting, at which time I resolved before my
Maker to join the Salvation Army and beat a tambourine. So when Miss
Cross asked me how I knew so many hymns, and the negro-revivalist
variety, I answered that I once near joined the Salvation Army. “You
don't say!” said the amazed Miss Cross.

One day Miss Cross and Jacobs, a Jew who bossed some department which
brought him often to our floor, to see, for instance, should they wash
more curtains or do furniture covers, had a great set-to on the
subject of religion. Jacobs was an iconoclast. Edna left her
handkerchiefs to join in. I eavesdropped visibly. Jacobs 'lowed there
was no hell. Whereat Miss Cross and Edna wanted to know the sense of
being good. Jacobs 'lowed there was no such thing as a soul. Miss
Cross and Edna fairly clutched each other.

“Then what is there that makes you happy or unhappy, if it ain't your
soul?” asked Miss Cross, clenchingly.

“Oh, hell!” grunted Jacobs, impatiently, after having just argued
there was no such place.

Jacobs uttered much heresy. Miss Cross and Edna perspired in anguish.
Then I openly joined the group.

Miss Cross turned to me. “I tell you how I feel about Christianity. If
a lot of these educated college professors and lawyers and people
like that, when they read all the books they do and are smart as they
are—if Christianity is good enough for them, it's good enough for

Jacobs was so disgusted that he left.

Whereat Edna freed her soul of all the things she wanted to say about
hell and punishment for sins. She went too far for Miss Cross. Edna
spoke of thieves and murderers and evildoers in general, and what they
ought to get in both this world and the next. Quite a group had
collected by this time.

Then Miss Cross turned to us all and said: “We're in no position to
pass judgment on people that do wrong. Look at us. Here we are, girls
what have everything. We got nice homes, enough to eat and wear, we
have 'most everything in the world we want. We don't know what it's
like to be tempted, 'cause we're so fortunate. An' I say we shouldn't
talk about people who go wrong.”

That—in a laundry.

And only Edna seemed not to agree.

       *       *       *       *       *

To-day at lunch the subject got around to matrimony. Eleanor said:
“Any girl can get married, if she wants to so bad she'll take any old
thing, but who wants to take any old thing?”

“Sure,” I added, cockily. “Who wants to pick up with anyone they can
vamp in the Subway?”

Whereupon I get sat upon and the line of argument was interesting.
Thus it ran:

After all, why wasn't a man a girl vamped in the Subway the safest
kind? Where did working girls get a chance to meet men, anyhow? About
the only place was the dance hall, and goodness knows what kind of men
you did meet at a dance hall. They were apt to be the kind to make
questionable husbands; like as not they were “sports.” But the Subway!
Now there you were more likely to pick up with the dependable kind.
Every girl at the table knew one or several married couples whose
romances had begun on the Subway, and “every one of 'em turned out
happy.” One girl told of a man she could have vamped the Sunday before
in the Subway, but he was too sportily dressed and she got scared and
quit in the middle. The other girls all approved her conduct. Each
expressed deep suspicion of the “sporty” man. Each supported the
Subway romance.

I withdrew my slur on the same.

       *       *       *       *       *

A guilty feeling came over me as the day for leaving the laundry
approached. Miss Cross and I had become very friendly. We planned to
do all sorts of things together. Our floor was such a companionable,
sociable place. It didn't seem square to walk off and leave those
girls, black and white, who were my friends. In the other factories I
just disappeared as suddenly as I came. After a few days I could not
stand it and penned a jiggly note to Miss Cross. Unexpectedly, I was
going to have to move to Pennsylvania (that was true, for Christmas
vacation). I hated to leave her and the girls, etc., etc. I was her
loving friend, “Constance,” alias “Sunbeam.”


                         _In a Dress Factory_

Fingers poke through cold holes in the wool mittens; the old coat with
two buttons gone flaps and blows about the knees; dirt, old papers,
spiral upward on the chill gusts of a raw winter day. Close your eyes,
duck your head, and hurry on. Under one arm is clutched the paper bag
with lunch and the blue-checked apron. Under the other the old
brown-leather bag. In the old brown-leather bag is an old black purse.
In the old black purse are fifty-five cents, a key, and a safety pin.
In the old brown bag are also two sticks of Black Jack chewing gum, a
frayed handkerchief, and the crumpled list of possibilities. If you
should lose the list!

That list was copied from the Sunday _World_—from the “Female Help
Wanted, Miscellaneous.” The future looked bright Sunday. Now after
four attempts to land jobs had ended in being turned down cold, the
future did not look bright at all. Because, you understand, we are
going on the assumption that the old black purse in the old brown bag
with fifty-five cents and a key and a safety pin were all that stood
between us and—well, a number of dismal things. Which was fifty-five
cents and a key and a safety pin more than some folk had that Monday
morning in New York.

You must know in days of unemployment that it is something of a
catastrophe if you do not land the first job you apply for Monday
morning. For by the time you reach the second place on the list, no
matter how fast you go, it is apt to be filled up from the group who
were waiting there from 7.30 on, as you had waited at your first hope.
The third chance is slimmer still by far, and if you keep on until 10
or 11 it is mostly just plain useless.

And if you do not land a job Monday, that whole week is as good as
lost. Of course, there is always a chance—the smallest sort of
hopeless chance—that something can be found later on in the week. The
general happening is that you stake your all on the 7.30 to 8.30 wait
Monday morning. Often it is 9 before the firm sees fit to announce it
wants no more help, and there you are with fifty-five cents and a key
and a safety pin—or less—to do till Monday next.

Strange the cruel comfort to be felt from the sight of the countless
others hurrying about hopelessly, hopefully, that raw Monday morning.
On every block where a firm had advertised were girls scanning their
already worn-looking lists, making sure of the address, hastening on.
Nor were they deterred by the procession marching away—even if some
one called, “No use goin' up there—they don't want no more.” Perhaps,
after all, thought each girl to herself, the boss would want _her_.
The boss did not.

First, early in the morning and full of anticipation I made for the
bindery on West Eighteenth Street. That sounded the likeliest of the
possibilities. No need to get out the paper to make sure again of the
number. It must be where that crowd was on the sidewalk ahead, some
thirty girls and as many men and boys. Everyone was pretty
cheerful—it was twenty minutes to eight and most of us were young.
Rather too many wanted the same job, but there were no worries to
speak of. Others might be unlucky—not we. So our little group talked.
Bright girls they were, full of giggles and “gee's.” Finally the
prettiest and the brightest of the lot peered in through the street
doors. “Say, w'at d'ye know? I see a bunch inside! Come on!”

In we shoved our way, and there in the dismal basement-like first
floor waited as many girls and men as on the sidewalk. “Good night! A
fat show those dead ones outside stand!” And we passed the time of day
a bit longer. The pretty and smart one was not for such tactics long.
“W'at d'ye say we go up to where the firm is and beat the rest of 'em
to it!” “You said it!” And we tore up the iron stairs. On the second
flight we passed a janitor. “Where's the bindery?”

“Eighth floor.”

“My Gawd!” And up seven flights we puffed in single file, conversation
impossible for lack of wind.

The bright one opened the door and our group of nine surged in. There
stood as many girls and men as were down on the first floor and out on
the sidewalk.

“My Gawd!” There was nothing else to say.

We edged our way through till we stood by the time clock. The bright
one was right,—that was the strategic point. For at 8.30 a forelady
appeared at that very spot, just suddenly was—and in a pleasant tone
of voice announced, “We don't need any more help, male or female, this
morning!” Two scared-looking girls just in front of me screwed up
their courage and said, pleadingly, “But you told us Saturday we
should come back this morning and you promised us work!”

“Oh, all right! Then you two go to the coat room.”

Everyone looked a bit dazed. At least one hundred girls and over that
many men had hopes of landing a job at that bindery—and they took on
two girls from Saturday.

We said a few things we thought, and dashed for the iron stairs. We
rushed down pell-mell, calling all the way. By this time a steady
procession was filing up. “No use. Save your breath.” Some kept on,

From the bindery I rushed to a factory making muslin underwear. By the
time I got there—only six blocks uptown—the boss looked incredulous
that I should even be applying at such an advanced hour, although it
was not yet 9. No, he needed no more. From there to the address of an
“ad” for “light factory work,” whatever it might turn out to be. A
steady stream of girls coming and going. Upstairs a young woman,
without turning her head, her finger tracing down a column of
figures, called out, “No more help wanted!”

A rush to a wholesale millinery just off Fifth Avenue—the only
millinery advertising for learners. The elevator was packed going up,
the hallway was packed where we got out. The girls already there told
us newcomers we must write our names on certain cards. Also we must
state our last position, what sort of millinery jobs we expected to
get, and what salary. The girl ahead of me wrote twenty-eight dollars.
I wrote fourteen dollars. She must have been experienced in some
branch of the trade. All the rest of us at our crowded end of the
entry hall were learners. The “ad” here had read “apply after 9.30.”
It was not yet 9.30. A few moments after I got there, my card just
filled out, the boss called from a little window: “No more learners.
All I want is one experienced copyist.” There was apparently but one
experienced copyist in the whole lot. Everyone was indignant. Several
girls spoke up: “What made you advertise learners if you don't want
none?” “I did want some, but I got all I want.” We stuffed the
elevator and went on down.

As a last try, my lunch and apron and I tore for the Subway and Park
Place, down by the Woolworth Building. By the time I reached that
bindery there were only two girls ahead of me. A man interviewed the
younger. She had had a good bit of bindery experience. The man was
noncommittal. The very refined middle-aged woman had had years of
experience. She no sooner spoke of it than the man squinted his eyes
at her and said: “You belong to the union then, don't you?” “Yes,” the
woman admitted, with no hesitation, “I do, but that makes no
difference. I'm perfectly willing to work with nonunion girls. I'm a
good worker and I don't see what difference it should make.” The man
turned abruptly to me. “What bindery experience have you had?” I had
to admit I had had no bindery experience, but I made it clear I was a
very experienced person in many other fields—oh, many other—and so
willing I was, and quick to learn.

“Nothing doing for you.”

But he had advertised for learners.

“Yes, but why should I use learners when I turned away over seventy
experienced girls this morning, ready to do any work for any old

I was hoping to hear what else he might say to the union member, but
the man left me no excuse for standing around.

I ate my lunch at home.

When the next Sunday morning came, again the future looked bright. I
red-penciled eleven “ads”—jobs in three different dress factories,
sewing buttons on shoes. You see, I have to pick only such “ads” as
allow for no previous experience—it is only unskilled workers I am
eligible to be among as yet; girls to pack tea and coffee, to work for
an envelope company, in tobacco, on sample cards; girls to pack hair
nets, learners on fancy feathers, and learners to operate book-sewing

The rest of the newspaper told much of trouble in the garment trades.
I decided to try the likeliest dress factory first. I was hopeful, but
not enough so to take my lunch and apron.

At the first dress factory address before eight o'clock there were
about nine girls ahead of me. We waited downstairs by the elevator, as
the boss had not yet arrived. The “ad” I was answering read:
“WANTED—Bright girls to make themselves useful around dress factory.”

Some of us looked brighter than others of us.

Upstairs in the hall we assembled to wait upon the pleasure of the
boss. The woodwork was white, the floor pale blue—it was all very

Finally, second try, the boss glued his eye on me.

“Come in here.” A white door closed behind us, and we stood in a
little room which looked as if a small boy of twelve had knocked it
together out of old scraps and odds and ends, unpainted.

“What experience you have had?”

He was a nice-looking, fairly young Jew, who spoke with a considerable
German accent.

“None in a dress factory, but ...” and I regaled him with the vast
amount of experience in other lines that was mine, adding that I had
done a good deal of “private dressmaking” off and on, and also
assuring him, almost tremblingly, I did so want to land a job—that I
was the most willing of workers.

“What you expect to get?”

“What will you pay me?”

“No, I'm asking you. What do you expect to get?”

“Fourteen dollars.”

“All right, go on in.”

If the room where the boss had received me could have been the work of
a twelve-year-old, the rest of the factory must have been designed and
executed by a boy of eight, or a lame, halt, and blind carpenter just
tottering to his grave. There was not a straight shelf. There was not
a straight partition. Boards of various woods and sizes had been used
and nothing had ever been painted. Such doors as existed had odd ways
of opening and closing. The whole place looked as if it had cost about
seven dollars and twenty-nine cents to throw together. But, ah! the
white and pale blue of the show rooms!

       *       *       *       *       *

The dress factory job was like another world compared with candy,
brass, and the laundry. In each of those places I had worked on one
floor of a big plant, doing one subdivided piece of labor among
equally low-paid workers busy at the same sort of job as myself. Of
what went on in the processes before and after the work we did, I knew
and saw nothing. We packed finished chocolates; we punched slots in
already-made lamp cones; we ironed already washed, starched, and
dampened clothes. Such work as we did took no particular skill, though
a certain improvement in speed and quality of work came with practice.
One's eyes could wander now and then, one's thoughts could wander
often, and conversation with one's neighbors was always possible.

Behold the dress factory, a little complete world of its own on one
small floor where every process of manufacture, and all of it skilled
work, could be viewed from any spot. Not quite every process—the
designer had a room of her own up front nearer where the woodwork was

“Ready-made clothing!” It sounds so simple—just like that. Mrs. Fine
Lady saunters into a shop, puts up her lorgnette, and lisps, “I'd like
to see something in a satin afternoon dress.” A plump blonde in
tight-fitting black with a marcel wave trips over to mirrored doors,
slides one back, takes a dress off its hanger—and there you are! “So
much simpler than bothering with a dressmaker.”

But whatever happened to get that dress to the place where the blonde
could sell it? “Ready-made,” indeed! There has to be a start some
place before there is any “made” to it. It was at that point in our
dress factory when the French designer first got a notion into her
head—she who waved her arms and gesticulated and flew into
French-English rages just the way they do on the stage. “_Mon Dieu!
Mon Dieu!_”—gray-haired Madame would gasp at our staid and portly Mr.
Rogers. Ada could say “My Gawd!” through her Russian nose to him and
it had nothing like the same wilting effect.

Ready-made—yes, ready-made. But first Madame got her notion, and then
she and her helpers concocted the dress itself. A finished article, it
hung inside the wire inclosure where the nice young cutter kept
himself and his long high table. The cutter took a look at the
finished garment hanging on the side of his cage, measured a bit with
his yardstick, and then proceeded to cut the pattern out of paper.
Whereupon he laid flat yards and yards of silks and satins on his
table and with an electric cutter sliced out his parts. One
mistake—one slice off the line—_Mon Dieu!_ it's too terrible to
think of! All these pieces had to be sorted according to sizes and
colors, and tied and labeled. (Wanted—bright and useful girl right

Next came the sewing machine operators (electric power)—a long narrow
table, nine machines at a side, but not more than fourteen operators
were employed—thirteen girls and one lone young man. They said that
on former piece rates this man used to make from ninety dollars to one
hundred dollars a week. The operators were all well paid, especially
by candy, brass, and laundry standards, but they were a skilled lot. A
very fine-looking lot too—some of the nicest-looking girls I've seen
in New York. Everyone had a certain style and assurance. It was good
for the eyes to look on them after the laundry thirteen-dollar-a-week

When the first operators had done their part the dresses were handed
over to the drapers. There were two drapers; they were getting around
fifty dollars a week before the hard times. One of the drapers was as
attractive a girl as I ever saw any place—bobbed hair, deep-set eyes,
a Russian Jewess with features which made her look more like an
Italian. She spoke English with hardly any accent. She dressed very
quietly and in excellent taste. All day long the two draped dresses on
forms—ever pinning and pinning. The drapers turned the dresses over
to certain operators, who finished all machine sewing. The next work
fell to the finishers.

In that same end of the factory sat the four finishers, getting “about
twenty dollars a week,” but again no one seemed sure. Two were
Italians who could talk little English. One was Gertie, four weeks
married—“to a Socialist.” Gertie was another of the well-dressed
ones. If you could know these dress factory girls you would realize
how, unless gifted with the approach of a newspaper reporter—and I
lack that approach—it was next to impossible to ask a girl herself
what she was earning. No more than you could ask a lawyer what his
fees amounted to. The girls themselves who had been working long
together in the same shop did not seem to know what one another's
wages were. It was a new state of affairs in my factory experience.

The finishers, after sewing on all hooks and eyes and fasteners and
doing all the remaining handwork on the dresses, turned them over to
the two pressers, sedate, assured Italians, who ironed all day long
and looked prosperous and were very polite.

They brought the dresses back to Jean and her helper—two girls who
put the last finishing touches on a garment before it went into the
showroom—snipping here and there, rough edges all smoothed off. It
was to Jean the boss called my second morning, very loud so all could
hear: “If you find anything wrong mit a dress, don't _look_ at it,
don't _bodder wid_ it—jus' t'row it in dere faces and made dem do it
over again! It's not like de old days no more!” (Whatever he meant by
that.) So—there was your dress, “ready-made.”

Such used to be the entire factory, adding the two office girls; the
model, who was wont to run around our part of the world now and then
in a superior fashion, clad in a scanty pale-pink-satin petticoat
which came just below her knees and an old gray-and-green sweater;
plus various male personages, full of business and dressed in their
best. Goodness knows what all they did do to keep the wheels of
industry running—perhaps they were salesmen. They had the general
appearance of earning at least ten to twenty thousand dollars a year.
It may possibly have risen as high as two thousand.

And Peters—who was small though grown, and black, and who cleaned up
with a fearful dust and snitched lead pencils if you left them around.

At present, in addition, there were the sixteen crochet beaders,
because crochet beading is stylish in certain quarters—this
“department” newly added just prior to my arrival. But before the
beaders could begin work the goods had to be stamped, and before they
could be stamped Mr. Rogers (he was middle-aged and a dear and an
Italian and his name wasn't “Rogers,” but some unpronounceable thing
the Germans couldn't get, so it just naturally evolved into something
that began with the same letter which they could pronounce) had to
concoct a design. He worked in the cage at a raised end of the
cutting table. He pricked the pattern through paper with a machine, at
a small table outside by the beaders, that was always piled high with
a mess of everything from spools to dresses, which Mr. Rogers
patiently removed each time to some spot where some one else found
them on top of something she wanted, and less patiently removed them
to some other spot, where still less patiently they were found in the
way and dumped some place else. Such was life in one factory. And Ada
would call out still later: “Mr. Rogers, did you see a pile of dresses
on this table when you went to work?”

Whereat in abject politeness and dismay Mr. Rogers would dash from
“inside” to “outside” and explain in very broken English that there
had been some things on the table, but “vaire carefully” he had placed
them—here. And to Mr. Rogers's startled gaze the pile had

If a dress had to be beaded, Mr. Rogers took the goods after the
cutter finished his job, and he and his helpers stamped the patterns
on sleeves, front and back, skirt, by rubbing chalk over the paper.
Upon the scene at this psychological moment enters the bright girl to
make herself useful. The bright girl “framed-up” the goods for the
beaders to work on. (In fact, you noted she entered even earlier, by
helping the cutter tie the bundles according to size and color.)

“Frame-up” means taking boards the proper length with broad tape
tacked along one edge. First you pin the goods lengthwise, pins close
together. Then you find side boards the desired length and pin the
goods along the sides. Then with four iron clamps you fasten the
corners together, making the goods as tight as a drum. There is a real
knack to it, let me tell you—especially when it comes to queerly
shaped pieces—odd backs or fronts or sleeves. Or where you have a
skirt some six or eight feet long and three broad. But I can frame!
Ada said so.

When I got a piece framed (Now I write those six words and grin) ...
“_when_” ... Two little skinny horses I had to rest the frames upon.
The space I had in which to make myself useful was literally about
three by four feet just in front of the shelves where the thread and
beads were kept. That is, I had it if no one wanted to get anything in
the line of thread or beads, which they always did want to get.
Whereupon I moved out—which meant my work might be knocked on the
floor, or if it was bigger I had to move the work out with me. Or I
crawled under it and got the thread or beads myself. If it were a
skirt I was framing up I earned the curses, though friendly, of the
assemblage. No one could pass in any direction. The beaders were shut
in their quarters till I got through, or they crawled under. Or I
poked people in the back with the frames while I was clamping them. I
fought and bled and died over every large frame I managed to get
together, for the frame was larger than the space I had to work in.
Until in compassion they finally moved me around the corner into the
dressmaking quarters, which tried Joe's soul. Joe was the Italian
foreman of that end of things. He was nice. But he saw no reason why I
should be moved up into his already crowded space. Indeed, I was only
a little better off. The fact of the matter was that the more useful I
became the more in everybody's way I got. Indeed, it can be taken as a
tribute to human nature that everyone in that factory was not a
crabbed nervous wreck from having to work on top of everyone else. It
was almost like attempting dressmaking in the Subway. The boss at
times would gaze upon my own frantic efforts, and he claimed: “Every
time I look at you the tears come in my eis.” And I would tell him,
“Every time I think about myself the tears come in mine.” About every
other day he appeared with a hammer and some nails and would pound
something some place, with the assurance that his every effort spelled
industrial progress and especial help to me.

“All I think on is your comfort, yes?”

“Don't get gray over it!”

