In Their Own Eyes
Diary of a Shirtwaist Striker: December
by Theresa Serber Malakiel
People say that a new month is sure to bring new luck with it, but I fail to see it in our case. The fight is now worse than ever; though many of the bosses have settled there are still so many strikers that one imagines they grow over night.
As the days go by the girls suffer more and more. During the tedious picket duty they get frozen, catch colds, go without food until they're nothing but shadows of their former selves--it's real disheartening.
When I got down to the headquarters this morning I had to go and help out at the information bureau. Lord! complaints were coming in faster than I could put them down.
"A ruffian tore my coat and broke my glasses," cried a girl
at the top of her voice. "I haven't another coat and can't make a
step without the glasses."
"I got no more hair," complained a third one. "Tim that works by Cohen, he pulls them all out of me."
"Ach Got, mein Got!" pleaded a stooping man with a long, unkempt beard streaked with gray. "Mine children, they hungry. I want one job."
It almost broke my heart to listen to his plea. I think it's a shame that a man of his age should have to work and go out on strike. But it seemed rather strange--the man knew his children were hungry and that he could get work if he wouldn't be so scrupulous and become a scab. But I really admire him more than blame him.
"I'm that mad I can't see straight!" assured me a girl of about sixteen. "I stay out until 4 o'clock this morning in the night court--close to a lot of drunken bums and street women. I know the judge; he do it for spite; he just loves us poor people. And when I got home my ma gave me terrible scolding; she didn't believe I was in court. She thinks I was fooling around somewhere."
I was dreadfully excited by that girl's story. One could scarcely believe that men with families of their own would be so deaf to all sense of justice. Who could blame this young girl if she would go wrong?
"Hey, children, children, I say nothin'," murmured an old, toothless woman, her wrinkled face propped up with both hands. "I make $5 one week to keep myself and my two childs. The girls in my shop they go on strike. I no stay one scab. But it's bad; my children they no eat nothin' today."
Five dollars a week for three people! How is it possible? What sort of a life must they lead? I must admit that I'm beaten. I've always thought that I was bad off--but Lord! we live in perfect bliss in comparison to this woman and many others like her. I'm just beginning to find out what real misery means. It's simply dreadful--dreadful is hardly strong enough a word for it. And people wonder why we are out striking! The only thing that takes me is the bravery of the girls--one would think that this sort of life ought to crush every bit of energy in them, but it doesn't look it. I guess their energy thrives on suffering; it seems to grow with it.
Why! this one day at the information bureau broke me up completely, I could almost write a whole book from the tales I heard and sights I saw there. I felt like dazed on going home and when I got there I found Jim waiting for me. I forgot all about that this was Wednesday night--beau's night. Jim thought it wasn't proper for me to stay down town so late, that the day was long enough for this tomfoolery and that I'm getting to be as lawless as one of them darn anarchists. Just for the fun of it I'd like to meet one of them and see if they're really as black as they're painted. For it seems that Jim can't find anything worse to compare me with. And yet--I doubt if he knows what an anarchist is like--it can't be that he does, or he wouldn't call us girls anarchists. If the people at large weren't worse than us girls it would, perhaps, be easier to live in this cold, merciless world.
And it wasn't all in words, either, my falling out with Jim, for there were others around; it's our looks that told more than the words.
I was so tired last night that I left the sitting room before Jim was gone and this morning Ma informed me that they had talked it all over--that is, Jim and Pa, for Ma ain't got much to say when Pa's around.
Funny--they've decided my fate for me. I'm to quit going down town, Jim to try and rush things up for our marriage and Pa'll manage to keep me in clothes for the time being, until Jim'll take me off his hands.
And they are considered sensible men! What did they think? I was their baggage, perhaps. It must be so, or they could never have thought that they had a right to dispose of me at their own sweet will. I wonder if they thought of keeping me under lock and key or permit me at large?
To think of it--just because I happened to be born a woman! Well, what of it? Ain't I of the same flesh and bone as a man? I, too, was carried under a mother's heart. And since I was born I've suffered from almost the same diseases and was healed by exactly the same medicines. I walk under the same sky and tread the same earth as men do. I, too, have senses, moods and reasons, am old enough to judge for myself; but they didn't seem to think so. Well, I must say--they've made the mistake of their life if they think that I'll abide by their resolution.
Of course, even while Ma was telling me all about last night's conference
I was getting ready to go down town. But I couldn't help thinking of it
until I got to the meeting rooms. Here they're talking of my marriage
to Jim when I'm just commencing to think that we don't even know each
other well enough. That is, I've come to think so of late, for it seems
to me that he ain't the Jim I took him for. I disagree more and more with
him and am shocked at times at his ignorance of things that concern everyday
life. And what is even worse than
Well, this was certainly the day for feeling blue--it poured cats and dogs, as if nature itself was sympathizing with me. But I forgot myself as soon as I came face to face with the bigger sorrow. And I don't see how anybody can look into the gulf on the brink of which our girls are standing without feeling a pang of keenest grief, without a desire to do something only to make their lot easier.