Nor will I forget that exhibition of the boss's ideas of scientific
management. Nothing in the factory was ever where anyone could find
it. It almost drove me crazy. What was my joy then when one day the
boss told me to put the spools in order. There was a mess of
every-colored spool, mixed with every other color, tangled ends, dust,
buttons, loose snappers, more dust, beads, more spools, more dust. A
certain color was wanted by a stitcher. There was nothing to do but
paw. The spool, like as not, would be so dusty it would take blowings
and wipings on your skirt before it could be discovered whether the
color was blue or black. I tied my head in tissue paper and sat down
to the dusty job of sorting those spools. Laboriously I got all the
blacks together and in one box. Laboriously all the whites. That
exhausted all the boxes I could lay hands on. I hunted up the boss. “I
can't do that spool job decent if I ain't got no boxes to put the
different colors in.”

“Boxes, boxes! What for you want boxes?”

“For the spools.”

“'Ain't you got no boxes?”

“'Ain't got another one.”

He hustled around to the spool shelves where I was working.

“_Ach_, boxes! Here are two boxes. What more you want?”

Majestically, energetically, he dumped my black spools out of one box,
my white spools out of the other—dumped them back with a flourish
into the mess of unassorted dust and colors.

“Here are two boxes! What more you want?”

What redress had I for such a grievance except to wail at him: “My
Gawd! my Gawd! I jus' put those spools in them boxes!”

“_Ach_, so!” says the boss. “Vell, put um back in again.”

With the sweat of my life's blood I unearthed a ragged empty box here,
another there, no two sizes the same. After three days of using every
minute to be spared from other jobs on those shelves, I had every
single spool where it belonged and each box labeled as to color. How
wondrous grand it looked! How clean and dusted! I made the boss
himself gaze upon the glory of it.

“_Ach_, fine!” he beamed.

Two days later it was as if I had never touched a spool. The boxes
were broken, the spools spilled all over—pawing was again in season.
Not yet quite so much dust, but soon even the dust would be as of

“One cause of labor unrest is undoubtedly the fact that the workers
are aware that present management of industry is not always 100 per
cent efficient.”

       *       *       *       *       *

So then, I framed up. Nor was it merely that I worked under
difficulties as to space. Another of the boss's ideas of scientific
management seemed to be to employ as few bright and useful girls as
possible. He started with three. He ended with just one. From dawn to
dewy eve I tore. It was “Connie, come here!” (Ada, the beadwork
forelady.) “Connie, come here!” (The cutter.) “Connie, thread, thread,
yes? There's a good girl!” (The beaders.) “Connie, changeable beads,
yes? That's the girl!” “Connie, unframe these two skirts quick as you
can!” “Connie, never mind finishing those skirts; I got to get this
'special' framed up right away!” “Connie, didn't you finish unframing
those skirts?” “Connie, tissue paper, yes? Thanks awfully.” “Connie,
did you see that tag I laid here? Look for it, will you?”

But the choice and rare moment of my bright and useful career was when
the boss himself called, “Oh, Miss Connie, come _mal_ here, yes?” And
when I got _mal_ there he said, “I want you should take my shoes to
the cobblers _so fort_ yes?... And be sure you get a check ... and go
quick, yes.” Whereupon he removed his shoes and shuffled about in a
pair of galoshes.

I put on the green tam. I put on the old brown coat with now three
buttons gone and the old fur collar, over my blue-checked apron, and
with the boss's shoes under my arm out I fared, wishing to goodness I
would run into some one I knew, to chuckle with me. Half an hour later
the boss called me again.

“I think it is time you should bring my shoes back, yes?” I went. The
cobbler said it would be another five minutes. Five minutes to do what
I would within New York! It was a wondrous sensation. Next to the
cobbler's a new building was going up. I have always envied the folks
who had time to hang over a railing and watch a new building going up.
At last—my own self, my green tam, my brown coat over the
blue-checked apron, chewing a stick of Black Jack, hung over the
railing and for five whole minutes and watched the men on the steel
skeleton. All the time my salary was going on just the same.

I was hoping the boss would tip me—say, a dime—for running his
errands. Otherwise I might never get a tip from anyone. He did not. He
thanked me, and after that he called me “dearie.”

Ada's face wore an anxious look when I got back. She was afraid I
might not have liked running errands. Running errands, it seemed, was
not exactly popular. I assured her it was “so swell watchin' the
riveters on the new buildin'” I didn't care about the shoes.

The first day in any new job seems strange, and you wonder if you ever
will get acquainted. In the dress factory I felt that way for several
days. Hitherto I had always worked with girls all round me, and it was
no time before we were chatting back and forth. In the dress factory I
worked by myself at chores no one else did. Also, the other girls had
the sort of jobs which took concentration and attention—there was
comparatively little talk. Also, the sewing machines inside and the
riveting on that steel building outside made too much noise for easy

At lunch time most of the girls went out to eat at various restaurants
round about. They looked so grand when they got their coats and hats
on that I could never see them letting me tag along in my old green
tam and two-out-of-five buttoned coat. My wardrobe had all fitted in
appropriately to candy and brass and the laundry, but not to
dressmaking. So I ate my lunch out of a paper bag in the factory with
such girls as stayed behind. They were mostly the beaders. And they
were mostly “dead ones”—the sort who would not talk had they been
given a bonus and share in the profits for it. They read the _Daily
News_, a group of some five to one paper, and ate.

By Thursday of the first week I was desperate. How was I ever to “get
next” to the dress factory girls? During the lunch hour Friday I
gulped down my food and tore for Gimbel's, where I bought five new
buttons. Saturday I sewed them on my coat, and Monday and all the next
week I ate lunch with Ada and Eva and Jean and Kate at a Yiddish
restaurant where the food had strange names and stranger tastes. But
at least there was conversation.

Ada I loved—our forelady in the bead work—young, good-looking,
intelligent. She rather took me under her wing, in gratitude for which
I showed almost immediate improvement along those lines whereon she
labored over me. My grammar, for instance. When I said “it ain't,” Ada
would say, “Connie, Connie, _ain't_!” Whereat I gulped and said
“isn't,” and Ada smiled approval. Within one week I had picked up
wonderfully. At the end of that week Ada and I were quite chummy. She
asked me one day if I were married. No. Was she? “You don't think I'd
be working like this if I was, do you?” When I asked her what she
would be doing if she didn't have to work, she answered, “Oh, lots of
things.” Nor could I pin her to details. She told me she'd get married
to-morrow only her “sweetheart” was a poor man. But she was crazy
about him. Oh, she was! The very next day she flew over to where I was
framing up. “I've had a fight with my sweetheart!”

It was always difficult carrying on a conversation with Ada. She was
being hollered for from every corner of the factory continually, and
in the few seconds we might have had for talk I was hollered for.
Especially is such jumpiness detrimental to sharing affairs of the
heart. I know only fragments of Ada's romance. The fight lasted all of
four days. Then he appeared one evening, and next morning, she
beamingly informed me that “her sweetheart had made up. Oh, but he's
_some_ lover, _I_ tell you!”

Ada was born in Russia, but came very young to this country. She spoke
English without an accent. Never had she earned less than twenty
dollars a week, starting out as a bookkeeper. When crochet beading
first became the rage, about five years ago, she went over to that and
sometimes made fifty dollars and sixty dollars a week. Here as
forelady, she made forty dollars. Twenty dollars of that she gave each
week to her mother for board and lodging. Often she had gone on summer
vacations. For three years she had paid for a colored girl to do the
housework at home. I despaired at first of having Ada so much as take
notice of the fact that I was alive. What was my joy then, at the end
of the first week, to have her come up and say to me: “Do you know
what I want? I want you to come over to Brooklyn and live with me and
my folks.”

Oh, it's wretched to just walk off and leave folks like that!

That same Saturday morning the boss said he wanted to see me after
closing time. There seemed numerous others he wanted to see. Then I
discovered, while waiting my turn with these others, that practically
no one there knew her “price.” There was a good deal of resentment
about it, too. He had hired these girls and no word about pay. The
other girls waiting that morning were beaders. I learned one trick of
the trade which it appears is more or less universal. They had left
their former jobs to come to this factory in answer to an “ad” for
crochet beaders. If after one week it was found they were getting less
than they had at the old place, they would go back and say they had
been sick for a week. Otherwise they planned to stay on at this
factory. Each girl was called in alone, and alone bargained with the
boss. Monday, Sadie, just for instance, ahead of me in the Saturday
line, reported the conversation she had had with the boss:

“Well, miss, what you expect to get here?”

“What I'm worth.”

“Yes, yes—you're worth one hundred dollars, but I'm talking just
plain English. What you expect to get?”

“I tell you what I'm worth.”

“All right, you're worth one hundred dollars; you think you'll get
thirty dollars. I'll pay you twenty dollars.”

(Sadie had previously told me under no consideration would she remain
under twenty-five dollars, but she remained for twenty dollars.)

My turn. I thought there was no question about my “price.” It was
fourteen dollars. But perhaps seeing how I had run my legs almost off,
and pinned my fingers almost off all week, the boss was going
voluntarily to raise me.

“What wages you expect to get here?”

Oh, well, since he thus opened the question we would begin all new. I
had worked so much harder than I had anticipated.

“Sixteen dollars a week.”

“Ho—sixteen dollars!—and last Monday it was fourteen dollars. You're
going up, yes?”

“But the work's much harder 'n I thought it 'ud be.”

“So you go from fourteen dollars to sixteen dollars and I got you here
to tell you you'd get twelve dollars.”

Oh, but I was mad—just plain mad! “You let me work all week thinkin'
I was gettin' fourteen dollars. It ain't fair!”

“Fair? I pay you what I can afford. Times are hard now, you know.”

I could not speak for my upset feelings. To pay me twelve dollars for
the endless labor of that week when he had allowed me to think I was
getting fourteen dollars! To add insult to injury, he said, “Next week
I want you should work later than the other girls evenings, and make
no date for next Saturday” (I had told him I was in a hurry to get off
for lunch this Saturday) “because I shall want you should work
Saturday afternoon.”

Such a state of affairs is indeed worth following up....

Monday morning he came around breezily—he really was a cordial,
kindly soul—and said; “Well, dearie, how are you this morning?”

I went on pinning.

“Good as anybody can be on twelve dollars a week.”

“_Ach_, forget it, forget it! Always money, money! Whether a person
gets ten cents or three hundred dollars—it's not the money that
counts”—his hands went up in the air—“it's the _service_!”

Yet employers tell labor managers they must not sentimentalize.

A bit later he came back. “I tell you what I'll do. You stay late
every night this week and work Saturday afternoon like I told you you
should, and I'll pay you for it!”

To such extremes a sense of justice can carry one! (Actually, he had
expected that extra work of me gratis!)

During the week I figured out that in his own heart that boss had
figured out a moral equivalent for a living wage. There was nothing he
would not do for me. Did he but come in my general direction, I was
given a helping hand. He joked with me continually. The hammer and
nails were always busy. I was not only “dearie,” I was “sweetheart.”
But fourteen dollars a week—that was another story.

Ada was full of compassion and suggested various arguments I should
use next week on the boss. It was awful what he paid me, Ada declared.
She too would talk to him.

The second week I got closer to the girls. Or, more truthfully put,
they got closer to me. At the other factories I had asked most of the
questions and answered fewer. Here I could hardly get a question in
edgewise for the flood which was let loose on me. I explained in each
factory that I lived with a widow who brought me from California to
look after her children. I did some work for her evenings and Saturday
afternoon and Sunday, to pay for my room and board. Not only was I
asked every conceivable question about myself, but at the dress
factory I had to answer uncountable questions about the lady I lived
with—her “gentlemen friends,” her clothes, her expenses. It was like
pulling teeth for me to get any information out of the girls.

In such a matter as reading, for example. Every girl I asked was fond
of reading. What kind of books? Good books. Yes, but the names. I got
_We Two_ out of Sarah, and Jean was reading Ibsen's _Doll's House_. It
was a swell book, a play. After hours one night she told me the story.
Together with Ada's concern over my grammar it can be seen that I left
the dress factory in intellectual advance over the condition in which
I entered.

The girls I had the opportunity of asking were not such “movie”
enthusiasts, on the whole. Only now and then they went to “a show.”
Less frequently they spoke of going to the Jewish Theater. No one was
particularly excited over dancing—in fact, Sarah, who looked the
blond type of the dance-every-night variety, thought dancing
“disgusting.” Shows weren't her style. She liked reading. Whenever I
got the chance I asked a girl what she did evenings. The answer
usually was, “Oh, nothing much.” One Friday I asked a group of girls
at lunch if they weren't glad the next day was Saturday and the
afternoon off. Four of them weren't glad at all, because they had to
go home and clean house Saturday afternoons, and do other household
chores. “Gee! don't you hate workin' round the house?”

I wonder how much of the women-in-industry movement is traceable to
just that.

The first day I was at the dress factory a very dirty but
pleasant-faced little Jewish girl said to me, “Ever try workin' at
home? Ain't it just awful?” She had made thirty-two dollars a week
beading at her last place—didn't know what she'd get here.

I had hoped to hear murmurings and discussions about the conditions of
the garment trades and the unions—not a word the whole time. Papers
were full of a strike to be called the next week throughout the city,
affecting thousands of waist and dress makers. It might as well have
been in London. Not an echo of interest in it reached our factory. I
asked Sarah if she had ever worked in a union shop. “Sure.” “Any
different from this?” “Different? You bet it's different. Boss
wouldn't dare treat you the way you get treated here.” But as usual I
was yelled for and got no chance ever to pin Sarah to details.

A group of girls in the dressing room exploded one night, “Gee! they
sure treat you like dogs here! No soap, no towels—nothing.” The
hours were good—8.30 to 12.15; 1 to 5.15. One Saturday Ada and the
boss asked the beaders to work in the afternoon. Not one stayed. Too
many had heard the tales of girls working overtime and not being paid
anything extra.

       *       *       *       *       *

Wednesday I went back after my last week's pay. When the cashier
caught sight of me she was full of interest. “I was writing you a
letter this very day. The boss wants you back awful badly. He's out
just now for lunch. Can't you wait?”

Just then the boss stepped from the elevator. “_Ach_, here you are!
Now, dearie, if it's just a matter of a few dollars or so—”

I was leaving town. Much discussion. No, I couldn't stay on. Well, if
I insisted—yes, he'd get my pay envelope. My, oh, my, they missed me!
Why so foolish as to leave New York? Now, as for my wages, they could
easily be fixed to suit.... All right, all right, he'd get my last pay

And there was my pay envelope with just twelve dollars again. “What
about my overtime?”

Overtime? Who said anything about overtime? He did himself. He'd
promised me if I worked every night that week late I'd get paid for
it. Every single night I had stayed, and where was my pay for it?

He shook his finger at my time card.

Show him one hour of overtime on that card!

I showed him where every night the time clock registered overtime.

Yes, but not once was it a full hour. And didn't I know overtime
never counted unless it was at least a full hour?

No, he had never explained anything about that. I'd worked each night
until everything was done and I'd been told I could go.

Well, of course he didn't want to rob me. I really had nothing coming
to me. Each night I'd stayed on till about 6. But they would figure it
out and see what they could pay me. They figured. I waited. At length
majestically he handed out fifty-six cents.

       *       *       *       *       *

The fat, older brother in the firm rode down in the elevator with
me—he who used to move silently around the factory about four times a
day, squinting out of his beady eyes, such light as shown there
bespeaking 100 per-cent possession. He held his fat thumbs in the
palms of his fat hands and benignly he was wont to survey his realm.
Mine! Mine! Mine! his every inch of being said. Nor could his
proportion of joy have been greater if he had six floors of his own to
survey, instead of one little claptrap back room. It did make him so
happy. He wore a kindly and never-changing expression, and he never

Going down in the elevator, he edged over to my corner. He pinched my
arm, he pinched my cheeks. _Ach_, but he'd miss me bad. Nice girl, I

Evidently he, too, had evolved a moral equivalent for a living wage.
Little kindly personal attentions were his share for anything not
adequately covered by twelve dollars and fifty-six cents.


                    _No. 536 Tickets Pillow Cases_

Ah, one should write of the bleachery _via_ the medium of poetry! If
the thought of the brassworks comes in one breath and the bleachery in
the next, the poetry must needs be set to music—the Song of the
Bleachery. What satisfaction there must be to an employer who grows
rich—or makes his income, whatever it may be—from a business where
so much light-heartedness is worked into the product! Let those who
prefer to sob over woman labor behind factory prison bars visit our
bleachery. Better still, let them work there. Here at least is one
spot where they can dry their tears. If the day ever dawns when the
conditions in that bleachery can be referred to as typical of American
industrial life, exist the agitator, the walking delegate, the closed
and open shop fight.

I can hear a bleachery operator grunting, “My Gawd! what's the woman
ravin' over? Is it _our_ bleachery she's goin' on about?” Most of the
workers in the bleachery know no other industrial experience. In that
community, so it seems, a child is born, attends school up to the
minimum required, or a bit beyond, and then goes to work in the
bleachery—though a few do find their way instead to the overall
factory, and still fewer to the shirtwaist factory. No other openings
exist at the Falls.

There is more or less talk nowadays about Industrial Democracy. Some
of us believe that the application of the democratic principle to
industry is the most promising solution to industrial unrest and
inefficiency. The only people who have written about the idea or
discussed it, so far, have been either theorizers or propagandists
from among the intellectuals, or enthused appliers of the principle,
more or less high up in the business end of the thing. What does
Industrial Democracy mean to the rank and file working under it? Is it
one of those splendid programs which look epoch-making in spirit, but
never permeates to those very people whom it is especially designed to

It was to find out what the workers themselves thought of Industrial
Democracy that I boarded a boat and journeyed seventy miles up the
Hudson to work in the bleachery, where, to the pride of those
responsible, functions the Partnership Plan.

What do the workers think of working under a scheme of Industrial

What do the citizens of the United States think of living under a
scheme of Political Democracy?

The average citizen does not think one way or the other about it three
hundred and sixty-five days in the year. Even voting days the rank and
file of us do not ponder overlong on democracy _versus_ autocracy.
Indeed, if it could be done silently, in the dead of night, and the
newspapers would promise not to say a word about it, perhaps we might
change to a benevolent autocracy, and if we could silence all orators,
as well as the press, what proportion of the population would be
vitally concerned in the transition? Sooner or later, of course,
alterations in the way of doing this and that would come about, the
spirit of the nation would change. But through it all—autocracy, if
it were benevolent, or democracy—there would be little conscious
concern on the part of the great majority. Always provided the press
and orators would keep quiet.

From my own experience, the same could be said of Industrial
Democracy. Autocracy, democracy, the rank and file of the workers,
especially the women workers, understand not, ponder not.

“Say,” chuckled Mamie, “I could 'a' died laughin' once. A fella came
through here askin' everybody what we thought of the Partnership Plan.
My Gawd! when he got to me I jus' told him I didn't understand the
first thing about it. What ud he do but get out a little book and
write what I said down. Never again! Anybody asks me now what I think
of the Partnership Plan, and I keep my mouth shut, you bet.”

Once an enthused visitor picked on me to ask what I thought of working
under the Partnership Plan. After he moved on the girls got the
giggles. “Say, these folks that come around here forever asking what
we think about the Partnership Plan! Say, what any of us knows about
that could be put in a nutshell.”

And gray-haired Ella Jane, smartest of all, ten years folding pillow
cases, said: “I don't know anything about that Partnership Plan. All I
know is that we get our share of the profits and our bonuses, and I
can't imagine a nicer place to work. They do make you work for what
you get, though. But it's all white and aboveboard and you know
nobody's trying to put something over on you.”

But the general spirit of the place? Could that be traced to anything
else but the special industrial scheme of things? One fact at least is
certain—the employing end is spared many a detail of management; the
shift in responsibility is educating many a worker to the problems of
capital. And production is going up.

       *       *       *       *       *

Have you ever tried to find a spare bed in a town where there seems to
be not a spare bed to be had? I left my belongings in an ice cream
store and followed every clue, with a helpful hint from the one
policeman, or the drug store man, or a fat, soiled grandmother who
turned me down because they were already sleeping on top of one
another in her house. In between I dropped on a grassy hillside and
watched Our Bleachery baseball team play a Sunday afternoon game with
the Colored Giants. We won.

And then I took up the hunt again, finally being guided by the Lord to
the abode of the sisters Weston—two old maids, combined age one
hundred and forty-nine years, who took boarders. Only there were no
more to take. The Falls was becoming civilized. Improvements were
being installed in most of the houses. Boarders, which meant mainly
school-teachers, preferred a house with Improvements. The abode of the
sisters Weston had none. It was half a company house, with a pump in
the kitchen which drew up brown water of a distressing odor.

The sisters Weston had worked in the overall factory in their earlier
years, hours 7 to 6, wages five dollars a week, paid every five to six
weeks. Later they tried dressmaking; later still, boarders. I belonged
to the last stage of all—they no longer took boarders, they took a
boarder. Mr. Welsh from the electrical department in the bleachery,
whose wife was in Pennsylvania on a visit to her folks, being sickly
and run down, as seemed the wont of wives at the Falls, took his meals
at our boarding house, when he was awake for them. Every other week
Mr. Welsh worked night shift.

My belongings were installed in the room assigned me, and the younger
of the sisters Weston, seventy-three, sat stiffly but kindly in a
chair. “Now about the room rent...?” she faltered. Goodness! yes! My
relief at finding a place to sleep in after eleven turn-downs was so
great that I had completely neglected such a little matter as what the
room might cost me.

“What do you charge?” I asked.

“What do you feel you can pay? We want you should have some money left
each week after your board's paid. What do you make at the

My conscience fidgeted within me a bit at that. “I'd rather you
charged me just what you think the room and board are worth to you,
not what you think I can pay.”

“Well, we used to get eight dollars a week for room and board. It's
worth that.”

It is cheaper to live than die in the Falls at that rate. Three hot
meals a day I got: breakfast, coffee, toast, two eggs, mush, later
fruit; dinner, often soup, always meat, potatoes, vegetables, coffee,
and a dessert; supper, what wasn't finished at dinner, and tea. Always
there was plenty of everything. Sometimes too much, if it were
home-canned goods which had stood too many years on the shelves, due
to lack of boarders to eat the same. But the sisters Weston meant the

“How d'ya like the punkin pie?” the older, Miss Belle, would ask.

The pumpkin pie had seemed to taste a trifle strange, but we laid it
to the fact that it was some time since we had eaten pumpkin pie. “It
tastes all right.”

“Now, there! Glad to hear you say it. Canned that punkin ourselves.
Put it up several years ago. Thought it smelled and looked a bit
spoiled, but I says, guess I'll cook it up; mebbe the heat 'n' all'll
turn it all right again. There's more in the kitchen!”

But it suddenly seemed as if I must get to work earlier that noon than
I had expected. “Can't ya even finish your pie? I declare I'm scared
that pie won't keep long.”

Mr. Welsh got sick after the first couple of meals, but bore on
bravely, nor did the matter of turned string beans consciously worry
Mr. Welsh. The sisters themselves were always dying; their faithful
morning reports of the details of what they had been through the night
before left nothing to the imagination. “Guess I oughtn't ta 'a' et
four hot cakes for supper when I was so sick yesterday afternoon. I
sure was thinking I'd die in the night.... 'Liza, pass them baked
beans; we gotta git them et up.”

       *       *       *       *       *

At six o'clock in the morning the bleachery whistle blows three times
loud enough to shake the shingles on the roofs of the one-hundred-year-old
houses and the leaves on the more than one-hundred-year-old trees
about the Falls. Those women who have their breakfasts to get and
houses to straighten up before they leave for work—and there are a
number—must needs be about before then. Seven o'clock sees folks on
all roads leading to the bleachery gate. At 7.10 the last whistle
blows; at 7.15 the power is turned on, wheels revolve, work begins.

It must be realized that factory work, or any other kind of work, in a
small town is a different matter from work in a large city, if for no
other reason than the transportation problem. Say work in New York
City begins at 7.45. That means for many, if not most, of the workers,
an ordeal of half an hour's journey in the Subways or “L,” shoving,
pushing, jamming, running to catch the shuttle; shoving, pushing,
jamming, running for the East Side Subway; shoving, pushing, jamming,
scurrying along hard pavements to the factory door; and at the end of
a day of eight or nine hours' work, all that to be done over again to
get home.

Instead, at the Falls, it meant a five minutes' leisurely—unless one
overslept—walk under old shade trees, through the glen along a path
lined with jack-in-the-pulpits, wild violets, moss—the same five
minutes' walk home at noon to a hot lunch, plenty of time in which to
eat it, a bit of visiting on the way back to the factory, and a
leisurely five minutes' walk home in the late afternoon. No one has
measured yet what crowded transportation takes out of a body in the

New York factories are used to new girls—they appear almost daily in
such jobs as I have worked in. At the Falls a strange person in town
is excitement enough, a strange girl at the bleachery practically an
unheard-of thing. New girls appear now and then to take the places of
those who get married or the old women who must some time or other
die. But not strange girls. Everyone in the bleachery grew up with
everyone else; as Ella Jane said, you know their mothers and their
grandmothers, too.

It so happened that a cataclysmic event had visited the Falls the week
before my appearance. A family had moved away, thereby detaching a
worker from the bleachery—the girl who ticketed pillow cases. The
Sunday I appeared in town, incidentally, seven babies were born. That
event—or those events—plus me, minus the family who moved away and
an old man who had died the week before, made the population of the
Falls 4,202. Roughly, half that number either worked at the bleachery
or depended on those who worked there. Who or what the other half
were, outside the little group of Main Street tradespeople, remained a
mystery. Of course, there were the ministers of the gospel and their
families—in the same generous overdose—apportioned to most small
towns. The actual number working in the bleachery was about six
hundred and twenty men and women.

Odd, the different lights in which you can see a small town. The
chances are that, instead of being a worker, I might have spent the
week end visiting some of the “_élite_” of the Falls. In that case we
should have motored sooner or later by the bleachery gate and past
numerous company houses. My host, with a wave of the hand, would have
dispatched the matter by remarking, “The town's main industry. The
poor devils live in these houses you see.”

Instead, one day I found myself wandering along the street of the
well-to-do homes. What in the world...? Who all ever lived way up
here? Whatever business had they in our Falls? Did they have anyone to
talk to, anything to do? I laid the matter before Mamie O'Brien.

“Any rich folk living around here?”

“Guess so. Some swell estates round about—never see the people much.”

“Are they stuck up?”

“Dunno—na. Saw one of 'em at the military funeral last week. She
wasn't dressed up a bit swell—just wore a plaid skirt. Didn't look
like anybody at all.”

In other words, we were the town. It was the bleachery folk you saw on
the streets, in the shops, at the post office, at the movies. The
bleachery folk, or their kind, I saw at the three church services I
attended. If anyone had dared sympathize with us—called us “poor

       *       *       *       *       *

The first morning at the bleachery the foreman led me to the narrow
space in the middle of three large heavy tables placed “U” shape,
said, “Here's a girl to ticket,” and left me. The foreman knew who I
was. Employment conditions at the bleachery were such that it was
necessary to make sure of a job by arranging matters ahead of time
with the manager. Also, on a previous occasion I had visited the
bleachery, made more or less of an investigation, and sat in on a
Board of Operatives' meeting. Therefore, I left off my earrings,
bought no Black Jack, did not feel constrained to say, “It ain't,”
though saw no reason why I too should not indulge in “My Gawd!” if I
felt like it. I find it one of the most contagious expressions in the
language. The girls did not seem to know who I was or what I was. Not
until the second day did the girl who stood next to me ask my name—a
formality gone through within the first five minutes in any New York
job. I answered Cornelia Parker. She got it Miss Parks, and formally
introduced me around the table—“Margaret, meet Miss Parks—Miss
White, Miss Parks.” Also all very different from New York. About the
only questions asked by any girl were, “You're from New York?” and,
“Where did you work before you came here?” Some wondered if I wasn't
lonesome without my folks. I didn't have any folks. There was none of
the expressed curiosity of the New York worker as to my past, present,
and future. Not until the last few days did I feel forced to volunteer
now and then enough information so that they would get my name and me
more or less clear in their minds and never feel, after their
heart-warming cordiality, that I had tried “to put anything over on
them.” Whether I was Miss Parks or Mrs. Parker, it made no difference
to them. It did to me, for I felt here at last I could keep up the
contacts I had made; and instead of walking off suddenly, leaving good
friends behind without a word, I could honestly say I was off to the
next job, promise everyone I'd write often and come again to the
Falls, and have everyone promise to write me and never come to New
York without letting me know. I can lie awake nights and imagine what
fun it is going to be getting back to the Falls some day and waiting
by the bridge down at the bleachery for the girls to come out at noon,
seeing them all again. Maybe Mrs. Halley will call out her, “Hi! look
'ose 'ere!”

       *       *       *       *       *

At our bleachery, be it known, no goods were manufactured. We took
piece goods in the rough, mostly white, bleached, starched, and
finished it, and rolled or folded the finished stuff for market. In
Department 10, where most of the girls worked, the west end of the big
third floor, three grades of white goods were made into sheets and
pillow cases, ticketed, bundled, and boxed for shipping. Along the
entire end of the room next the windows stood the operating machines,
with rows of girls facing one another, all hemming sheets or making
pillow cases. There were some ten girls who stood at five heavy
tables, rapidly shaking out the hemmed sheets, inspecting them for
blemishes of any kind, folding them for the mangle, hundreds and
hundreds a day. At other tables workers took the ironed sheets,
ticketed them, tied them in bundles, wrapped and labeled and stacked
the bundles, whereupon they sooner or later were wheeled off to one
side and boxed. Four girls worked at the big mangle. Besides the
mangle, one girl spent her day hand-ironing such wrinkles as appeared
now and then after the mangle had done its work.

So much for sheets. There were three girls (the term “girl” is used
loosely, since numerous females in our department will never see fifty
again) who slipped pillow cases over standing frames which poked out
the corners. After they were mangled they were inspected and folded,
ticketed, bundled, and wrapped at our three U-shaped tables. Also
there, one or two girls spent part time slipping pieces of dark-blue
paper under the hemstitched part of the pillow cases and sheets, so
that the ultimate consumer might get the full glory of her purchase.

The first week Nancy, a young Italian girl (there were only two
nationalities in the Falls—Italians and Americans), and I ticketed
pillow cases. At the end of that time I had become efficient enough so
that I alone kept the bundler busy and Nancy was put on other work.
Ticketing means putting just the right amount of smelly paste on the
back of a label, slapping it swiftly just above the center of the hem.
There are hundreds of different labels, according to the size and
quality of the pillow cases and the store which retails them. My best
record was ticketing about six thousand seven hundred in one day. The
cases come folded three times lengthwise, three times across, sixty in
a bundle. As fast as I ticketed a bundle I shoved them across to the
“bundler,” who placed six cases one way, six the other, tied the
bundle of twelve at each end with white tape, stacked them in layers
of three until the pile was as high as possible for safety, when it
was shoved across to the wrapper. How Margaret's fingers flew! She had
each dozen in its paper, tied and labeled, in the wink of an eye,

In our department there were three boys who raced up and down with
trucks; one other who wrapped the sheets when he did not have his arm
gayly around some girl; and the little man to pack the goods in their
shipping boxes and nail them up. There were two forewomen—pretty,
freckled-faced Tess and the masculine Winnie. Over all of us was
“Hap,” the new boss elected by Department 10 as its representative on
the Board of Operatives. It is safe to say he will be re-elected as
long as death or promotion spare him. Hap is a distinct success. He
never seems to notice anybody or anything—in fact, most of the time
you wonder where in the world he is. But on Hap's shoulders rests the
output for our entire department. The previous “boss” was the kind who
felt he must have his nose in everything and his eye on everybody. The
month after Hap and his methods of letting folks alone came into
power, production jumped ahead.

But Hap spoke up when he felt the occasion warranted it. The mangle
girls started quitting at 11.30. They “got by” with it until the
matter came to Hap's notice. He lined the four of them up and, while
the whole room looked on with amused interest, he told them what was
what. After that they stayed till 12.

Another time a piece-rate girl allowed herself to be overpaid two
dollars and said nothing about it. Hap called her into the office.

“Didn't you get too much in your envelope this week?”

“I dunno. I 'ain't figured up yet.”

“Don't you keep track of your own work?”

“Yes, but I 'ain't figured up yet.”

“Bring me your card.”

The girl reddened and produced a card with everything up to date and
two dollars below the amount in her pay envelope.

“You better take a week off,” said Hap. But he repented later in the
afternoon and took it back, only he told her to be more careful.

It was the bundler who took me under her wing that first day—pretty
Mamie O'Brien—three generations in the Falls. There was no talk of
vamping, no discussions of beaus. Everyone told everything she had
done since Saturday noon.

“Hey, Margaret, didjagototha movies Saturday night?”

“Sure. Swell, wasn't it?”

“You said it. I 'ain't ever saw sweller....”

“I seen Edna's baby Sunday. Awful cute. Had on them pink shoes Amy
made it....”

“Say, ain't that awful about Mr. Tinney's grandchild over to
Welkville! Only lived three hours....”

“They're puttin' in the bathtub at Owenses'....”

“What dya know! After they got the bathroom all papered at Chases'
they found they'd made a mistake and it's all got to be ripped down.
Bathtub won't fit in.” (“Improvements” were one of the leading topics
of conversation day in and day out at the Falls.)

“Ain't that new hat of Jess Tufts a fright? I 'ain't never saw her
look worse.”

Back and forth it went—all the small gossip of the small town where
everyone knows everything about everyone else from start to finish. It
was all a bit too mild for Mamie, as I later learned—indeed, I began
to learn it that day. It was no time before Mamie was asking my
opinion on every detail of the Stillman case: Did I think Mrs. Stokes
would get her divorce? Did I consider somebody or other guilty of some
crime or other? Somebody gets the electric chair to-morrow? Wasn't it
the strangest thing that somebody's body hadn't been recovered yet?
Whatdyaknow about a father what'll strangle his own child? A man got
drowned after he'd been married only two days. And did I think Dempsey
or Carpentier would win the fight? “Gee! Wouldn't you give your hat to
see that fight?”

Meanwhile I was nearly drowning myself and the labels in paste, at the
same time trying to appear intelligent about a lot of things I
evidently was most uninformed about; working up an enthusiasm for the
Dempsey-Carpentier fight which would have led anyone to believe my
sole object in working was to accumulate enough cash to pay the price
of admission. And all this time I was feasting my eyes on fresh-faced
girls in summer wash dresses, mostly Americans, some Italians; no
rouge whatever; not a sign of a lipstick, except on one girl; little
or no powder; a large, airy, clean, white room, red-and-white striped
awnings at the windows; and wherever the eye looked hillsides solid
with green trees almost close enough to touch (the bleachery was built
down in a hollow beside a little river). Oh, it was too good to be
true, after New York!

Pretty gray-haired, pink-cheeked (real genuine pink-cheeked) Mrs. Hall
and I were talking about the bleachery on our way to work one morning.
Mrs. Hall had been a forelady in a New York private dressmaking
establishment. She had what is called “style and personality.” Her
wages in New York had been thirty-five dollars a week, and she had
much variety and responsibility, which she loved. Circumstances
brought her to the Falls. She had never worked in a factory; the very
idea had appalled her, yet she must work. One day she went up to
Department 10 to see what it was all like. “Why,” she said, “it took
my breath away! I felt as if I was in one of those lovely rooms where
they did Red Cross work during the war. Of course I get only a small
amount a week and it's the same thing over and over again, and after
what I was used to in New York that's hard. But it never seems like I
was in a factory, somehow.”

Just so. There was never the least “factory atmosphere” about the
place. It used to make me think of a reception, the voice of the
machines for the music, with always, always the sound of much talk and
laughter above the whir. Sometimes—especially Mondays, with everyone
telling everyone else what she had done over the week end, and for
some reason or other Fridays, the talk was “enough to get you crazy,”
Margaret used to say. “Sure it makes my head swim.” Nor was the
laughter the giggling kind, indulged in when the forelady was not
looking. It was the riotous variety, where at least one of a group
would “laugh till she most cried”; nor did it make the least
difference, whether the forelady was one foot or one hundred away.
Like as not the forelady was laughing with the rest. Only once did I
ever see authority exerted to curb merriment. On that occasion things
reached a climax. All those not directly concerned with the joke
became so curious as to what it was all about that one by one the
girls left their machines and gathered up one end of the room to laugh
with the rest, until production, it was apparent, was at a standstill.
Winnie went out and told Hap. Hap merely stepped inside the room, and
every girl did “sure get busy.” It was the only time even Hap so much
as paid the least attention to what went on. All day there was talk,
all day laughter, all day visiting a bit here and there, back and
forth. Yet in the month of April production had reached the highest
point ever, and the month I was there was expected to surpass April.
It is significant that with all the fun, the standard of efficiency
and production in our bleachery was such that out of eighteen like
industries in the country, we were one of the only two running full
time. Thirteen were shut down altogether.

That first day I asked Mamie what time work began in the morning.
Mamie giggled. “I dunno. Say, Margaret, what time does work begin in
the morning?” “Seven-fifteen, I think.” Under the Partnership Plan I
knew that each operative was allowed a week's vacation on full pay.
But every time late, after fifteen times, deducted so many minutes
from the vacation, just as any time off without sufficient cause meant
that much less vacation.

“Ever been late?” I asked Mamie.

More giggles. “Say, Margaret, she wants to know if I was ever late!”
To me: “Ninety-seven times last year—no vacation at all for mine. Ask
Margaret how many time she's been late.”

Still more giggles. Margaret giggled, I giggled. Margaret had been
late one hundred eighteen times. Some of the girls were late
practically every day; they were like small boys who would not for the
world have anyone think they would try to do in school what was
expected of them. Yet there were several girls who were to come into
their full week off—the names and dates were posted on the bulletin
board; others were given five days, three days, down to a few whose
allotment out of a possible week was one-half day. But several of the
most boastful over their past irregular record, and who were receiving
no vacation at all, claimed they were going to be on time every day
this coming year—“Sure.” This was the first year the vacation with
pay had been granted. I thought of Tessie at the candy factory—Tessie
who had been sent speedily home by the pop-eyed man at the door
because she was ten minutes late, due to taking her husband to the
hospital. Verily, there is no “factory atmosphere” about the
bleachery, compared with New York standards. The men, they say, take
the whole matter of punctuality and attendance more seriously than the

The second day I began my diary with, “A bleachery job is no job at
all.” That again was by contrast. Also, those first two days were the
only two, until the last week, that we did not work overtime at our
table. When orders pour in and the mangle works every hour and extra
folders are put on and the bundles of pillow cases pile up, then, no
matter with what speed you manage to slap on those labels, you never
seem to catch up. Night after night Nancy, Mamie, Margaret, and I
worked overtime. From 7.15 in the morning till 6 at night is a long
day. Then for sure and certain we did get tired, and indeed by the end
of a week of it we were well-nigh “tuckered out.” But the more orders
that came in the more profits to be divided fifty-fifty between
Capital and Labor.

(The Handbook on the Partnership Plan reads: “Our profit sharing is a
50-50 proposition. The market wage of our industry is paid to Labor
and a minimum of 6% is paid to Capital. After these have been paid,
together with regular operating expenses, depreciation reserve, taxes,
etc., and after the Sinking Funds have been provided for by setting
aside 15% of the next profits for Labor and 15% for Capital, the
remaining net profits are divided 50% for Capital and 50% for the
operatives, and the latter sum divided in proportion to the amount of
each one's pay for the period.... A true partnership must jointly
provide for losses as well as for the sharing of profits.... These
Sinking Funds are intended to guarantee Capital its minimum return of
6% during periods when this shall not have been carried, and to
provide unemployment insurance for the operatives, paying half wages
when the company is unable to furnish employment.”)

In the candy factory back in New York, Ida, the forelady, would holler
from the end of the room, “My Gawd! girls, work faster!” At the
bleachery, when extra effort was needed, the forelady passed a letter
around our table from a New York firm, saying their order must be
filled by the end of that week or they would feel justified in
canceling the same. Every girl read the letter and dug her toes in. No
one ever said, “You gotta work overtime to-night!” We just mutually
decided there was nothing else to do about it, so it was, “Let's work
overtime to-night again.” It was time-and-a-half pay for overtime, to
be sure, but it would be safe to assert it was not alone for the time
and a half we worked. We felt we had to catch up on orders. A few
times only, some one by about four o'clock would call: “Oh, gee! I'm
dead; I've been workin' like a horse all day. I jus' can't work
overtime to-night.” The chances were if one girl had been working like
a horse we all had. Such was the interrelation of jobs at our table.

Except, indeed, Italian Nancy. Whether it was because Nancy was young,
or not overstrong, or not on piece rates, or a mixture of the three,
Nancy never anguished herself working, either during the day or
overtime. One evening she spent practically the entire overtime hour,
at time and a half, washing and ironing a collar and cuffs for one of
the girls. Nor did any of our table think it at all amiss.

During the day Nancy was the main little visitor from our table. She
ambled around and brought back the news. If interesting enough from
any quarter, another of us would betake herself off for more details.
One day Nancy's young eyes were as big as saucers.

“Say, whatdyaknow! That Italian girl Minna, she's only fifteen and
she's got a gold ring on with a white stone in it and she says she's
engaged!” We sent Nancy back for more details. For verification she
brought back the engagement ring itself. “Whatdyaknow! Only fifteen!”
(Nancy herself was a year beyond that mature age.) “The man she's
goin' to marry is awful old, twenty-five! Whatdyaknow!” At a previous
time Nancy had regaled our table with an account of how, out of a
sense of duty to a fellow-countryman, she had announced to this same
Minna that she simply must take a bath. “Na,” said Minna, “too early
yet.” That was the end of May.