Poor devils! their worn clothes and torn shoes were just soaked by the peltering rain. To tell the truth, we were all a sorry sight to look at--the dirty water pouring from the hats down upon the face and neck. But even then I couldn't help laughing at Annie's beaver hat; it looked too funny for anything--all shriveled up and out of shape. This lasted only a moment for I bethought myself that it is the only hat she has and may not be able to buy another this winter.
I think that even the cops pitied us this morning, while some old gentleman offered to buy us rubbers. The girls refused his offer, but I've been wondering whether he really meant it out of the goodness of his heart or was it some new scheme to trap us girls.
Everybody tried to make love to the little coal stove when we got back to the meeting rooms. But I wouldn't be a bit surprised if many of the girls will be laid up with sore throats by tomorrow. It is terrible; they go down like flies. There's scarcely a shop but has a number of girls sick in bed. This makes it so much harder for those who are still up. Poor Ray, her teeth were just rattling when she got back this afternoon; even the cup of hot water we gave her didn't help much. She ain't fit to work or strike, either. It's a sanitarium and good care that she needs, but where is she to get it, and what will the others do without her?
How is it that people walk around with their eyes open and yet don't seem to see all these things?
Well, well, this was one of the busy days. Have been on the go since early in the morning. But I don't mind it a bit; we've had one of the finest parades I ever saw. We went to the Mayor's office, but--to tell the truth--it wasn't so much for what the Mayor may do for us as to let the people see for themselves of whom this strike is made up--mostly children more fit for the school room than the shop. But these very children have to work good and hard, and for starvation wages at that.
But to come back to the parade--we, that is, mostly the League women, thought of it first yesterday about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. But it didn't matter, these people act instead of talking. Half-past 4 Ida and I were down at the Commissioner's office and got our permit. From there we rode over to a painter's and ordered the placards delivered at the theater at noon today. Then we rushed down to a couple of newspapers and got them to put in the announcement. From there we went to the headquarters, notified the people and appointed some of our committees. By this time it was getting pretty late, so we went home and early this morning a half dozen of us started out to make the round among the different meeting halls, urging the girls to be on hand for the parade.
When I got back to my shop meeting I just had enough time to eat a pretzel and a piece of chocolate--had to rush off to the theater where the parade was to start. It just made my hair stand up on my head when the girls came forward and told about some of the abuses they had suffered at the hands of the police. I believe the bosses must pay a big booty to these cops. It did my heart good when the speaker up to the theater turned to the police present and said: "Why don't you go out and fight rascals of your own size instead of these little girls; there're plenty of them in this big city."
I'm inclined to believe that the cops must have tough shoe leather instead of hearts in their body, or they could never be as brutal as they are now. What security have they that their own daughters would not have to work for a living some day? I think it's perfectly true what the speaker said--it's nothing but poor wages that drives a girl on the street. Imagine some of them making $3 and $4 a week and nobody to help them out in dull season. But our girls are as good as gold. I could almost vouch for every one of them.
The meeting didn't last long. About half-past 1 there were ten thousand girls in line ready to tell the boss of the City Hall and the rest of us that they're willing to work, provided they are paid enough to make an honest living and that if he is true to his oath he ought to put a stop to the antics of all those hoodlums that abuse us girls on every step.
It's strange what silly notions some of us would have--I remember once long ago we watched a number of women taking part in a labor day parade. Well, we thought it the funniest thing out and called after them "Coxey's Army!" and many other things. But you never can tell what changes may come over us--here I was, a real born American, marching in broad daylight through the Bowery, a big sign in hand and as proud as I could be, for I was on my way to stand up for my rights, and didn't our forefathers stand up for theirs! They not only marched through the Bowery, but fought on it.
I can imagine, though, what Jim would have to say if he saw me in that crowd and heard some of the remarks that the people on the sidewalks passed about us. As if anybody cares! Let them laugh--he laughs best who laughs last, and the end hasn't come yet; these people are bound to wake up some day, even as I did during this strike.
Of course, it was just as I thought it would be--the Mayor accepted our committee, listened to its tale of woe, shook his head and promised to look into the matter. I guess he is as bad as the cops--for they wouldn't dare to act the way they do if they weren't aware that he approves of it. It was funny to see the few men among us, but I give them credit for coming out; they were braver than the cowards who remained at the meeting halls.
People told me that it was the most dignified parade that had ever passed in that neighborhood.