We were all, even I after the third day, on piecework at our table,
except Nancy. Most of the girls in Department 10 were on piecework.
There was one union in the bleachery; that was in another department
where mostly men were employed—the folders. They worked time rates.
With us, as soon as a girl's record warranted it, she was put on piece
rates. Nancy and most of those young girls were still, after one or
two years, on time rates—around eleven dollars a week they made.
There was one case of a girl who did little, day in and day out, but
her hair. She was the one girl who used a lipstick. They had taken her
off time rates and put her on piecework. She was a machine operator.
The last week I was there her earnings were a little over two dollars
for the week. She was incorrigible. Some of the machine operators made
around thirty dollars a week. The mangle girls earned around
twenty-five dollars. Old Mrs. Owens, standing up and inspecting
sheets at the table behind me, made from twenty dollars to twenty-five
dollars. (Mrs. Owens had inspected sheets for thirteen years. I asked
her if she ever felt she wanted to change and try something else. “No,
sir,” said Mrs. Owens; “a rolling stone gathers no moss.”) Mamie,
bundler, made around sixteen dollars; Margaret, at our table, went as
high once as twenty-five dollars, but she averaged around twenty
dollars. My own earnings were twelve dollars and fifty-three cents the
first week, fifteen dollars and twenty-three cents the second, eight
dollars and twenty-seven cents the third. All the earnings at our
table were low that last week—Margaret's were around twelve dollars.
For one thing, there was a holiday. No wonder employers groan over
holidays! The workers begin to slacken up about two days ahead and it
takes two days after the day off to recover. Then, too, we indulged in
too much nonsense that last week. We laughed more than we worked, and
paid for it. The next week Mamie and Margaret claimed they were going
to bring their dinners the whole week to work that noon hour and make
up for our evil days. But as gray-haired Ella Jane said, she laughed
so much that week she claimed she had a stomach ache. “We'll be a long
time dead, once we die. Why not laugh when you get a chance?”

Why not?—especially in a small town where it is well to take each
chance for fun and recreation as it comes—since goodness knows when
the next will show itself. Outside of the gayety during working
hours, there was little going on about the Falls. Movies—of course,
movies. Four times a week the same people, usually each entire family,
conscientiously change into their best garments and go to the movie
palace. The children and young people fill the first rows, the grown
folk bring up the rear. Four times a week young and old get fed on
society dramas, problem plays, bathing girl comedies. Next day it is

“Sadie, did ya saw the show last night? Wasn't it swell where she
recognized her lover just before he got hung?”

Just once since movies were has the town been taken by storm, and that
was while I was there. It was “The Kid” that did it. Many that day at
the bleachery said they weren't going—didn't like Charlie
Chaplin—common and pie-slinging; cheap; always all of that.
Sweet-faced Mamie, who longs to go through Sing Sing some day—“That's
where they got the biggest criminals ever. Wonder if they let you see
the worst ones”—Mamie, who had thrilled to a trip through the insane
asylum; Mamie, who could discuss for hours the details of how a father
beat his child to death; Mamie, to whom a divorce was meat and a
suicide drink—Mamie wasn't going to see Charlie Chaplin. All that
pie-slinging stuff made her sick.

Usually a film shows but once at the Falls. “The Kid” ran Monday
matinée. Monday night the first time in history the movie palace was
filled and over two hundred turned away. Tuesday night it was shown
to a third full house. Everyone was converted.

As for dancing, once a week, Friday nights, there was a dance at the
“Academy.” Time was when Friday night's dance was an event, and the
male contingent from the largest near-by city was wont to attend. But
it cost twenty-four cents to journey by trolley from the largest
near-by city to the Falls, fifty cents to attend the dance.
Unemployment at the largest near-by city meant that any dancing
indulged in by its citizens was at home, minus car fare. Also, the
music for dancing at the Falls was not favorably commented upon. So
sometimes there were six couples at the dance, once in a great while
twenty. The youths present were home talent, short on thrills for the
fair ones present.

Indeed, the problem of the Falls was the problem of every small
town—where in the world could an up-and-doing girl turn for a beau?
The only young men in the place were those married still younger and
anchored there, or the possessors of too little gumption to get out.
Those left hung over the rail at the end of the Main Street bridge and
eyed every female passer-by. It was insult heaped on boredom, from the
girls' point of view, that a Falls youth never so much as tipped his
hat when spoken to. “Paralysis of the arms is here widespread,” Bess
put it. “You oughta see 'em in winter,” Margaret giggled one Sunday
while four of us were walking the streets for diversion. “If you want
to know where the gallants of the Falls are in winter, look for a
sunny spot. They collect in patches of sun, like some kind of bugs or

As for reading, “Do you like to read?”

“Crazy 'bout readin'.”

“What, for instance?”

“Oh, books, movie magazines. Don't ever remember the names of
anything. Swell stories. Gee! I cried and cried over the last one....”

Or, “Do much reading?”

“Na, never git time to read.”

My old maids never so much as took the newspaper. They figured that if
news was important enough they'd hear about it sooner or later, and
meanwhile there was much to keep up with at the Falls.

“Can't hardly sleep nights, got so much on my mind,” the seventy-sixer
would say.

One night she just got nervous fidgets something awful, worrying lest
her brother might not get to the Baptist chicken dinner after all,
when he'd gone and paid seventy-five cents for his ticket.

Sunday there was church to attend, the Catholics flourishing, the
Episcopalians next, four other denominations tottering this way and
that. I heard the Baptist minister preach that every word in the Bible
was inspired by God, ending with a plea for the family altar.

“Christian brethren, I'm a man who has seen both sides of life. I
could have gone one way. It is by the grace of God and the family
altar that I stand before you the man I am.”

There were thirty-one people in the congregation who heard his young
though quavering words, eight of them children, two the organist and
her husband, nine of the remainder women over sixty.

The Methodist, that morning, preached on the need of a revival at the
Falls, and Mr. Welsh, the electrician, whose wife was resting up in
Pennsylvania, thought he was right. Sunday baseball—that day our
bleachery team played the Keen Kutters—pained Mr. Welsh. The
Methodist minister before this one had been a thorn in the flesh of
his congregation. He frankly believed in amusements, disgraced them by
saying out loud at a union service that he favored Sunday baseball.
Another minister got up and “sure made a fool of him,” thank goodness.
Where was the renegade now? Called to a church in a large Middle West
city where they have no more sense than to pay him twice what he was
getting at the Falls.

That night I heard a visiting brother at the Methodist church plead
for support for foreign missions, that we might bring the light of the
ideal Christian civilization under which we live to the thirsty
savages in dark places. He poured his message to an audience of
twenty-one, ten of them gray-haired women, one a child.

All the ministers prayed long for Harding and were thankful he was a
child of God.

Three of us girls rowed up the lake one night and cooked our supper
and talked about intimate things. It was a lake worth traveling miles
to see. It was one block from the post office. Mamie had been to the
lake twice in all her life. It was good for canoeing, rowing, fishing,
swimming, and, best of all, just for the eyesight. Yet to the great
majority it did not exist.

The bleachery, through its Partnership Plan, ran a village club house
on Main Street. The younger boys, allowing only for school hours,
worked the piano player from morn till night. There was a gymnasium.
Suppers were given now and then. It was supposed to be for the use of
the girls certain days, but they took little or no advantage of it.

Otherwise, and mostly, when the weather permitted, up and down the
street folk sat on their front porches and rocked or went inside and
played the victrola.

“Gawd! If I could shake the Falls!” many a girl sighed. Yet they had
no concrete idea what they would shake it for. Just before I came the
bleachery girls were called into meeting and it was explained to them
that Bryn Mawr College was planning a two months' summer school for
working girls. Its attractions and possibilities were laid forth in
detail. It was explained that Vassar College and a woman's club were
making it possible for two bleachery girls to go, with all expenses
paid. Out of 184 eligible girls four signed up as being interested.
One of those later withdrew her name. The two chosen were Bess and
Margaret, as fine girls as ever went to any college. There was much
excitement the Saturday morning their telegrams came, announcing Bryn
Mawr had passed favorably upon their candidacy. Bess especially was
beside herself. “Oh, it's what I've longed to have a chance to do all
my life!” She had clutched a _New Republic_ under her arms for days
containing an article about the summer school. Both Margaret and Bess
had spent a couple of years at West Point during the war as servants,
for a change. They had worked for the colonel's wife and loved it.
“Gee! the fun we had!”

Yet it was no time before Main Street characteristics came to the

Only four girls had so much as expressed an interest in the Bryn Mawr
scheme. Within a week after the two girls received the telegrams,
tongues got busy. Margaret looked ready to cry one afternoon.

“Hey! what's the matter?”

“My Gawd! This place makes you sick. Can't no one let a person get
started enjoyin' themselves but what they do their best to spoil it
for you!” Her hands were wrapping pillow case bundles like lightning,
her head bent over her work. “Don't I know I ain't nothin' but a
factory girl? Don't I know I probably won't ever be nothin' but one?
Can't a person take a chance to get off for two months and go to that
college without everybody sayin' you're tryin' to be stuck up and get
to be somethin' grand and think you won't be a factory girl no more? I
don't see anything I'm gettin' out of this that's goin' to make me
anything but just a factory girl still. I'm not comin' back and put on
any airs. My Gawd! My Gawd! Why can't they leave you alone?”

I asked two of the Falls men I knew if their sex would have acted the
same as the girls, had it been two men going off for a two months'
treat. “You bet,” they answered. “It's your darn small-town jealousy,
and not just female at all.”

Suppose, then, on top of all the drawbacks of small-town life, the
girls had to work under big-city factory conditions? At least there
was always the laughter, always the talk, always the visiting back and
forth, at the bleachery.

My last day on the job witnessed a real event. Katie Martin was to be
married in ten days. Therefore, she must have her tin shower at the
bleachery. Certain traditions of that sort were unavoidable. At
Christmas time the entire Department 10 was decorated from end to end
until it was resplendent. Such merrymaking as went on, such presents
as were exchanged! And when any girl, American or Italian, was to be
married, the whole department gave her a tin shower.

Katie Martin inspected and folded sheets. She was to marry the brother
of young Mrs. Annie Turner, who ticketed sheets. Annie saw to it that
Katie did not get to work promptly that noon. When she did appear, all
out of breath and combing back her hair (no one ever wore a hat to
work), there on two lines above her table hung the “shower.” The rest
of us had been there fifteen minutes, undoing packages, giggling,
commenting. Except old Mrs. Brown's present. It was her first
experience at a tin shower and she came up to me in great distress.
“Can't you stop them girls undoin' all her packages? 'Tain't right.
She oughta undo her own. I jus' won't let 'em touch what I brought!”
Ever and again a girl would spy Mrs. Brown's contribution. “Hey!
Here's a package ain't undone.” “No, no, don't you touch it! Ain't to
be undone by anybody but her.” Poor Mrs. Brown was upset enough for

There were a few other packages not to be undone by anybody but her,
because their contents were meant to, and did, cause peals of laughter
to the audience and much embarrassment to Katie. On the lines hung
first an array of baby clothes, all diminutive size, marked, “For
little Charlie.” Such are the traditions. Also hung seven kitchen
pans, a pail, an egg-beater and gem pans; a percolator, a double
boiler and goodness knows what not. On the table stood six cake tins,
more pots and pans, salt and pepper shakers, enough of kitchenware to
start off two brides. Everybody was pleased and satisfied. Charlie,
the groom-to-be, got a friend with a Ford to take the shower home.

The last night of all at the Falls I spent at my second Board of
Operatives' meeting, held the first Friday night of each month. The
Board of Operatives is intended to represent the interests of the
workers in the bleachery. The Board is elected annually by secret
ballot by and from the operatives in the eleven different departments
of the mill. Margaret and Bess went, too, on request from above, that
they might appear more intelligent should anyone ask at Bryn Mawr
about the Partnership Plan. (“My land, what _would_ we tell them?”
they wailed.) The Board meetings are officially set down as open to
all the operatives, only no one ever heard of anyone else ever
attending. The two girls were “fussed” at the very idea of being
present, and dressed in their best.

The president, elected representative from the starch room, called the
meeting to order from his position at the head of the table in the
Village Club House. Every member of the Board shaves and puts on his
Sunday clothes, which includes a white collar, for the Board meeting.
It is no free show, either. They are handed out two dollars apiece for
attending, at the end of the meeting, the same idea as if it were Wall
Street. The secretary reads the minutes of the Board of Management.
(“The Board of Management was set up by the Board of Directors in
July, 1919, as a result of a request from the Board of Operatives for
more than merely 'advisory' power which the Board of Operatives then
enjoyed in reference to matters of mill management, wages, working
conditions, etc. The Board of Management consists of six members,
three of whom are the treasurer, the New York agent, and the local
manager, and three of whom are elected by the Board of Operatives from
their number.... The Board of Management is authorized to settle and
adjust such matters of mill management as may arise....”) The Company
statement, up to March 31, 1921, was read. There followed a report
from the Housing Committee—first a financial statement. Then it
seemed somebody wanted to put somebody else out of a house, and there
were many complications indeed arising therefrom, which took much
discussion from everyone and bitter words. It looked as if it would
have to be taken to court. The conclusion seemed to be that the Board
felt that its executive secretary, chosen by the management, though
paid out of the common funds, had exceeded his authority in making
statements to tenants. We girls rather shivered at the acrimony of the
discussion. Had they been lady board members having such a row, half
of them would have been in tears. Next, old Mrs. Owens, who shook
sheets behind me, wanted to buy a certain house on a certain
avenue—company house, of course. Third, one Mr. Jones on Academy
Street wants us to paper his kitchen—he will supply the paper. And
there followed other items regarding paint for this tenant, new floor
for that, should an old company boarding house be remodeled for a new
club house or an apartment house; it was decided to postpone roofing a
long row of old company houses, etc.

The operative from the folding and packing room was chairman of the
Housing Committee, a strong union enthusiast. The representative from
the mechanical department reported for the Recreation and Education
Committee; all the night school classes had closed, with appropriate
final exercises, for the season: the children's playground would be
ready for use July 1st. The man from the “gray” room and singe house
reported for the Working Conditions Committee. Something about
watchmen and a drinking fountain, and wheels and boxes in the starch
room; washing facilities for shovelers; benches and back stairs.

The Finance Committee reported a deficit on the mechanical and
electrical smoker. Much discussion as to why a deficit and who ought
to pay it, and what precedent were they setting, and all and all, but
it was ordered paid—this time. Webster's bills were too high for
papering and painting company houses. He was a good worker, his
plaster and his paper stuck where they belonged, which hadn't been the
rule before. But it was decided he was too costly even so, and they
were going back to the company paperers—perhaps their work would
stick better next time. A report from the Board of Directors was
discussed and voted upon.... The minutes of the Board of Operatives
were posted all through the mill. Did anyone read them? If so, or if
not so, should the Board of Management minutes also be posted? It was
voted to postpone posting such minutes, though they were open to any
operative, as in the past.

Under Old Business was a long discussion on health benefits and
old-age pensions. For some months now the bleachery has been concerned
on the subject of old-age pensions. Health benefits have been in
operation for some time. The question was, should they pay the second
week for accident cases, until the state started its payments the
third week?

Under New Business the resignation of the editors of _Bleachery Life_
was read and accepted. Acrimonious discussion as to the running of the
_Bleachery Life_. Again we girls shivered. It was announced a certain
rich man who recently died had left the Village Club House five
hundred dollars—better write no letter of thanks until they got the
money. Should the new handbook be printed by union labor at
considerably greater expense, or by an open shop? Unanimously voted by
union labor. More health-benefit discussions under New Business. It
was voted to increase the Board of Management by two additional
members—one operative, one from the employing side. Election then and
there by a secret ballot. The operative from the “gray” room and singe
house was elected over the man from the office force by two votes.
Some further housing discussions, and at 11.15 P.M. the meeting

“Say, I'm for coming every time.” Perhaps we three girls will have
started the style of outside attendance at the meetings.

Whether a wider participation of operatives, a deeper understanding of
Industrial Democracy and the Partnership Plan, develops or not,
certainly they are a long step on the way to some sort of permeation
of interest. For the next morning early, my last morning, as I started
work, I heard toothless old Mrs. Holley call over to aged Mrs. Owens,
whose husband even these days is never sober: “Hi, Mrs. Owens, what do
ye know habout hit! Hain't it grand we got out over five million five
hundred thousand yards last month?”

“I say it's grand,” grinned Mrs. Owens. “More 'n a million over what
we done month before.”

“Hi say—over fifteen million the last three months. Hi say we're some
bleachery, that's what _hi_ say!”


                       _No. 1470, “Pantry Girl”_

Perhaps, more strictly speaking, instead of working with the working
woman, it was working with the working man. Hotel work is decidedly
co-educational! Except, indeed, for chambermaids and laundry workers,
where the traditionally female fields of bed-making and washing have
not been usurped by the male. Even they, those female chambermaids and
launderers, see more or less of working menfolk during the day. So it
might be thought then that hotel work offers an ideal field for the
growth of such normal intercourse between the sexes as leads to happy
matrimony. No need to depend on dance halls or the Subway to pick up a
“fella.” No need for external administrations from wholesome social
workers whose aim is to enable the working man or woman to see
something of the opposite sex.

Yet forever are there flies in ointments. Flossie was one of the salad
girls in the main kitchen. Flossie was Irish, young, most of her teeth
gone. Her sister had worked at our hotel two years earlier, then had
sent for Flossie to come from Ireland. The sister was now married.

Innocently, interestedly, I asked, “To a man she knew here at the

Flossie cast a withering eye upon me. “The good Lord save us! I should
say not! And what decent girl would ever be marryin' the likes of a
man who worked around a hotel? She couldn't do much worse! Just steer
clear of hotel men, I'm tellin' ya. They're altogether too wise to be
safe for any girl.”

We were eating supper. The table of eight all nodded assent.

Too wise or not too wise—at least there is a—cordiality—a
predisposition toward affection on the part of male hotel workers
which tends to make one's outside male associates seem fearfully
formal, if not stiffly antagonistic. If one grows accustomed to being
called “Sweetheart,” “Darling” on first sight, ending in the evening
by the time-clock man's greeting of, “Here comes my little bunch of
love!”—is it not plain that outside in the cruel world such words as
a mere “How-do-you-do” or “Good morning” seem cold indeed?

What happens when a girl works three years in this affectionate
atmosphere and then marries a plumber who hollers merely “say” at her?

       *       *       *       *       *

Behind the scenes in a hotel—what is it all about? To find that out I
poked around till the employment-office entrance of one of New York's
biggest and newest hotels was discovered. There had been no “ad.” in
the Sunday paper which would give a hint that any hotel needed
additional help. We took our chances. Some twenty men waited in a
little hallway, two women inside the little office. One of the women
weighed at least two hundred and fifty, the other not a pound over
ninety. Both could have been grandmothers, both wanted chamber work.
The employment man spied me.

“What do you want?”

“A job.”

“What kind of a job?”

“Anything but bein' chambermaid.”

“What experience have you had in hotel work?”

“None, but lots in private homes. I'd like a job around the kitchen
some place.”

“Ever try pantry work?”

“Not in a hotel, but lots in private families. I can do that swell!”
(What pantry work meant I hadn't the least idea—thought perhaps
washing glasses and silverware.)

He put on his coat and hat and dashed upstairs. He always put on his
coat _and_ hat to go upstairs. In a few moments he dashed hurriedly
back, followed by another man whose teeth were all worn down in the
front. I learned later that he was an important steward.

He asked me all over again all the questions the first man had asked,
and many more. He was in despair and impatient when he found I had not
a single letter of recommendation from a single private family I had
worked for. I could have written myself an excellent one in a few
moments. Could I bring a letter back later in the day?

“Can you fix salads?”


“You think you could do the job?”


“Well, you look as if you could. Never mind the letter, but get one to
have by you—comes in handy any job you want. Now about pay—I can't
pay you what you been used to getting, at least not first month.” (I'd
mentioned nothing as to wages.) “Second month maybe more. First month
all I can pay you is fifty and your meals. That all right?”

As usual, my joy at landing a job was such that any old pay was

“Be back in two hours.”

Just then the employment man called out to the hall filled with
waiting men, “No jobs for any men this morning.” I don't know what
became of the old women.

I was back before my two hours were up, so anxious to begin. The
employment man put on his hat and coat and dashed upstairs after my
steward. Just incidentally, speaking of hats and coats, it can be
mentioned that all this was in the middle of one of the hottest
summers New York ever knew.

The steward led the way up one flight of iron stairs and into the main
kitchen. Wasn't I all eyes to see what was what! If anyone is looking
for a bit of muck-raking about the hinterland of restaurants, let him
not bother to read farther. Nothing could have been cleaner than the
kitchen conditions in our hotel. And orders up and down the line were
to serve _nothing_ which was not absolutely as it should be.

In a corner of the main kitchen the steward turned me over to Bridget,
who was to take me here, there, and the other place. By 11.30 A.M., I
was back where I started from, only, thanks to aged Bridget and her
none-too-sure leadings, I was clad in a white cap and white all-over
apron-dress, and had had my lunch. Thereupon the steward escorted me
to my own special corner of the world, where, indeed, I was to be lord
of all I surveyed—provided my gaze fell not too far afield.

That particular corner was down one short flight of stairs from the
main kitchen into a hustling, bustling, small and compact, often
crowded, place where were prepared the breakfasts, lunches, and
dinners of such folk who cared more for haste and less for style than
the patrons of the main dining rooms. Our café fed more persons in a
day than the other dining rooms combined. Outside we could seat five
hundred at a time, sixty-five of those at marble counters, the rest at
small tables. But our kitchen quarters could have been put in one
corner of the spacious, airy upstairs main kitchen.

Through the bustle of scurrying and ordering waiters I was led to a
small shelved-off compartment. Here I was to earn my fifty dollars a
month from 1.30 P.M. to 9 P.M. daily except Sunday, with one-half hour
off for supper. I was entitled to eat my breakfast and lunch at the
hotel as well.

This first day, I was instructed to watch for two hours the girl I
was to relieve at 1.30. Her hours were from 6 in the morning to 1.30,
which meant she got the brunt of the hard work—all of the breakfast
and most of the lunch rush. To me fell the tail end of the lunch
rush—up to about 2.15, and supper or dinner, which only occasionally
could be spoken of as “rush” at all. I discovered later that we both
got the same pay, although she had to work very much harder, and also
she had been at our hotel almost two years, though only nine months at
this special pantry job. Before that she had made toast, and toast
only, upstairs in the main kitchen.

The first question Mary asked me that Monday morning was, “You
Spanish?” No, I wasn't. Mary was a Spanish grass widow. Ten years she
had been married, but only five of that time had she lived with her
husband. Where was he? Back in Spain. “No good.” She had come on to
this country because it was too hard for a woman to make her way in
Spain. She spoke little English, but with that little she showed that
she was kindly disposed and anxious to help all she could. She herself
had a stolid, untidy efficiency about her, and all the while, poor
thing, suffered with pains in her stomach.

By the time 1.30 came around I knew what I had to do and could be left
to my own devices. To the pantry girl of our café fell various and
sundry small jobs. But the end and aim of her life had to be speed.

To the left of my little doorway was a small, deep sink. Next to the
sink was a very large ice chest. On the side of the ice chest next
the sink hung the four soft-boiled-egg machines—those fascinating
contrivances in which one deposited the eggs, set the notch at two,
three, four minutes, according to the desires of the hurried guest
without, sank the cup-shaped container in the boiling water, and never
gave the matter another thought. At the allotted moment the eggs were
hoisted as if by magic from out their boilings. Verily are the wonders
of civilization manifold! The sink and the protruding ice chest filled
the entire left side of my small inclosure. Along the entire right and
front was a wide work-shelf. On this shelf at the right stood the
electric toasting machine which during busy hours had to be kept going
full blast.

“Toast for club!” a waiter sang out as he sped by, and zip! the
already partially toasted bread went into the electric oven to be done
so crisply and quickly that you could call out to that waiter, “Toast
for club” before he could come back and repeat his ominous, “Toast for
club!” at you. People who order club sandwiches seem always to be in a
special hurry.

In the front corner just next the toaster stood the tray of bread
sliced ready to toast, crusts off for dry or buttered toast, crusts on
for “club,” very thin slices for “toast Melba.” Directly in front, and
next the bread tray, came the tray filled with little piles of graham
and milk crackers, seven in a pile. What an amazing number of folk
order graham or milk crackers in a café! It seems unbelievable to one
who has always looked upon a place furnishing eatables outside a home
as a chance to order somewhat indigestible food prepared entirely
differently from what any home could accomplish. Yet I know it to be a
fact that people seat themselves at a table or a counter in a more or
less stylish café and order things like prunes or rhubarb and graham
or milk crackers, and perhaps top off, if they forget themselves so
far, with a shredded-wheat biscuit.

It is bad enough if a man feels called upon to act that way before 2
P.M. When he puts in an order for such after 6 in the evening—then
indeed it is a case for tears. I would get the blues wondering
whatever could ail adult humanity that it ordered shredded-wheat
biscuits after dark.

Just above the counter holding the bread and crackers was the counter
on which were placed the filled orders for the waiters to whisk away.
It was but a step from there to my ice box. The orders it was my
business to fill were for blackberries, blueberries, prunes, sliced
oranges, rhubarb, grapefruit, whole oranges, apples, sliced peaches
and bananas, muskmelons, and four kinds of cheese. These pretty well
filled the upper half of the ice chest, together with the finished
salads I kept ahead, say three of each, lettuce and tomato, hearts of
lettuce, plain lettuce, and sliced tomatoes.

In the lower half stood the pitchers of orange and grape juice, jams
and jellies for omelettes to be made down the line, olives, celery,
lettuce, cucumbers, a small tub of oranges and a large bowl of sliced
lemons. The lemons, lemons, lemons I had daily to slice to complete
the ice-tea orders! The next pantry-girl job I fill will be in winter
when there is no demand for ice tea. I had also to keep on hand a bowl
of American cheese cut the proper size to accompany pie, and together
with toast and soft-boiled eggs and crackers and a crock of French
dressing set in ice. Such was my kingdom, and I ruled it alone.

During slack hours it was easy, too easy. In rush hours you had to
keep your head. Six waiters might breeze by in a line not one second
apart, each calling an order, “Half a cantaloupe!” “Two orders of
buttered toast!” “Combination salad!” (that meant romaine and lettuce
leaves, shredded celery, sliced cucumbers, quartered tomatoes, green
pepper, watercress, which always had to be made up fresh); “Sliced
peaches!” (they could never be sliced in advance); “One order orange
juice!” “Toast for club!” then how one's fingers sped!

The wonder of it was no one ever seemed to lose his patience or his
temper. That is, nobody out our way. Maybe in the café there was some
millionaire hastily en route to a game of golf who cursed the universe
in general and the clumsy fingers of some immigrant pantry girl in
particular. (Not so fearfully clumsy either.)

Between 2 and 2.30 the rush subsided, and that first day I caught my
breath and took time to note the lay of the land.

My compartment came first, directly next the dishes. Next me was a
beautiful chef with his white cap set on at just the chef angle. He
was an artist, with a youngster about fifteen as his assistant. Some
day that youngster will be a more beautiful chef than his master and
more of an artist. His master, I found out in my slack hours that
first afternoon, was French, with little English at his command,
though six years in this country. I know less French than he does
English, but we got to be good friends over the low partition which
separated us. There was nothing at all fresh or affectionate about
that French chef. I showed my gratitude for that by coming over in the
afternoon and helping him slice hot potatoes for potato salad while my
floor got washed. Every day I made him a bow and said, “_Bon jour,
Monsieur le Bon Chef_,” which may be no French at all. And every day
he made me a bow back and said, “_Bon jour_” something or other, which
I could tell was nice and respectful, but—I can't write it down.
Monsieur Le Bon Chef made splendid cold works of art in jellies, and
salads which belonged to another realm than my poor tomatoes and
lettuce. Also, he and his assistant—the assistant was Spanish—made
wonder sandwiches. They served jellied soups from their counter. Poor
humble me would fill “One order graham crackers, little one!” But to
Monsieur Le Bon Chef it would be “Two Cream of Cantaloupes!” “One
chicken salad!” “One (our hotel) Plate!” (What a creation of a little
of everything that was!) Monsieur Le Bon Chef taught me some tricks of
the trade, but this is no treatise on domestic science.

I will tell you about Monsieur Le Bon Chef, though by no means did I
learn this all my first afternoon. I only picked up a little here and
there, now and then. He came to this country a French immigrant from
near Toulouse six or so years ago, his heart full of dreams as to the
opportunities in America. Likely as not we might now have to add that,
after many searchings, he landed a job peeling potatoes at fifteen
dollars a month. Monsieur Le Bon Chef was no Bon Chef at all when he
landed—knew none of the tricks of “chefness” to speak of. His first
day in America he sought out an employment office. Not a word of
English could he speak. While the employment agent was just about to
shake his head and say, “Nothing to-day,” a friend, or at least a
countryman, dashed up. “I have a job for you,” said the countryman,
and he led my Bon Chef to New York's most aristocratic hotel. Monsieur
Le Bon Chef could not know there was a cooks' strike on. Down to the
kitchen they led him, and for some weeks he drew ten dollars a day
wages and his room and board right there at the hotel. To fall from
Toulouse into a ten-dollar-a-day job! And when one knew scarce more
than how to boil potatoes!

Of course, when the strike was over, there were no such wages paid as
ten dollars a day. Nothing like that was he earning these six years
later when he could make the beauteous works of art in jelly. I asked
him if he liked his work. He shrugged his shoulders and brushed one
side of his rather bristly blond mustache. “Na—no like so
much—nothing in it but the moaney—make good moaney.” He shrugged
his shoulders again and brushed up the other side of his mustache. “No
good work just for tha moaney.” You see he really is an artist. He was
my quiet, nice friend, Monsieur Le Bon Chef. Indeed, one night he gave
me a wondrously made empty cigar box with a little lock to it. “Ooh
La-la!” I cried, and made a very deep bow, and said in what I'm sure
was correct French—because Monsieur Le Bon Chef said it was—“Thank
you very much!”

So then, all there was on our side of the kitchen was my little
compartment and the not quite so little compartment of Monsieur Le Bon
Chef, whose confines reached around the corner a bit. Around that
corner and back a little way were two fat Porto-Rican women who washed
glasses and spoke no English. Beyond them, at the right of the stairs
going up to the main kitchen, were clean dishes. They came on
dumb-waiters from some place either above or below.

At the left of the stairs were some five chefs of as many
nationalities—Italian, Spanish, South American, French, Austrian, who
filled hot orders, frying and broiling and roasting. Around the corner
and opposite the Bon Chef and me were first the two cashiers, then my
special friends, the Spanish dessert man and the Greek coffee and tea
man. That is, they were the main occupants of their long compartment,
but at the time of lunch rush at least six men worked there. Counting
the chore persons of various sorts and not counting waiters, we had
some thirty-eight working in or for our café—all men but the two fat
Porto-Rican glass washers and me.

Bridget, the dear old soul, came down that first afternoon to see how
I was getting along. I had cleaned up spick and span after the Spanish
woman—and a mess she always managed to leave. The water was out of
the egg-boiling machine and that all polished; the heat turned off in
the toasting machine and that wiped off; lemons sliced; celery
“Julietted”; and I was peeling a tubful of oranges—in the way the
steward had showed me—to be sliced by Spanish Mary for breakfast next

“I'm sure gettin' along swell,” I told Bridget.

“God bless ye,” said my dear old guide, and picked her way upstairs

It was plain to see that down our way everybody's work eased up
between 3.30 and 5. Then everyone visited about, exchanged newspapers,
gossiped over counters. We changed stewards at three. Kelly, the
easy-going, jovial (except at times) Irishman, took himself off, and a
narrow-shouldered, small, pernickety German Jew came on for the rest
of my time. When we closed up at nine he went to some other part of
the hotel and stewarded.

My first afternoon Schmitz sauntered about to see what he could find
out. Where did I live, what did I do evenings, what time did I get up
mornings, what did I do Sundays? One question mark was Schmitz. One
thing only he did not ask me, because he knew that. He always could
tell what nationality a person was just by looking at him. So? Yes,
and he knew first thing what nationality I was. So? Yes, I was a
Turk. But the truth of it was that at the hotel I was part Irish and
part French and part Portuguese, but all I could talk was the Irish
because my parents had both died while I was very young. Another day,
my Greek friend, the coffee man, said he was sure there was a little
Greek in me; and an Austrian waiter guessed right away I was a bit
Austrian; and every Spaniard in the kitchen—and the hotel was full of
them—started by talking a mile-a-minute Spanish at me. So a
cosmopolitan, nondescript, melting-pot face is an asset in the labor
world in our fair land—all nationalities feel friendly because they
think you are a countryman. But a Turk—that stretched boundaries a

For every question Schmitz asked me I asked him one back. His wife and
daughter, sixteen, were in France for three months, visiting the
wife's parents. As Schmitz's pernicketyness became during the next
days more and more impossible to ignore, I solaced my harassed
feelings with the thought of how much it must mean to Mrs. Schmitz to
be away from Mr. Schmitz and his temperament and disposition for three
blessed months. Perhaps the daughter, sixteen, had spoken of that
phase of the trip to Mrs. Schmitz. Mrs. Schmitz, being a dutiful wife
who has stood Mr. Schmitz at least, we surmise, some seventeen years,
replied to such comments of her sixteen-year-old daughter, “Hush,

At five minutes to five Schmitz graciously told me I might go up to my
supper, though the law in the statute books stood five. Everybody
upstairs in the main kitchen, as I made my way to the service
elevator, spoke kindly and asked in the accents of at least ten
different nationalities how I liked my job. Hotel folk, male and
female, are indeed a friendly lot.

The dining room for the help is on the ballroom floor, which is a
short flight of steps above the third. It is the third floor which is
called the service floor, where our lockers are, and the chambermaids'
sleeping quarters, and the recreation room.

There are, it seems, class distinctions among hotel help. The chefs
eat in a dining room of their own. Then, apparently next in line, came
our dining room. I, as pantry girl, ranked a “second officer.” We had
round tables seating from eight to ten at a table, table cloths and
cafeteria style of getting one's food. The chefs were waited upon. In
our dining room ate the bell boys, parlor maids, laundry workers,
seamstresses, housekeepers, hotel guards and police, the employment
man, pantry girls—a bit of everything. To reach our dining room we
had to pass through the large room where the chambermaids ate. They
had long bare tables, no cloths, and sat at benches without backs.

As to food, our dining room but reflected the state of mind any and
every hotel dining room reflects, from the most begilded and
bemirrored down. Some thought the food good, some thought it awful,
some thought nothing about it at all, but just sat and ate. One thing
at least was certain—there was enough. For dinner there was always
soup, two kinds of meat, potatoes, vegetables, dessert, ice tea, milk,
or coffee. For supper there was soup again, meat or fish, potatoes, a
salad, and dessert, and the same variety of drinkables to choose from.
Once I was late at lunch and ate with the help's help. The woman who
dished up the vegetables was in a fearful humor that day. People had
been complaining about the food. “They make me sick!” she grunted.
“They jus' oughta try the —— Hotel. I worked in their help's dinin'
room for four years and we hardly ever seen a piece of meat, and as
for eggs—I'm tellin' ya a girl was lucky if she seen a egg them four

The people in our dining room were like the people in every dining
room: some were sociable and talked to their neighbors, some were not
sociable at all. There was no regular way of seating. Some meals you
found yourself at a table where all was laughter and conversation. The
next meal, among the same number of people, not one word would be
spoken. “Pass the salt” would grow to sound warm and chummy.

Half an hour was the time allowed everyone for meals. With a friendly
crowd at the table that half hour flew. Otherwise, there was no way of
using up half an hour just eating. And then what?

After a couple of days, some one mentioned the recreation room.
Indeed, what's in a name? Chairs were there, two or three settees, a
piano, a victrola, a Christy picture, a map of South America, the
dying soldier's prayer, and three different sad and colored pictures
of Christ. Under one of these was pinned a slip of paper, and in
homemade printing the worthy admonition:

“No cursing no stealing when tempted look on his kindly face.”

There were all these things, but no girls. Once in a while a forlorn
bunch of age would sit humped in a chair, now and then a victrola
record sang forth its worn contents, twice the piano was heard. After
some ten days my large fat friend from the help's pantry informed me
that she and I weren't supposed to be there—the recreation room was
only for chambermaids and like as not any day we'd find the door
locked. Sure enough, my last day at the hotel I sneaked around in the
middle of the afternoon, as usual, to see what gossip I could pick up,
and the door was locked. But I made the recreation room pay for itself
as far as I was concerned. Every day I managed to pick up choice
morsels of gossip there that was grist to my mill.

After my first supper I could find nothing to do or no one to talk to,
so back I went to work—feeling a good deal like teacher's pet. About
four o'clock it was my business to tell Schmitz what supplies we were
out of and what and how much we'd need for supper. When I got back
from supper there were always trays of food to be put in the ice
chest, salads to be fixed, blackberries to dish out, celery to wash,
and the like. By the time that was done supper was on in our café.
That is, for some it was supper; for others, judging by the looks of
the trays which passed hurriedly by my compartment, stopping only
long enough for sliced lemon for the ice tea, it was surely dinner.
Dinner _de luxe_ now and then! Such delectable dishes! How did anybody
ever know their names enough to order them?

From 6 to 7.30 was the height of the supper rush. What a variable
thing our patrons made of it! Some evenings there would be a regular
run on celery salads, then for four nights not a single order.
Camembert cheese would reign supreme three nights in succession—not
another order for the rest of the week. Sometimes it seemed as if the
whole of creation sat without, panting for sliced tomatoes. The next
night stocked up in advance so as to keep no one waiting—not a human
being looked at a tomato.

At eight o'clock only stragglers remained to be fed, and my job was to
clear out the ice chest of all but two of each dish, send it upstairs
to the main kitchen, and then start scrubbing house. Schmitz let it be
known that one of the failings of her whose place I was now filling,
the one who was asked to leave the Friday night before the Monday
morning I appeared, was that she was not clean enough. At first, a
year and a half ago, she was cleanly and upright—that is, he spoke of
such uprightness as invariably follows cleanliness. But as time wore
on her habits of cleanliness wore off, and there were undoubtedly
corners in the ice box where her waning-in-enthusiasm fingers failed
to reach. But on a night when the New York thermometer ranges up
toward the nineties it is a pure and unadulterated joy to labor
inside an ice box. I scrubbed and rinsed and wiped until Schmitz
almost looked approving. Only it was congenital with Schmitz that he
never really showed approval of anything or anybody. Schmitz was the
kind (poor Mrs. Schmitz with her three months only of freedom) who
always had to change everything just a little. There would echo down
the line an order, “One Swiss cheese, little one” (that referred to
me, not the cheese). Schmitz would stroll over from where he was
trying to keep busy watching everyone at once, enter the very confines
of my compartment, and stand over me while I sliced that Swiss cheese.
It was always either too big, in which case he took the knife from my
hands and sliced off one-sixteenth of an inch on one end; or too
small, in which case Schmitz would endeavor to slice a new piece
altogether. The chances were it would end in being even smaller than
the slice I cut. In that case, Schmitz would say, “Led it go, anyway.”
And then, because he would always be very fair, he stood and explained
at length why the piece was too big, if it were too big, or too small,
if too small. “You know, it's dis vay—” My Gawd! not once, but every
night. There was always one slice too many or too few on the
sliced-tomato order. Schmitz would say, “There must be five slices.”
The next time I put on five slices Schmitz stuck that nose of his
around the waiter's shoulder.

“Hey, vhat's dat? Only five slices? De guests won't stand for dat, you
know. Dey pay good money here. Put anoder slice on.”

I was wont to get fearfully exasperated at times.

“But,” I remonstrated, “last time I had on six and you told me to put
on five!”

“Yes, yes, but I expect you to use your common sense!”

That was his invariable comeback. And always followed by his patient:

“You see, it's dis vay—If you put on too much the hotel, vhy, dey
lose money, and of course you see it's dis vay: naturally” (that was a
pet word of Schmitz's), “naturally the hotel don't vant to lose
money—you can see dat for yourself. Now on the odder hand if you
don't put on enough, vhy of course you see it's dis vay, naturally a
guest vants to get his money's vorth, you can see dat for
yourself—you've just got to use your common sense, you can see dat
for yourself.” Not once, but day after day, night after night. Poor,
poor Mrs. Schmitz! Verily there are worse things than first-degree
murder and intoxication.

But for all that Schmitz deigned not to allow it to be known that my
scrubbings found favor in his sight, my own soul approved of me. The
shelves and the sink I scrubbed. Then every perishable article in my
ice chest or elsewhere got placed upon trays to go upstairs. By this
time it was two minutes to nine. Schmitz, always with his hands
clasped behind him, except when he was doing over everything I did,
said, “You can go now.”

Upstairs among the lockers on the third floor the temperature was like
that of a live volcano, only nothing showed any signs of exploding.
Fat women who could speak little or no English were here and there
puffily dismantling, exchanging the hotel work-uniform for street
garments. Everyone was kindly and affectionate. One old Irishwoman
came up while I was changing my clothes.

“Well, dearie, and how did it go?”

“Sure it went swell.”

“That's good. The Lord bless ye. But there's one bit of advice I must
be giving ye. There's one thing you must take care of now. I'm tellin'
ye, dearie, you must guard your personality! I'm tellin' ye, there 're
the men y' know, but guard y' personality!”

I thanked her from the bottom of my heart and said I'd guard it,
surest thing she knew.

“Oh, the good Lord and the Virgin Mary bless ye, child!” And she
patted me affectionately on the back.

Indeed, I had been getting affectionate pats most of the time, though
the majority of them were from the male help. The composite impression
of that first day as I took my way home on the sticky Subway was that
the world was a very affectionate place, nor was I quite sure just
what to do about it.

The second morning I was given a glimpse of what can be done about it.
As I was waiting for the elevator on the service floor to be taken
down to work, a very attractive girl came along and immediately we
became chummy. She had been at the hotel three weeks; her job was to
cut fruit. Had she done this sort of work long? Not in this country,
but in Europe. Just one year had she been in America. At that moment
two youths passed. I saw nothing, but quick as a flash my new friend
flared up, “You fresh guy—keep your hands to yourself!” So evidently
that's the way it's done. I practiced it mentally. “Lots o' fresh guys
round here,” I sniffed. “You said it,” muttered the still ruffled
fruit cutter.