These are days of excitement--yesterday the parade, tomorrow the Hippodrome meeting. I wonder what next. The girls were just wild about tomorrow's affair; you could hear them talk of nothing else but Mrs. Belmont; they've even forgot their own troubles for a while. It is rather strange, her offering to pay for the big place. I wonder what made her do it? She must surely be better than the rest of her kind if she is willing to spend her money to help us girls rather than give a monkey dinner or buy a couple of new pet dogs.
But then, why shouldn't she? She's got plenty of money. And to think how much the papers make of her. I think that she and the rest of her kind ought to be thankful to us girls for giving them a chance to do a good deed. I know I felt fine when I spent my last quarter for the Bloom kids, and Mrs. Belmont doesn't have to give her last, I am sure.
In a way I think it's really a shame that the very rich get so much free advertising while little Violet and many others like her, who are really sacrificing themselves to help us out, shouldn't be mentioned at all, except when they are arrested and taken to jail.
Stopped on the square this afternoon and listened to them that talks votes for women. It's all very true. I also say that a woman is every bit as good as a man and should have the same rights with him. But us girls have something else to think of just now. We must see to it that we win the strike for bread and then we can start one for the ballot.
As I was leaving the square I met a girl going to the headquarters; her face was all swollen, one of her teeth knocked out, her clothes in tatters and she running around since early this morning unable to find a policeman willing to arrest the brute who beat her so terribly. I wonder if this is what our good Mayor is doing for us?
As I said, we have our hands full just at present--a number of girls went back on us. The fools got scared because Hayman told them that he'd rather go out of business than give in to us girls. I don't believe a word he says--what else would he do if not be in business unless he turned dog catcher? But it wouldn't pay as well as the waist making business does.
The pity of it is that us working people don't really realize what a power we are. I fully agree with that speaker who said that in spite of all their money our bosses couldn't get along without us working people. For if they had even a hundred times as many machines, and the whole world built of factories, they couldn't deliver a single order unless the working people chose to make them up.
But how are the girls to know all these things? I'm sure not by sitting day in and day out at the machine, rushing, pushing and hustling all in order to make another couple of cents. And one can't blame them for doing it; it's precious little they make, even at that.
The Lord knows that they're near enough to starvation. The worst part of it is that very few can realize what it means to lead a life like the most of our girls are leading. For somehow it seems to me that if the people would really know the true state of affairs, if they could be brought to realize that the girls have ventured out on this strike because they can't stand it any longer, they wouldn't remain quietly at their comfortable homes while thousands of girls are being driven to the dogs.
The papers say that Mrs. Belmont is worth millions; that each of her hats and suits is worth hundreds of dollars. If this be true and if she is affected by the girls' sufferings, why doesn't she try to do something more for us. If she really feels about it the way I do why don't she come down among us, feed the hungry and warm the cold? I didn't see her even once and I don't believe any of the girls did. Perhaps she thinks she's too high-toned to come down here. Well, then, she can just stay where she is, and us girls will try to fight our own battles. I'm anxious to have a look at her tomorrow.
Lord! I never saw anything like it in my life--that Hippodrome meeting. The place was so crowded that I had trouble in getting in, though I did come rather early. But once I was in it was worth all the trouble of getting there. It did my heart good to see how happy every one of our girls looked. There, more than in any other place, I felt the kinship between all the girls and myself. It seemed to me that their joy was my joy, their sorrow my own. It seemed as if I had grown a pair of wings that lifted me nearer to heaven. I sang and laughed, and was happy like all the rest of them. For I felt as though I had been born anew and became a power. I knew that if I should happen to be hurt or abused all these thousands of men and women would stretch out their hands to lift me out of danger.
It is really a wonderful feeling that comes over one when a body finds itself surrounded by thousands of people all assembled for the same purpose, breathing the same hopes and thinking the same thoughts--it's like an immense giant born for the purpose of doing justice to all.
I think the speaker must have felt the same way when she said that one person in himself is something like a lone tree planted in a desert. It is bound to wither and die under the steady burning of the hot sun and the heavy gales of wind. But all the people united together are like a great shady forest where every tree, small or large, is protected by all the others, so that all have their chance to grow and prosper. Yes, when I come to think of it I realize that one person by himself, no matter how rich or clever he may be, can't exist very long, unless he is helped and protected by everybody else.
It is strange, that I've lived for over twenty years, gone through school and Sunday school and never gave it a thought until today. I'm beginning to think that this strike is the best thing that could have happened to me, though it may cost me Jim's love.
He was with me at the meeting and said that I've surely gone crazy, the way I behaved down there. I believe he was touched to the quick by the votes for women speaker--she said that woman, married or unmarried, has as much right to live and enjoy life as any man. That the women are foolish to permit themselves to be ruled and patronized by men.
"I can see my finish," snapped Jim at me when we left the place. "I guess I'll have to quit if you continue to keep company with these loons."