Downstairs, Kelly was waiting with a welcoming nod—Kelly, the
unpernickety steward. Everyone was as friendly as if we had been
feeding humanity side by side these many years. During the rush the
waiters called out as they sped by: “Hi there, little one!” “There's
the girlie!” “Ah there, sweetheart!” Verily the world is an
affectionate place. If a waiter had an order to give he passed the
time of day as he gave it and as he collected his order.

“And how's the little girl to-day?”

“Tiptop—and yourself?”

“A little low in spirits I was to-day until I seen you'd come—an'
then. You love me as much as you did yesterday?”

“Move on there. W'at y' a-doin' talkin' to my girl! Now, honey, I'm
tellin' you this here guy is too fresh for any lady. I'd like one
order of romaine lettuce, bless your sweet heart, if it won't be
tirin' your fingers too much. That's the dearie—I'm back in a

Across the way, arms resting on the counter, head ducked under the
upper shelf, leaned a burly redheaded helper to the Greek.

Every time the pantry girl looked his way he beamed and nodded and
nodded and beamed. “How you lak?” “Fine!” More beams and nods. Soon a
waiter slipped a glass of ice coffee, rich in cream and sugar, under
my counter. Beams and nods fit to burst from the assistant coffee man
across the way. Beams and nods from the pantry girl. Thus every day.
Our sole conversation was, “How you lak?” “Fine!” He said the rest
with coffee.

With the lunch rush over, Kelly sneaked around my entrance and jerked
his head sidewise. That meant, naturally, that I was to approach and
harken unto what he had to say. When Kelly imparted secrets—and much
of what Kelly had to impart was that sort of information where he felt
called upon to gaze about furtively to make sure no one was
over-hearing—when he had matters of weight then to impart he talked
down in his boots and a bit out of the corner of his mouth.

“Say, kid”—Kelly jerked his head—“want to tell you about this eatin'
business. Y'know, ain't no one supposed to eat nothin' on this floor.
If the boss catches ya, it's good-by dolly. Sign up over the door
sayin' you'll be dismissed _at once_ if you eat anything—see? But I'm
givin' ya a little tip—see? I don't care how much ya eat—it's
nothin' to me. I say eat all ya got a mind to. Only for Gawd's sake
don't let the Big Boss catch ya.” (The Big Boss was the little chief
steward, who drew down a fabulous salary and had the whole place
scared to death.) “See—pull a cracker box out so and put what ya got
to eat behind it this way, then ya can sit down and sorta take your
time at it. If the boss does come by—it's behind the cracker box and
you should worry! Have a cup of coffee?”

I was full up of coffee from my gentleman friend across the way, so
declined Kelly's assistance in obtaining more. Every day, about 2.30,
Kelly got in a certain more or less secluded corner of my compartment
and ate a bit himself. “Been almost fired a couple of times for doin'
this—this place is full o' squealers—gotta watch out all the time.
Hell of a life I say when a fella has to sneak around to eat a bit of

That second afternoon, Kelly stopped in the middle of a gulp of

“Say, w'at t' hell's a girl like you workin' for, anyhow? Say, don't
you know you could get married easy as—my Gawd! too easy. Say, you
could pick up with one of these waiters just like that! They're good
steady fellas, make decent pay. You could do much worse than marry a
waiter. I'm tellin' ya there's no sense to a girl like you workin'.”

That was an obsession with Kelly. He drilled it into me daily. Kelly
himself was a settled married man. Of his state we talked often. I
asked Kelly the very first day if he ever went to Coney Island.

“Ustta—'ain't been for ten years.”

“Why not for ten years?”

Kelly looked at me out of the corner of his eyes. “Got married ten
years ago.”

“Well, and w'at of it? Don't you have no more fun?”

“You said it! I'm tellin' ya there's no more fun. Gee! I sure don't
know myself these ten years. I was the kind of a fella”—here Kelly
was moved in sheer admiration to do a bit of heavy cursing—“I was the
kind of fella that did everything—I'm tellin' ya, _everything_. Bet
there ain't a thing in this world I 'ain't done at least once, and
most of 'em a whole lot more 'n that. An' now—look at me now! Get up
at four every mornin', but Sundays, get down here at six” (Kelly was a
suburbanite), “work till three, git home, monkey with my tools a bit
or play with the kids, eat dinner, sit around a spell, go to bed.”

A long pause. “Ain't that a hell of a life, I'm askin' ya?”

Another pause in which Kelly mentally reviewed his glowing past. He
shook his head and smiled a sad smile. “If you could 'a' seen me ten
years ago!”

Kelly told me the story of his life more or less in detail some days
later. I say advisedly “more or less.” Considering the reputation he
had given himself, I am relieved to be able to note that he must have
left some bits out, though goodness knows he put enough in. But
Kelly's matrimonial romance must be told.

Kelly went with a peach of a girl in the years gone by—swellest
little kid—gee! he respected that girl—never laid hands on her. She
wanted to go back to the old country for a visit, so he paid her way
there and back—one hundred and sixty-five dollars it had cost him.
Coming home from a ball where Kelly had been manager—this at 4
A.M.—a remark of the girl's led Kelly to suspect she was not the
stainless bit of perfection his love had pictured. So after three
years of constant devotion Kelly felt that he had been sold out. He
turned around and said then and there to his fair one, “You go to
hell!” He never laid eyes on her again.

A few years later Kelly met an American girl. He went with her three
years, was making seventy-five dollars a month, had saved eight
hundred and seventy-six dollars, and in addition possessed one hundred
and ten dollars in life insurance. So he asked the lady to marry him.
Y' know w'at she said to Kelly? Kelly leaned his shaggy mop of hair my
way. She said, “I won't marry nobody on seventy-five dollars a month!”
Again Kelly's manhood asserted itself. Do you know w'at Kelly said to
her? He says, says he, once more, “You go to hell!” He quit.

Whereupon Kelly drew out every cent he possessed and sailed for
Europe. When he landed again in New York City, d' y'know how much
money Kelly had in his pocket? Thirty-five cents. Then he went West
for seven or eight years, and tore up the country considerable, Kelly
did. He came back to New York again, again minus cash. A few days
after his return the girl of eight years before met him by appointment
at the Grand Central Station. What d' y'know? She asked Kelly to marry
her—just like that. Heck! by that time Kelly didn't give a darn one
way or the other. She bought the ring, she hired the minister, she did
the whole business. Kelly married her—that's the wife he's got right

One of Kelly's steady, dependable waiters approached about 5 P.M.
“Say, girl, I like you!” Of course, the comeback for that now, as
always, was, “Aw go-an!”

“Sure, I like you. Say, how about goin' out this evening with me?
We'll sure do the old town!”

“I say, you sound like as if you got all of twenty-five cents in your

He leaned way over my counter.

“I got twenty-five dollars, and it's yours any time you say the word!”

It's words like that which sometimes don't get said.

For supper that night I sat at a table with a housekeeper, a parlor
maid, and a seamstress, and listened to much talk. Mainly, it was a
discussion of where the most desirable jobs were to be had in their
respective lines. There was complete unanimity of opinion. Clubs
headed the list, and the cream of cream were men's clubs. The
housekeeper and parlor maid together painted a picture which would
lead one to conclude that the happiest women in all New York City were
the housekeepers in men's clubs. The work was light, they were well
treated—it was a job for anyone to strive for. The type of men or
women in clubs, they remarked, was ahead of what you'd draw in any

The parlor maid, an attractive, gray-haired woman—indeed, all three
were gray-haired—was very pleased with her job at our hotel. She
slept there and loved it. The rooms were so clean—your towels were
changed daily just as for the guests. Sure she was very contented. If
her mother were only alive—she died two years ago—she'd be the
happiest woman in the world, she just knew it. But every single
morning she woke up with an empty feeling in her heart for the
longings after her mother.

       *       *       *       *       *

My diary of Thursday of that first week starts: “The best day since
I've been trying jobs—Glory be, it was rich!” And pages follow as to
the wonders of that one day—wonders to me, who was after what the
workers themselves think about the universe in general.

When I found how hard the Spanish woman I relieved at 1.30 had to
work, how much more rushed she was from 6 to 1.30 than ever I was from
1.30 to 9, and when I learned, in addition, that she received no more
pay for all her extra labors, I told her I would come early every day
and help her during the rush. This is all good psychology and I give
it for what it is worth. The first few days, this Thursday being one
of them, she was very grateful—spoke often of how much it helped to
have me there early. My last morning during my two weeks of the hotel
job I was so rushed with final errands to do before leaving New York
that it was impossible for me to arrive at work before 1.30, my
regular and appointed time. The Spanish woman knew it was my last day.
But she was so put out to think I had not arrived early that she
whisked out of that compartment the second I arrived, only taking time
to give me one fearful and unmistakable glare. Kelly caught the
remnants of it as she swung by him. He sauntered over to my counter.
“Say, the nerve of some people!”

That Thursday noon, I ate with the workers in the help's kitchen. So
much talk! First there was a row on fit to rend the rafters. One of
the Irish girls plumped herself down to eat and raved on about Lizzie,
an Armenian girl, and something or other Lizzie had done or hadn't
done with the silverware. Everyone was frank as to what each thought
about Lizzie. Armenian stock was very low that day. Just then Lizzie
appeared, a very attractive, neat girl who had been friendly and kind
to me. I had no idea it was she about whose character such blusterous
words were being spoken. With Lizzie and the Irish girl face to
face—Heaven help us! I expected to see them at each other's throats.
Such talk! Finally another Irish girl turned to the Armenian. “Why
t'hell do you get so mad over it all, now?” Lizzie stopped, gave the
second Irish girl a quizzical look. Slowly a smile spread over her
face. She gave a little chuckle. “Ho! Why t'hell?” We all laughed and
laughed, and the fight was off.

It seems Lizzie was known far and wide for her temper. She had been
fired from waiting on the chefs because she let it loose in their
dining room one night. Now they were trying her out up at our end of
the service floor. Minnie, the oldest Irish woman at our table and in
a decidedly ruffled mood that day, claimed it was the Armenian in
her. “They're all like that. Shure, I got a Armenian helper—that kid
over there. Wait till he says one word more to me. I'll bust a plate
on his head and kick his prostrate form into the gutter. It'll be a
happy day in my life!”

They all asked me about my work and how I liked it. Evidently mine was
a job high in favor. “Shure you're left alone and no one to be under
your feet or botherin' with y' every minute of the day. You're yo'r
own boss.”

The talk got around to the strike at the Hotel McAlpin of a few years
ago. It was for more pay. The strike was lost. I asked why. “Shure,
they deserved to lose it. Nobody hung together.”

We discussed domestic service. Every day at that hotel I wondered why
any girl took work in a private home if she could possibly get a hotel
job. Here was what could be considered by comparison with other jobs,
good pay, plus three nourishing meals a day, decent hours, and before
and after those hours freedom. In many cases, also, it meant a place
to sleep. There was a chance for talk and companionship with one's
kind during the day. Every chance I got I asked a girl if she liked
working in a private home, or would change her hotel job if she got a
chance. The only person who was not loud in decrying private service
was Minnie during this special Thursday lunch. But Minnie was so sore
on the world that day. I do believe she would have objected to the
Virgin Mary, had the subject come up. Minnie had worked years in
private families and only six years in hotels. She wished she'd never
seen the inside of a hotel.

That same night at the supper table the subject came up again before
an entirely different crowd. Three at the table had tried domestic
service. Never again! Why? Always the answer was the same. “Aw, it's
the feeling of freedom ya never get there, and ya do get it in a
hotel.” One sweet gray-haired woman told of how she had worked some
years as cook in a swell family where they kept lots of servants. She
got grand wages, and naïvely she added, you get a chance to make lots
on the side, o' course. I asked her if she meant tips from guests. Oh
no! She meant what you made off tradespeople. Don't you see, if you
got the butcher bill up so high, you got so much off the butcher, and
the same with the grocer and the rest. She had a sister not cooking
long who made over one hundred dollars a month, counting what she got
off tradespeople. It is a perfectly accepted way of doing, mentioned
with no concern.

But on the whole, that supper table agreed that domestic service was a
good deal like matrimony. If you got a good family, all right; but how
many good families were there in the world? One woman spoke of working
where they'd made a door mat of her. Barely did she have food enough
to eat. There were four in the family. When they had chops the lady of
the house ordered just four, which meant she who cooked the chops got

After lunch this full Thursday I rushed to assist Mary. I loved going
down the stairs into our hot scurry of excitement. Indeed, it was
seeing behind the scenes. And always the friendly nods from everyone,
even though the waiters especially looked ready to expire in pools of
perspiration. At Monsieur Le Bon Chef's counter some sticky waiter had
ordered a roast-beef sandwich. The heat had made him skeptical. “Call
that beef?” The waiter next him glared at him with a chuckle. “An'
must we then always lead in the cow for you to see?” A large Irishman
breezed up to my Bon Chef. “Two beef à la modes. Make it snappy,
chief. Party's in a hurry. Has to catch the five-thirty train”—this
at one o'clock. Everyone good-natured, and the perspiration literally
rolling off them.

Most of the waiters were Irish. One of them was a regular dude—such
immaculateness never was. He was the funny man of the place, and
showed off for my special benefit, for I made no bones of the fact
that he amused me highly. He was a very chippy-looking waiter—pug
nose, long upper lip. When he ordered ice coffee he sneaked up on the
Greek à la Bill Hart, ready to pull a gun on him. He had two names at
his disposal and used one or the other with every order, no matter who
the chef was. In a very deep tone of voice, it was either, “James,
custard pie!” or, “Dinsmore, one veal cutlet.” But to me it was
always: “Ah there, little one! Toast, I say _toast_. Dry, little one.
Ah yes! There be them who out of force of habit inflicted upon them
take even their toast dry. You get me, little one?”

He was especially immaculate this Thursday. I guessed he must be
taking at least three ladies out that evening. He looked at me out of
the corner of his eyes. “_Three_, little one, this hot night? Winter
time, yes, a man can stand a crowd about him, but not to-night. No.
To-night, little one, I take but one lady. It allows for more
circulation of air. And you will be that One?”

The Greek this hot Thursday became especially friendly. He twirled his
heavy black mustache and carried on an animated broken-English
conversation most of the afternoon. Incidentally, he sent over one ice
coffee with thick cream and two frosted chocolates.

The little Spaniard next to him, he who served pies and ice cream and
more amazing desserts—he, too, became very friendly. There was
nothing the least fresh about the little Spaniard. He mostly leaned on
his counter, in moments of lull in trade, and when I so much as looked
his way, he sighed heavily. Finally he made bold to converse. I
learned that he had been two years in this country, eight months at
his present job. When I asked him how he spent his off time, he
replied in his very broken English that he knew nobody and went
nowhere. “It is no pleasure to go alone.” He rooms with an American
family on the East Side. They are very nice. For some years he had
been in the printing trade in South America; there was something to a
job like that. But in New York he did not know enough English to be a
printer, and so, somehow, he found himself dishing pies and ice cream
at our hotel.

Later on that day he asked me, “Why are you so happy?”

Indeed I was very cheerful and made no secret of it. I had sung every
song I knew and then whistled them all as I worked. But Schmitz, who
surely had never smiled in all his life, could stand it no longer.
“You better not make so much noise,” he said. “You see, it's dis
vay—” Poor Schmitz, he had a miserable time of it that afternoon. For
my expressions of contentment with the world had spread. Unconsciously
a chef would whistle a bit here as he mixed his gravy ingredients,
another there as he minced chicken, yet another in still another
direction as he arranged a bowl of vegetables. Schmitz's head swirled
first in one direction, then in another. Aching he was to reduce the
universe to his perpetual state of gloom. But chefs he stood in awe
of. He dared silence only me, and every so often I forgot.

So the Spaniard asked me why I was so happy. I had no reason. Only a
great multitude of reasons why there was no excuse to be anything
else, but I did not go into that. He would know, though.

“What did you do last night?”

“Ho!” I laughed at him, “rode home on the top of a bus!”

A bit later a piece of folded paper landed almost in my French
dressing. It was a note from the Spaniard: “Will you go riding with me
to-night?” I wrote on the bottom of the paper: “Not to-night. Perhaps
next week, yes?” A few moments later a folded menu landed on the
floor. On the back was written: “I will be very pleased whenever you
can or wish. Could it be Sunday? I hope you wouldn't take it amiss my
asking you this. Frank.”

I really wanted to take that bus ride with Frank. It still worries me
that I did not. He was such a lonesome person.

Then there was the tall, lean, dark Irish waiter I called Mr.
O'Sullivan. He was a continual joy to my heart and gave me cause for
many a chuckle. A rebel, was Mr. O'Sullivan. I heard Kelly call him
down twice for growling at what he considered inexcusable desires in
the matter of food or service on the part of patrons by telling Mr.
O'Sullivan it was none of his —— business. But I loved to listen to
Mr. O'Sullivan's growlings, and once he realized that, he used to stop
at my counter, take extra long to collect three slices of lemon, and
tell me his latest grievance. To-night, this Thursday, he was

“Shure and de y'know what now? I've two parties out there want finger
bowls. _Finger bowls!_” sputtered Mr. O'Sullivan.

“Shure an' it's a long ways from the sight of finger bowls them two
was born. It had better be a pail apiece they'd be askin' for. Finger
bowls indeed!” Mr. O'Sullivan had gotten down to a mumble. “Shure an'
they make me _sick_!”

Mr. O'Sullivan knew that I gave ear to his sentiments upon such
matters as old parties, male or female, who must needs order special
kinds of extra digestible bread, and usually that bread must in
addition be toasted. While it was toasting, Mr. O'Sullivan voiced his
views on Old Maids with Indigestion. Much of it does not bear
repeating. When the toast was done, Mr. O'Sullivan would hold out his
plate with the napkin folded ready for the toast. “Shure an yo'r the
sweetest child my eyes ever looked upon” (Mr. O'Sullivan would say
just the same thing in the same way to a toothless old hag of ninety).
“Mind you spare yo'rself now from both bein' an old maid and sufferin'
to the point where y' can't eat plain white bread!”

This particular Thursday I had even found some one to talk to in the
recreation room when I sneaked up at three o'clock. There came a time
when Schmitz's patience was strained over my regular disappearance
from about 3 to 3.30. There was absolutely nothing for me to do just
then in my own line, so I embraced that opportunity daily to take my
way to the recreation room and see what pickings I could gather up.
But one afternoon Schmitz's face bore an extra-heavy frown. “Say, what
you do every day that keeps you from your work all this time? Don't
you know that ain't no way to do? Don't you understand hotel work is
just like a factory? Everybody must be in his place all day and not go
wandering off!”

“Ever work in a factory?” I asked Schmitz.

He deigned no answer.

“Well, then, I'm telling _you_ I have, and hotel work ain't like a
factory at _all_.”

“Vell, you see it's dis vay—naturally—”

This Thursday up in the recreation room I found an ancient scrubwoman,
patched and darned to pieces, with stringy thin hair, and the fat,
jovial Irishwoman from the help's pantry. The three of us had as giddy
a half hour as anyone in all New York. We laughed at one another's
jokes till we almost wept, and forgot all about the thermometer. The
fat Irishwoman had worked at the hotel two years, the scrubwoman
almost that long. Both “lived out.” They, too, informed me I had one
of the best jobs in the hotel—nobody messin' in with what you're
doin'—they leave y'alone. The fat one had worked some time in the
linen room, but preferred pantry work. The linen room was too much
responsibility—had to count out aprons and towels and things in piles
of ten and tie them, and things like that—made a body's head swim.

Realizing Schmitz's growing discomfort, I finally had to tear myself
away. The fat Irishwoman called after me, “Good-by, dear, and God
bless y'.”

Upstairs at supper that night I had the luck to land again at a
talkative table. We discussed many things—Ireland, for one. One girl
was she who had come two years ago from Ireland and did salads in the
main kitchen. Such a brogue! An Irish parlor maid had been long years
in this country. The two asked many questions of each other about
their life in the Old Country. “Shure,” sighed one, “I love every
stick and every stone and tree and blade of grass in Ireland!”
“Shure,” sighed the other, “an' that's just the way I feel about it,

Everyone at the table liked working at our hotel. According to them,
the hotel was nice, the girls nice, hours nice.

The subject of matrimony, as ever, came up. Not a soul at the table
but what was ag'in' it. Why should a woman get married when she can
support herself? All she'd get out of it would be a pack of kids to
clean up after, and work that never ended. Of course, the concession
was eventually made, if you were sure you were gettin' a good man—
But how many good men were there in the world? And look at the
divorces nowadays! Why try it at all? One girl reported as
statistically accurate that there was one divorce in the United States
to every four marriages. “You don't say!” was the chorus.

The subject changed to summer hotels. One woman had worked last summer
as a waitress at one of the beaches. That was the swellest job
ever—just like a vacation! All summer she had two tables only to wait
on, two persons at a table. Each table had tipped her five dollars a
week. Next summer we all must try it.

The minutes flew by too fast that supper. Before I knew it, 5.30 had
come around, and by the time I was downstairs again it was five
minutes past my appointed half hour. Poor, poor Schmitz! And yet lucky
Schmitz. It must have caused his soul much inner satisfaction to have
a real honest-to-goodness grievance to complain about. (You see, he
could not go up for his supper until I came down from mine.) Schmitz
upbraided me, patiently, with explanations. Every single night from
then on, when at five he would tell me I could go upstairs, he always
added, “And be sure you're back at half past five!” In natural
depravity of spirit, it was my delight one night to be able to sneak
down at about 5.25 without being seen by Schmitz. Then I shrank into a
corner of my compartment, out of his line of vision, and worked busily
on my evening chores. At 5.30, Schmitz began his anxious scanning of
our large clock. By 5.40 he was a wreck and the clock had nearly been
glared off its hinges. Then it was a waiter called out to me the first
evening order. With the crucified steps of a martyr, a ten-minute-hungry
martyr at that, Schmitz made his way over to fill that order. And
there I was, busily filling it myself! Of course, I hope I have made
it clear that Schmitz was the kind who would say, “I knew she was
there all along.”

The rush of this particular Thursday night! More lettuce had to be
sent for in the middle of the evening, more tomatoes, more
blackberries, more cantaloupes, more bread for toast. There was no
stopping for breath. In the midst of the final scrubbings and
cleanings came an order of “One combination salad, Sweetheart!” That
done and removed and there sounded down the way, “One cantaloupe,
Honey!” Back the waiter came in a moment. “The old party says it's too
ripe.” There were only two left to choose from. “Knock his slats in
if he don't like that, the old fossil.” In another moment the waiter
was back again with the second half. “He says he don't want no
cantaloupe, anyhow. Says he meant an order of Philadelphia cream

But nine o'clock came round and somehow the chores were all done and
Schmitz nodded his regal head ever so little—his sign for, “Madam,
you may take your departure,” and up I flew through the almost
deserted main kitchen, up the three flights to the service floor, down
four flights to the time-clock floor (elevators weren't always handy),
to be greeted by my friend the time-clock man with his broad grin and
his, “Well, if here ain't my little bunch o' love!”

If he and Schmitz could only have gotten mixed a bit in the original

By Saturday of that week I began my diary: “Goodness! I couldn't stand
this pace long—waiters are too affectionate.” I mention such a matter
and go into some detail over their affection here and there, because
it was in no sense personal. I mean that any girl working at my job,
provided she was not too ancient and too toothless and too ignorant of
the English language, would have been treated with equal enthusiasm.
True, a good-looking Irishman did say to me one evening, “I keep
thinkin' to myself durin' the day, what is there about you that's
different. I shure like it a lot what it is, but I just can't put my
finger on it.” I used as bad grammar as the next; I appeared, I
hoped, as ignorant as the next. Yet another Irishman remarked, “I
don't know who you are or where you came from or where you got your
education, but you shure have got us all on the run!” But any girl
with the least wits about her would have had them on the run. She was
the only girl these men got a chance to talk to the greater part of
the day.

But what if a girl had a couple of years of that sort of thing? Or
does she get this attention only the first couple of weeks of the
couple of years, anyhow? Does a waiter grow tired of expressing his
affection before or after the girl grows tired of hearing it? I could
not help but feel that most of it was due to the fact that perhaps
among those waiters and such girls as they knew a purely friendly
relationship was practically unknown. Sex seemed to enter in the first
ten minutes. Girls are not for friends—they're to flirt with. It was
for the girl to set the limits; the man had none.

But eight and one-half hours a day of parrying the advances of
affectionate waiters—a law should be passed limiting the cause for
such exertion to two hours a day, no overtime. Nor have I taken the
gentle reader into my confidence regarding the Spanish chef in the
main kitchen. He did the roasting. I had to pass his stove on my way
to the elevators. At which he dropped everything, wiped his hands on
his apron, and beamed from ear to ear until I got by. One day he
dashed along beside me and directed an outburst of Spanish into my
ear. When I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders and got it into
his head that I was not a countrywoman, his dismay was purely
temporary. He spoke rather flowery English. Would I walk up the stairs
with him? No, I preferred the elevator. He, did too. I made the most
of it by asking him questions too fast for him to ask me any. He was a
tailor by trade, but business had been dull for months. In despair he
had taken to roasting. Some six months he had been at our hotel. He
much preferred tailoring, and in two months he would be back at his
trade in a little shop of his own, making about fifty to seventy-five
dollars a week. And then he got in his first question.

“Are you married?”


“Could I then ask you to go out with me some evening?”—all this with
many beams and wipings of hands on his apron.

Well, I was very busy.

But one evening. Oh, just one evening—surely one evening.

Well, perhaps—

To-night, then?

No, not to-night.

To-morrow night?

No, no night this week or next week, but perhaps week after next.

Ah, that is so long, so long!

There was no earthly way to get to the stairs or elevators except by
his stove. I came to dread it. Always the Spanish ex-tailor dropped
everything with a clatter and chased after me. I managed to pass his
confines at greater and greater speed. Invariably I heard his panting,
“Listen! Listen!” after me, but I tore on, hoping to get an elevator
that started up before he could make it.

One day the Spaniard, this tall thin roaster with the black mustache,
was waiting as I came out of the locker room.

“Listen! Listen!” he panted, from force of habit. “Next week is still
so very long off.”

It so happened it was my last day at the hotel. I told him I was
leaving that night.

“Oh, miss!” He looked really upset. “Then you will go out to-night
with me. Surely to-night.”

No, I had a date.

To-morrow night.

No, I had another date.

Sunday—oh, Sunday, just one Sunday.

Sunday I had two dates.

I should be able to flatter my female soul that at least he forgot the
seasoning that night in his roasts.

Downstairs that first Saturday the little quiet Spaniard of the pies
and ice cream screwed up his courage, crossed over to my precinct,
leaned his arms on my front counter, and said, “If I had a wife like
you I would be happy all the rest of my life!”

Having delivered himself of those sentiments, he hastily returned to
his pies and ice cream.

The Greek coffee man would take me to a show that night.

Saturday, to my surprise, was a slack day in the café business. Trade
is always light. Sunday our kitchen closed shop. Another reason why my
job held allurements. I was the only girl to get Sunday off. Also,
because we were the only department in the hotel to close down
altogether, it seems we were wont to have an annual picnic. Alas that
I had to miss it!

Plans were just taking shape, too, for this year's event. Last year
they motored over to Long Island. Much food, many drinks. It was a
rosy memory. This year Kelly wanted a hay ride. Kelly, he of the
highly colored past, even so contended there was nothing in the world
like the smell of hay.

There was no fun to the supper that Saturday night. I sat at a table
with a deaf girl, two dirty men, and a fat, flabby female with pop
eyes, and not a one of them acted as if he possessed the ability to
speak. Except the deaf girl, who did tell me she couldn't hear.

So I ate hastily and made for the recreation room. For the first time
the piano was in use. A chambermaid, surrounded by four admiring
fellow-workers, was playing “Oh, they're killin' men and women for a
wearin' of the green.” That is, I made out she meant it for that tune.
With the right hand she picked out what every now and then approached
that melody. With the left she did a tum-te-dum which she left
entirely to chance, the right hand and its perplexities needing her
entire attention. During all of this, without intermission, her foot
conscientiously pressed the loud pedal.

Altogether there were seven in the chambermaid's audience. I sat down
next to a little wrinkled auburn-haired Irish chambermaid whose face
looked positively inspired. She beat time with one foot and both
hands. “Ain't it jus' grand!” she whispered to me. “If I c'u'd jus'
play like that!” Her eyes sought the ceiling. When the player had
finished her rendition there was much applause. One girl left the
clouds long enough to ask, “Oh, Jennie, is it really true you never
took a lesson?” Jennie admitted it was true. “Think of that, now!” the
little woman by me gasped.

The chambermaid next gave an original interpretation of “Believe me if
all those endearing young charms.” At least it was nearer that than
anything else. I had to tear myself away in the middle of what five
out of seven people finally would have guessed was “Way down upon the
Suwanee River.” The faces of the audience were still wreathed in that
expression you may catch on a few faces at Carnegie Hall.

Monday there was a chambermaids' meeting. Much excitement. They had
been getting seven dollars a week. The management wished to change and
pay them by the month, instead—thirty dollars a month. There was
something underhanded about it, the girls were sure of that. In
addition there was a general feeling that everyone was in for more or
less of a cut in wages about September. A general undertone of
suspicion that day was over everything and everybody. Several
chambermaids were waiting around the recreation room the few moments
before the meeting. They were upset over that sign under the picture
of Christ, “No cursing no stealing when tempted look on his kindly
face.” As long as they'd been in that hotel they'd never heard no
cursin' among the girls, and as for stealin'—well, they guessed the
guests stole more than ever the girls did. There were too many
squealers around that hotel, that was the trouble. One girl spoke up
and said it wasn't the hotel. New York was all squealers—worst “race”
she ever knew for meanness to one another—nothin' you'd ever see in
the Irish!

I thought back over the dinner conversation that noon. An Irish girl
asked me what my hurry was, when my work didn't begin till 1.30. I
told her I helped out the Spanish woman and remarked that I thought it
wrong that she didn't get more pay than I. “Say,” said the Irish girl,
“you jus' look out for your own self in this world and don't you go
round worryin' over no one else. You got number one to look out for
and that's all.”

The excitement of the day was that the Big Boss for the first time
took note of the fact I was alive. He said good evening and thought
he'd look in my ice chest. My heart did flutter, but I knew I was
safe. I had scrubbed and polished that ice chest till it creaked and
groaned the Saturday night before. The brass parts were blinding. But
there was too much food in it for that hour of the night. He called
Schmitz—Schmitz was abject reverence and acquiescence. It was, of
course, Kelly's fault for leaving so much stuff there when he went at
3. And Kelly was gruff as a bear next day. Evidently the Big Boss
spoke to him about sending stuff upstairs after the lunch rush was
over. He almost broke the plates hurling things out of the ice box at
2.30. And the names he called Schmitz I dare not repeat. He swore and
he swore and he _swore_! And he stripped the ice box all but bare.

How down on prohibition were Kelly and many of those waiters! Perhaps
all the waiters, but I did not hear all express opinions. A waiter was
talking to Kelly about it in front of my counter one day. “How can we
keep this up?” the waiter moaned. “There was a time when if you got
desperate you could take a nip and it carried you over. But I ask you,
how can a man live when he works like this and works and then goes
home and sits around and goes to bed, and then gets up and goes back
and works and works, and then goes home and sits around? You put a
dollar down on the table and look at it, and then pick it up and put
it in your pocket again. Hell of a life, I say, and I don't see how we
can keep it up with never a drink to make a man forget his troubles!”

Kelly put forth that favorite claim that there was far more evil-doing
of every sort and description since prohibition than before—and then
added that everyone had his home-brew anyhow. He told of how the chefs
and he got to the hotel early one morning and started to make up six
gallons of home-brew down in our kitchen. Only, o' course, “some
dirty guy had to go an' squeal” on 'em and Kelly 'most lost his job,
did Kelly.

I had a very nice Italian friend—second cook, he called himself—who
used to come over to the compartment of Monsieur Le Bon Chef and talk
over the partition to me every afternoon from four to half past. He
also was not in the least fresh, but just talked and talked about many
things. His first name in Italian was “Eusebio,” but he found it more
convenient in our land to go under the name of “Vwictor.” He came from
a village of fifty inhabitants not far from Turin, almost on the Swiss
border, where they had snow nine months in the year. Why had he
journeyed to America? “Oh, I donno. Italians in my home town have too
little money and too many children.”

Victor was an intelligent talker. I asked him many questions about the
labor problem generally. When he first came to this country seven
years ago he started work in the kitchen of the Waldorf-Astoria. In
those days pay for the sort of general unskilled work he did was
fifteen to eighteen dollars a month. Every other day hours were from 6
A.M. to 8.30 P.M.; in between days they got off from 2 to 5 in the
afternoon. Now, in the very same job, a man works eight hours a day
and gets eighteen dollars a week. Victor at present drew twenty-two
dollars a week, plus every chef's allotment of two dollars and forty
cents a week “beer money.” (It used to be four bottles of beer a day
at ten cents a bottle. Now that beer was a doubtful bestowal, the
hotels issued weekly “beer money.” You could still buy beer at ten
cents a bottle, only practically everyone preferred the cash.)

But Victor thought he was as well off seven years ago on eighteen
dollars a month as he would be to-day on eighteen dollars a week.
Then, it seems, he had a nice room with one other man for four dollars
a month, including laundry. Now he rooms alone, it is true, but he
pays five dollars a week for a room he claims is little, if any,
better than the old one, and a dollar a week extra for laundry. Then
he paid two to three dollars for a pair of shoes, now ten or twelve,
and they wear out as fast as the two-dollar shoes of seven years
before. Now fifty dollars for a suit no better than the one he used to
get for fifteen dollars. Thus spoke Victor.

Besides, Victor could save nothing now, for he had a girl, and you
know how it is with women. It's got to be a present all the time. You
can't get 'em by a store window without you go in and buy a waist or a
hat or goodness knows what all a girl doesn't manage to want. He went
into detail over his recent gifts. Why was he so generous as all that
to his fair one? Because if he didn't get the things for her he was
afraid some other man would.

Nor could Victor understand how people lived in this country without
playing more. Every night, every single night, he must find some
countryman and play around a little bit before going to bed. “These
fellas who work and work all day, and then eat some dinner, and then
go home and sit around and go to bed.” No, Victor preferred death to
such stagnation. If it was only a game of cards and a glass of wine
(prohibition did not seem to exist for Victor and his countrymen) or
just walking around the streets, talking. _Anything_, so long as it
was _something_.

Victor was a union man. Oh, sure. He was glowing with pride and
admiration in the union movement in Italy—there indeed they
accomplished things! But in this country, no, the union movement would
never amount to much here. For two reasons. One was that working
people on the whole were treated too well here to make good unionists.
Pay a man good wages and give him the eight-hour day—what kind of a
union man will he make? The chances are he won't join at all.

But the main reason why unions would never amount to much here was
centered in the race question. Victor told of several cooks' strikes
he had been in. What happens? A man stands up and says something, then
everybody else says, “Don't listen to him; he's only an Irishman.”
Some one else says something, and everyone says, “Don't pay any
attention to him; he's only an Italian.” The next man—he's only a
Russian, and so on.

Then pretty soon what happens next? Pretty soon a Greek decides he'll
go back to work, and then all the Greeks go back; next an Austrian
goes back—all his countrymen follow. And, anyhow, says my Italian
friend Eusebio, you can't understand nothin' all them foreigners say,

I asked him if Monsieur Le Bon Chef after his start as a strike
breaker had finally joined a union. “Oh, I guess he's civilized now,”
grinned Victor.

Numerous times one person or another about our hotel spoke of the
suddenness with which the workers there would be fired. “Bing, you
go!” just like that. Kelly, who had been working there over two years,
told me that the only way to think of a job was to expect to be fired
every day. He claimed he spent his hour's ride in to work every
morning preparing himself not to see his time card in the rack, which
would mean no more job for him.

I asked Victor one day about the girl who had held my job a year and a
half and why she was fired. There was a story for you! Kelly a few
days before had told me that he was usually able to “get” anybody.
“Take that girl now what had your job. I got her. She was snippy to me
two or three times and I won't stand that. It's all right if anybody
wants to get good and mad, but I detest snippy folks. So I said to
myself, 'I'll get you, young lady,' and within three days I had her!”

Kelly was called away and never finished the story, but Victor did.
The girl, it seems, got several slices of ham one day from one of the
chefs. She wrapped them carefully in a newspaper and later started up
the stairs with the paper folded under her arm, evidently bound for
the locker room. Kelly was standing at the foot of the stairs—“Somebody
had tipped him off, see?”

“What's the news to-day?” asked Kelly.

“'Ain't had time to read the paper yet,” the girl replied.

“Suppose we read it now together,” said Kelly, whereupon he slipped
the paper out from under her arm and exposed the ham to view.

“You're fired!” said Kelly.

He sent her up to the Big Boss, and he did everything he could think
of to get the girl to tell which chef had given her the ham. The girl
refused absolutely to divulge that.

The Big Boss came down to our kitchen. He asked each chef in turn if
he had given the girl the ham, and each chef in turn said _No_.

The Big Boss came back again in a few minutes. “We can put the
detective force of the hotel on this job and find out within a few
days who _did_ give that ham away and the man will be fired. But I
don't want to do it that way. If the man who did it will confess right
now that he did I promise absolutely he will not be fired.”

A chef spoke up, “I did it.”

Within fifteen minutes he was fired.

       *       *       *       *       *

As ever, the day for leaving arrived. This time I gave notice to Kelly
three days in advance, so that a girl could be found to take my place.
“The Big Chief and I both said when we seen you, she won't stay long
at this job.”

“Why not?” I indignantly asked Kelly.

“Ah, shucks!” sighed Kelly. Later: “Well, you're a good kid. You were
making good at your job, too. Only I'll tell y' this. You're too
conscientious. Don't pay.”

And still later, “Aw, forget this working business and get married.”

There was much red tape to leaving that hotel—people to see, cards to
sign and get signed. Everyone was nice. I told Kelly—and the news
spread—the truth, that I was unexpectedly going to Europe, being
taken by the same lady who brought me out from California, her whose
kids I looked after. If after six months I didn't like it in
Europe—and everyone was rather doubtful that I would, because they
don't treat workin' girls so very well in Europe—the lady would pay
my way back to America second-class. (The Lord save my soul.)

I told Schmitz I was going on the afternoon of the evening I was to
leave. Of course he knew it from Kelly and the others. “Be sure you
don't forget to leave your paring knife,” was Schmitz's one comment.

Farewells were said—I did surely feel like the belle of the ball that
last half hour. On the way out I decided to let bygones be bygones and
sought out Schmitz to say good-by.

“You sure you left that paring knife?” said Schmitz.


Here I sit in all the peace and stillness of the Cape Cod coast, days
filled with only such work as I love, and play aplenty, healthy
youngsters frolicky about me, the warmest of friends close by. The
larder is stocked with good food, good books are on the shelves, each
day starts and ends with a joyous feeling about the heart.

And I, this sunburnt, carefree person, pretend to have been as a
worker among workers. Again some one says, “The artificiality of it!”

Back in that hot New York the girls I labored among are still packing
chocolates, cutting wick holes for brass lamp cones, ironing “family,”
beading in the crowded dress factory. Up at the Falls they are hemming
sheets and ticketing pillow cases. In the basement of the hotel some
pantry girl, sweltering between the toaster and the egg boiler, is
watching the clock to see if rush time isn't almost by.

Granted at the start, if you remember, and granted through each
individual job, it was artificial—my part in it all. But what in the
world was there to do about that? I was determined that not forever
would I take the say-so of others on every phase of the labor problem.
Some things I would experience for myself. Certain it is I cannot know
any less than before I started. Could I help knowing at least a bit
more? I do know more—I know that I know more!

And yet again I feel constrained to call attention to the fact that
six jobs, even if the results of each experience were the very richest
possible, are but an infinitesimal drop in what must be a full bucket
of industrial education before a person should feel qualified to speak
with authority on the subject of labor. Certain lessons were learned,
certain tentative conclusions arrived at. They are given here for what
they may be worth and in a very humble spirit. Indeed, I am much more
humble in the matter of my ideas concerning labor than before I took
my first job.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson learned was that a deep distrust of
generalizations has been acquired, to last, I hope, the rest of life.
It is so easy, so comfortable, to make a statement of fact to cover
thousands of cases. Nowhere does the temptation seem to be greater
than in a discussion of labor. “Labor wants this and that!” “Labor
thinks thus and so!” “Labor does this and the other thing!” Thus
speaks the labor propagandist, feeling the thrill of solid millions
behind him; thus speaks the “capitalist,” feeling the antagonism of
solid millions against him.

And all this time, how many hearts really beat as one in the labor

Indeed, the situation would clear up with more rapidity if we went to
the other extreme and thought of labor always as thirty million
separate individuals. We would be nearer the truth than to consider
them as this one great like-minded mass, all yearning for the same
spiritual freedom; all eager for the downfall of capitalism.

What can one individual know of the hopes and desires of thirty
millions? Indeed, it is a rare situation where one person can speak
honestly and intelligently for one hundred others. Most of us know
precious little about ourselves. We understand still less concerning
anyone else. In a very general way, everyone in the nation wants the
same things. That is a good point to remember, for those who would
exaggerate group distinctions. In a particular way, no two people
function exactly alike, have the same ambitions, same capacities.

There is, indeed, no great like-minded mass of laborers. Instead we
have millions of workers split into countless small groups, whose
group interests in the great majority of cases loom larger on the
horizon than any hold the labor movement, as such, might have on them.
Such interests, for instance, as family, nationality, religion,
politics. Besides, there is the division which sex interests and
rivalries make—the conflict, too, between youth and age.

Yet for the sake of a working efficiency we must do a minimum of
classifying. Thirty million is too large a number to handle
separately. There seems to be a justification for a division of labor,
industrially considered, into three groups, realizing the division is
a very loose one:

     1. Labor or class-conscious group.
     2. Industrially conscious group.
     3. Industrially nonconscious group.

The great problem of the immediate future is to get groups 1 and 3
into Group 2. The more idealistic problem of the more distant future
is to turn a great industrially conscious group into a socially
conscious group.

       *       *       *       *       *

By the first group, the labor or class-conscious group, is meant the
members of the American Federation of Labor, Industrial Workers of the
World, four railroad Brotherhoods, Amalgamated Clothing Workers,
socialist and communist organizations—workers whose affiliations with
certain bodies tend to make them ultraconscious of the fact that they
are wage workers and against the capitalist system. Class antagonism
is fostered. There is much use of the word “exploited.” In their press
and on their platforms such expressions are emphasized as “profits for
the lazy who exploit the workers.” Everything possible is done to
paint labor white, the employer black, forgetting that no side has the
monopoly in any shade.

To those who from sympathy or antagonism would picture at least
organized labor as like-minded, it must be pointed out that for the
great part the several millions represented by Group 1 are perhaps
more often warring in their aims and desires than acting as one. Never
have they acted as one. Organized labor represents but a fraction of
labor as a whole. Some more or less spectacular action on the part of
capital against labor always tends to solidify the organized workers.
They are potentially like-minded in specific instances. Otherwise the
interests of the carpenters' union tends to overshadow the interests
of the A. F. of L. as a whole; the interests of the A. F. of L. tend
most decidedly to overshadow the interests of organized labor as a
whole. Socialists bark at communists. Charges of capitalist tendencies
are made against the four Brotherhoods. The women's unions feel
legislated against in the affairs of labor. Indeed, only utter
stupidity on the part of capital ever could weld organized labor into
enough solidarity to get society or anyone else agitated for long.
Much of the “open shop” fight borders on such stupidity.

Group 2 is at present but an infinitesimal fraction of labor. It
comprises those workers whose background has been fortunate enough, as
to both heredity and environment, to allow of their main industrial
interests centering around the doing of their particular job well for
the sake of their industry as a whole, to which a sentiment of loyalty
has been aroused and held. There is no feeling of class antagonism, no
assurance that the interests of labor are forever inimical to those of
the employer, and _vice versa_. Where such an attitude exists on the
part of workers it presupposes an employer of unusual breadth of
understanding or a deep love for his fellow-man. As co-operation in
industry can be shown to pay socially and financially, so may this
type of employer come more and more to supersede the old-fashioned

Group 3, the industrially nonconscious workers, includes the great
majority of labor in the United States. Under this heading come all
those who for reasons connected with the type of industry engaged in,
or because of individual or sex characteristics, remain apart from any
so-called labor movement. Practically all women fall under this head,
most of the foreign labor population, most of unskilled labor. Many
members of labor organizations technically belonging in Group 1 really
fall under Group 3. The great majority of American labor undoubtedly
are not class or group conscious in the sense that they feel
themselves as workers pitted against a capitalist class.
Temperamentally, intellectually, the doctrines of Karl Marx are not
for them. They never heard of Karl Marx. They get up and go to work in
the morning. During the day they dub away at something or other,
whatever it may be—the chances are it changes rather often—putting
no more effort into the day's work than is necessary to hold down an
uninteresting job. They want their pay at the end of the week. Many
have not the minimum intellectual capacity necessary to do a piece of
work properly. Many more have not the minimum physical capacity
required for even routine tasks. Very many, indeed, are nervous

Yet a goodly number in Group 3 represent a high type of worker to whom
the doctrine of class warfare is repugnant, and yet whose industrial
experience has never resulted in making them industrially conscious.
They feel no particular call to show more than average interest in
their job.

Peace, efficiency, production in industry, can come only as Group 2
increases. To recruit from Group 1 will always be difficult. Once
labor feels itself hostile to the employer and his interests, which is
another way of saying, once the employing group by its tactics
succeeds in making labor conclude that “the working class and the
employing class have nothing in common,” the building up of a spirit
of co-operation is difficult indeed. Class consciousness is poor soil
in which to plant any seeds of industrial enthusiasm.

Would you, then, asks a dismayed unionist, build up your so-called
industrially conscious group at the expense of organized labor? The
answer is a purely pragmatic one, based on the condition of things as
they are, not as idealists would have them. Rightly or wrongly, the
American employing group long ago decided that the organized-labor
movement was harmful to American industry. The fact that the labor
movement was born of the necessity of the workers, and in the main
always flourished because of the continued need of the workers, was
never taken into account. Every conceivable argument was and is used
against organized labor. Many of those arguments are based on half
truths; or no truths at all. The fact remains that probably the
majority of the American public believes the organized-labor movement
to be against our social, civic, and industrial welfare. However
right or wrong such a deduction is, it is safe to say that for the
great part those who hold that belief do so in absolute good faith.

The result is that the American labor movement has developed ever in
an atmosphere so hostile that the effect on the growth of the movement
has been that which hostile environment always exerts on any growing
thing. It has warped the movement. It has emphasized everything
hostile within the movement itself. No wonder a fighting spirit has
ever been in evidence. No wonder only the fighting type of labor
leader has emerged. The movement has had little or no opportunity for
construction. Always the struggle for existence itself has been
uppermost. No wonder the conclusion can justly be drawn that the
American labor movement has not always played a highly productive role
in American industry.

It has been everybody's fault, if we are searching for a resting place
for the blame of it all. Which gets us no place.

The point is, looked at without the tinted glasses of either capital
or labor, that the psychology of the American employer for the past,
assuredly the present, and at least the near future, has been, and is,
and will be, so inimical to organized labor that the movement would
not be allowed to function as a constructive industrial force. Too
much of its energies must go to fighting. At the same time, too much
of the energies of the employer go to fighting it. The public pays
the price, and it is enormous. The spiritual cost of bitterness of
spirit far outweighs any monetary loss to industry, tremendous as that

Why is not the present, then, a wise time in which to encourage an
alternative movement, one that has not the effect of a red rag to a
bull? Labor can shout its loudest; the fact remains that in this
country labor is very far from controlling the industrial situation.
Therefore, the employer must still be taken into account in any
program of industrial reform. That being so, it might be saner to try
some scheme the employer will at least listen to than stubbornly
continue to fight the issue out along the old lines of organized labor
alone, at the very mention of which the average employer grows red in
the face.

It is not, indeed, that we would do away with the organized-labor
movement, if we could. The condition is far too precarious for that.
Labor too often needs the support of unionism to keep from being
crushed. The individual too often needs the educational influence
organization exerts. Organized labor, despite the handicaps within and
without, has too much of construction to its credit. The point is,
further growth in the organized-labor movement, considering the
development forced upon the movement by its own past and the ever
antagonistic attitude of business, will not, for the present and
immediate future, necessarily spell peace, efficiency, production.
Rather, continued, if not increased, bitterness.

What is the development, at least for the present and immediate
future, which will improve the situation?

The first move—and by that we mean the thing to start doing
_to-day_—is to begin converting the non-industrially conscious group
into the industrially conscious group. Group 3 is peaceful—they call
no attention to themselves by any unrest or demands or threats. But
they are not efficient or productive, the reason being that they have
not enough interest in their jobs, or in many cases are not physically
or mentally competent. Theirs are sins of omission, not commission.

The process of this conversion means many things. It means first and
foremost an understanding of human nature; a realization that the
great shortcoming of industry has been that it held, as organized, too
little opportunity for a normal outlet to the normal and more or less
pressing interests and desires of human beings.

It worked in a vicious circle. The average job gave the worker little
or no chance to show any initiative, to feel any sense of ownership or
responsibility, to use such intellect and enthusiasm as he possessed.
The attitude of the average employer built up no spirit of loyalty or
co-operation between management and men. Hence these very human
tendencies, compelling expression in a normal personality, became
atrophied, as far as the job was concerned, and sought such
functioning as a discouraging environment left them capable of in
fields outside of industry—in many cases, within the labor movement
itself. The less capacity the job called out, the more incapable the
worker became. Tendencies inherent in human nature, whose expressions
all these years could have been enriching the individual and industry,
and therefore the nation as a whole, have been balked entirely, or
shunted off to find expression often in antisocial outlets. In some
cases the loss to industry was small, since the individual capacities
at best were small. In other cases the loss was great indeed. In every
case, encouragement of the use of capacities increases the
possibilities of those capacities.

The first step in this process of conversion then is to reorganize the
relationship between management and men so that as many outlets as
possible within industry can be found for those human expressions
whose functioning will enrich the individual and industry. Which means
that little by little the workers must share in industrial
responsibilities. The job itself, with every conceivable invention for
calling out the creative impulse, can never, under the machine
process, enlist sufficient enthusiasm for sustained interest and
loyalty on the part of the worker. He must come to have a word in
management, in determining the conditions under which he labors five
and a half to seven days a week.

It is a nice point here. The parlor Bolshevik pictures all labor eager
and anxious and capable of actually controlling industry. The fact of
the matter is that most individuals from any and every walk of life
prefer to sidestep responsibility. Yet everyone does better under
some. Too much may have a more disastrous effect than not enough—to
the individual as well as industry. Here again is where there must be
caution in generalizing. Each employer has a problem of his own. Nor
can the exact amount of responsibility necessary to call out maximum
efficiency and enthusiasm ever be determined in advance.

I have talked to numerous employers whose experience has been the
same. At first their employees showed no desire for any added
responsibility whatever. Had there not been the conviction that they
were on the right track, the whole scheme of sharing management with
the workers would have been abandoned. Little by little, however,
latent abilities were drawn out; as more responsibilities were
intrusted to the workers, their capacities for carrying the
responsibilities increased. In two cases that I know of personally,
the employees actually control the management of their respective
companies. In both these companies the employers announced that their
businesses were making more money than under one-sided management.

On the whole, this development of the partnership idea in industry is
a matter of the necessary intellectual conviction that the idea is
sound—whether that conviction be arrived at _via_ ethics or “solid
business judgment”—to be followed by the technical expert who knows
how to put the idea into practice. That he will know only after
careful study of each individual plant as a situation peculiar unto
itself. He is a physician, diagnosing a case of industrial anæmia. As
in medicine, so industry has its quacks—experts who prescribe pink
pills for pale industries, the administration of which may be attended
with a brief show of energy and improvement, only to relapse into the
old pallor. As between a half-baked “expert” and an “ignorant”
employer whose heart is in the right place—take the employer. If he
sincerely feels that long enough has he gone on the principle, “I'll
run my business as I see fit and take suggestions from no one”; if it
has suddenly come over him that, after all, the employee is in most
ways but another like himself, and that all this time that employee
might be laboring under the notion, often more unconscious than
conscious, that he would “like to run his job as he saw fit and take
suggestions from no one”; if, then, that employer calls his men
together and says, “let's run the business as we all together see fit
and take suggestions from one another”—then is that employer and that
business on the road to industrial peace, efficiency, and production,
expert or no expert. The road is uphill, the going often rough and
discouraging, but more often than not the load of management becomes
lighter, easing overburdened muscles; the load of labor in a sense
heavier, yet along with the added weight, as they warm to the task
there develops a sense that they are trusted, are necessary to the
success of the march, that they now are men, doing man-sized work.
Perhaps in only a minimum of cases will the load ever be divided
“fifty-fifty.” Too soon would the workers tire of their added burden,
too few could carry the added weight. The fact remains that with
management carrying the whole load, the march is going very badly
indeed on the whole. At times the procession scarcely seems to move.
There can surely be no harm in the employing end shifting a bit of the
burden. A bit cannot wreck either side. Managerial shoulders may feel
more comfortable under the decreased weight and try another shift.

In recruiting Group 2 from Group 3, it is the employer, on the whole,
who must take the initiative. Labor may show no desire to help
shoulder the burden. Yet they must shoulder some of it to amount to
anything themselves, if for no other reason. It may take actual
pushing and shoving at first to get them on their way.

Recruiting from Group 1 is a different matter. There sometimes are
workers who would grab most of the load at the start—or all of it.
Their capacities are untried, the road and its twistings and turnings
is unknown to them. Each side has been throwing stones at the other,
tripping each other up. There is a hostile spirit to begin with, a
spirit of distrust between management and men. Here then is a more
difficult problem. It is more than a matter of shifting the load a
bit; it is a matter of changing the spirit as well. That takes much
patience, much tact. It is not a case of the employer making all the
overtures. Each side is guilty of creating cause for suspicion and
distrust. Each side has to experience a change of heart. It is one
thing to convince a previously unthinking person; it is another to
bring about a change of heart in one frankly antagonistic. Making
industrially enthusiastic workers out of class and labor-conscious
workers will indeed be a task requiring determination, tact, patience
without end, and wisdom of many sorts—on both sides. Some one has to
sell the idea of co-operation to labor as well as to the employer. And
then know the job is only begun. But the biggest start is made when
the atmosphere is cleared so that the partnership idea itself can take
root. Some on both sides never will be converted.

What about the great body of workers unfit physically, mentally,
nervously, to carry any additional load at all? Here is a field for
the expert. Yet here is a field where society as a whole must play a
part. Most of the physical, mental, nervous harm is done before ever
the individual reaches industry. Indeed, at most, industry is but one
influence out of many playing on the lives of the human beings who
labor. Nor can it ever be studied as a sphere entirely apart. Much is
aggravated by conditions over which industry itself has no direct
control. Health centers, civic hygienic measures of all sorts, are of
great importance. A widespread education in the need of healthy and
spiritually constructive influences during the first ten years of
life, if we are to have healthy, wholesome, and capable adults, must
gain headway. Saner preparation for life as a whole must take the
place of the lingering emphasis on the pedagogical orthodoxy still
holding sway.

While industry is not responsible for many conditions which make
subnormal workers, industry cannot evade the issue or shift the burden
if it desires peace, efficiency, production. These goals cannot be
obtained on any basis other than the welfare of the workers. No matter
how sane is welfare work within the plant, there must develop a
growing interest and understanding in “off the plant” work. The job is
blamed for much. Yet often the worker's relation to the job is but the
reflection of the conditions he left to go to work in the morning, the
conditions he returns to after the day's work is done. There again is
a vicious circle. The more unfortunate the conditions of a man's home
life—we do not refer to the material side alone—the less efficiently
he is apt to work during the day. The less efficiently he works during
the day, the less competent he will be to better his home conditions.

When men expressed themselves in their particular handicraft they
found much of their joy in life in their work. One of the by-products
of large-scale industry and the accompanying subdivision of labor has
been the worker's inevitable lack of interest in the monotonous job.
Since too long hours spent at mechanical, repetitious labor result in
a lowered standard of efficiency, and rebellion on the part of the
worker, there has followed a continual tendency toward a reduction in
the length of the working day. The fewer hours spent on the job, the
greater the opportunity conditions outside industry proper have to
exert their influence on character formation. With the shorter working
day there develop more pressing reasons than ever for the emphasis on
off-the-plant activities, and wholesome home and civic conditions. All
these together, and not industry alone, make the worker.

The growth of the spirit and fruit of industrial democracy will not
bring any millennium. It will merely make a somewhat better world to
live in here and now. The dreamers of us forget that in the long run
the world can move only so far and so fast as human nature allows for,
and few of us evaluate human nature correctly. The six industrial
experiences in this book have made me feel that the heart of the world
is even warmer than I had thought—folk high and low are indeed
readier to love than to hate, to help than to hinder. But on the whole
our circles of understanding and interest are bounded by what our own
eyes see and our own ears hear. The problems of industry are
enormously aggravated by the fact that the numbers of individuals
concerned even in particular plants, mills, mines, factories, stretch
the capacities of human management too often beyond the possibilities
of human understanding and sympathy. More or less artificial machinery
must be set up to bring management and men in contact with each other
to the point where the problems confronting each side are within
eyesight and earshot of the other. Up to date it has been as
impossible for labor to understand the difficulties of management as
for management to understand the difficulties of labor. Neither side
ever got within shouting distance of the other—except, indeed, to
shout abuse! Many a strike would have been averted had the employer
been willing to let his workers know just what the conditions were
which he had to face; or had the workers in other instances shown any
desire to take those conditions into account.

For, when all is said and done, the real solution of our industrial
difficulties lies not in expert machinery, however perfect, for the
adjustment or avoidance of troubles. “Industrial peace must come not
as a result of the balance of power with a supreme court of appeal in
the background. It must arise as the inevitable by-product of mutual
confidence, real justice, constructive good will.”[3]

    [Footnote 3: From Constitution of Industrial Council for the
    Building Industry, England.]

Any improved industrial condition in the future must take as its
foundation the past one hundred years of American industry. The fact
that this foundation was not built of mutual confidence, real justice,
constructive good will is what makes the task of necessary
reconstruction so extremely difficult. Countless persons might be
capable of devising the mechanical approach to peace and
prosperity—courts of arbitration, boards of representation, and the
like. But how bring about a change of heart in the breast of millions?

It is a task so colossal that one would indeed prefer to lean heavily
on the shoulders of an all-wise Providence and let it go with the
consoling assurance that, as to a solution, “the Lord will provide.”
But the echoes of recriminations shouted by each side against the
other; the cries of foul play; the accusations of willful injustice;
the threats of complete annihilation of capital by organized labor, of
organized labor by capital—must reach to heaven itself, and
Providence might well pause in dismay. Constructive good will? Where
make a beginning?

The beginnings, however, are being made right on earth, and here and
now. It is a mistake to look for spectacular changes, reforms on a
large scale. Rather do the tendencies toward mutual understanding and
this all-necessary good will evince themselves only here and there, in
quiet experiments going on in individual plants and factories. The
seed will bear fruit but slowly. But the seed is planted.

Planted? Nay, the seed has been there forever, nor have the harshest
developments in the most bloodless of industries ever been able to
crush it out. It is part and parcel of human nature that we can love
more easily and comfortably than hate, that we can help more readily
than hinder. Flourishing broadcast through all human creation is
enough good will to revolutionize the world in a decade. It is not the
lack of good will. Rather the channels for its expression are
blocked—blocked by the haste and worry of modern life, by the
multiplicity of material possessions which so frequently choke our
sympathies; by the cruelties of competition, too often run to the
extremes of crushing out inborn human kindness. And most of all,
blocked by ignorance and misunderstanding of our fellow-beings.

It is a sound business deduction that the greatest stumbling blocks in
the difficulties between labor and capital to-day resolve themselves
down to just that lack of understanding of our fellow-beings. Yet
without that understanding, how build up a spirit of mutual
confidence, real justice, constructive good will? On what other
foundation can a saner industrialism be built?

The place to make the beginning is in each individual shop and
business and industry. The spark to start the blaze in each human
heart, be it beating on the side of capital or on that of labor, is
the sudden revelation that every worker is far more the exact
counterpart of his employer in the desires of his body and soul than
otherwise; that the employer is no other than the worker in body and
soul, except that his scope and range of problems to be met are on a
different level. True it is that we are all far more “sisters and
brothers under the skin” than strangers.

No sane person is looking for a perfect industrialism, is watching for
the day when brotherly love will be the motive of all human conduct.
But it is within the bounds of sanity to work toward an increase in
understanding between the human factors in industry; it is justifiable
to expect improved industrial conditions, once increased understanding
is brought about. Industry needs experts in scientific management, in
mental hygiene, in cost accounting—in fields innumerable. But what
industry needs more than anything else—more, indeed, than all the
reformers—are translators—translators of human beings to one
another. “Reforms” will follow of themselves.

                                THE END

                      _Books of Art and Artcraft_


Vol. I—Ancient Art

_Translated from the French by Walter Pach_

No History of Art fills the place of this one. First, it shows art to
be the expression of the race, not an individual expression of the
artist. Second, it reverses the usual process of art history—it tells
_why_, not _how_, man constructs works of art. Nearly 200 unusual and
beautiful illustrations selected by the author.


A history of embroidery in America, from the quill and beadwork of the
American Indians and the samplers of Colonial days, to the achievement
of the present. _Thirty-two pages of illustrations_—some in full
color—correlate perfectly with the text and furnish examples for the
student or general reader. A book to delight the collector and to be a
complete, authentic guide, historically and as to methods, for the art
student, the designer, and the practical worker.


The Boston _Herald_ writes: “It is a monumental work, of living
interest alike to the erudite devotee of the arts and to the person
who simply enjoys, in books or his travels, the wonderful and
beautiful things that have come from the hand of man.... In a
particularly happy fashion, Miss O'Reilly has told the story of the
French cathedrals against a human background—of the great men and
women of the time.” _With 31 illustrations in tint._

                  _Life Stories of Famous Americans_


Mr. Paine gave six years to the writing of this famous life history,
traveling half way round the world to follow in the footsteps of his
subject; during four years of the time he lived in daily association
with Mark Twain, visited all the places and interviewed every one who
could shed any light upon his subject.


The authors are men both close to Edison. One of them is his counsel,
and practically shares his daily life; the other is one of his leading
electrical experts. It is the personal story of Edison and has been
read and revised by Edison himself.


A fascinating story of one of the most prominent and best liked men in
American political history of our times, which will appeal to persons
of all shades of political belief. The book is not only interesting,
but highly important as a permanent record of our generation.


The story of America's first and foremost cartoonist; the man who
originated all the symbols; whose pictures elected presidents and
broke up the _Tweed ring_. More than four hundred reproductions of
Nast's choicest work.

                           HARPER & BROTHERS
                       FRANKLIN SQUARE   NEW YORK

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