And mighty sane loons they are at that. I wonder if Jim ever heard a talk that had more common sense in it than he did this afternoon at the Hippodrome. But as the saying goes, none are so deaf as those that will not hear. He thought he'll scare me by his warning. A lot I care! What is my little trouble compared with the suffering of the great big forest of people?
I was anxious to see Mrs. Belmont, but the meeting proved so interesting that I forgot all about her. To tell the truth--I ain't got much use for these rich, especially since I've learned how miserable the poor are. Somehow I can't believe they are human--if they were they couldn't stand for all this misery.
The most of our girls had to walk both ways in order to save their car fare. Many came without dinner, but the collection baskets had more pennies than anything else in them--it was our girls themselves who helped to make it up, and yet there were so many rich women present. And I'm sure the speakers made it plain to them how badly the money is needed, then how comes it that out of the $300 collected there should be $70 in pennies?
I'm sorry I couldn't help with the collection. Jim wouldn't let me. I could have found out for myself just who gave the most. Make believe I wasn't furious at Jim, but what could I do? I wouldn't start a quarrel with him right there and then. But I'm afraid it's coming, this real quarrel is. All these little disagreements bode no good to either of us. We seem to be drifting apart daily. I often think it's a good thing that it all happened before we were married, for the Lord knows how it will all end.
Lord! my nerves are all on edge, but I'm glad that I read the law to her. The scab on the body, as a rule, comes from hunger and privation, but with Mame it is nothing but a case of sheer cussedness. She's just a mean, vile, paltry scab from scabby land!
Talk about the proud, independent American--I must admit I'm ashamed of my country-women; they're the worst scabs living. One can't really do a thing with them but beat it into their heads. Anybody that knows me knows that I ain't the kind to go in for a fist fight; in fact, I don't think I've every laid my hands on anybody before this, but I'm not a bit sorry for giving her that lesson; she needed it badly.
It seems almost incredible that she was my best friend once upon a time and that I was, in a way, as bad as she is today. And I'm mighty glad of the change; I wouldn't want to get back to her way of thinking for a fortune.
What set my blood a-boiling is the manner in which she commenced to yell as soon as Fanny and I came near her. This was a signal for that ruffian Ben to fall upon poor Fanny and pound her with all his might. And what could I do but lay it into Mame, even if she had been my friend? In love and in war everything, they say, is fair.
Fanny's face is black and blue, her eyes are all swollen, but she won't hear of complaining against that hoodlum, for fear that they may get after me then. No wonder that Christ had sacrificed himself for all mankind; it seems to run in the Jewish blood, this spirit of self-sacrifice. But somehow I have a premonition that they'll get me just the same. It wouldn't be like Mr. Hayman to let a thing like that slip by.
The way they stick to their union, or make believe they do! I only wish our girls would be as wise as all that, but they ain't; they carry their troubles on their sleeves. When we started to discuss the strike this morning, some of the girls, and even more so the men, were for giving up the fight and going back without the union. I think these men of ours would surely take the first prize in cowardice. To think that they don't lift a finger to help win the strike, but are ready on the job when there's any kicking to be done. I had occasion to know some of the white trash that lives in the South, and, honestly, as I watch these so-called men of ours I can't help calling them man-trash.
I was proud, though, of some of the girls and the fine arguments they've put up in favor of holding out. "What do we lose?" asked Minnie. "We've gone cold and hungry before this, and a little more or less won't matter. If we can afford to starve on the boss' account we can also afford to do it on our own; perhaps it will help in the long run; perhaps the sun will still shine even for us. I think we're entitled to a bit of it."
"If you had brains in your head instead of corn mush," admonished Ray, "you'd readily understand that if Mr. Hayman objects to having a union you ought to stick up for it. The bosses are smarter than us working people; they know that hundreds and thousands of girls and men bound together for the purpose of helping all are a terrible power, and, therefore, they are fighting this power and nothing else, but you people don't know your own strength; you're ready to cut your own throats. By urging us to give up the strike you're rushing to your doom. And all because you can't see farther than your nose, you're willingly shutting your eyes to the future."
"It's only lobsters that creep backward. People with common sense move on all the time. Lot's wife was changed into a mountain of salt for turning back, and you'll be sure to shed enough tears to make a salt lake," warned them Sarah.
"I ain't going back just the same," assured us Rose. "But Lord help those of you who do--we'll break every bone in your body."
So we argued and threatened and quarreled until we won--we ain't going back until we get a signed agreement. But who can foretell how it will all end? Hunger and want are pressing more and more upon the girls, their strength, too, is giving out, while the bosses are waging a more bitter fight than ever. But what's the use worrying?
I thought so--Mr. Hayman wasn't the kind to let things slip by--he went after me bright and early, as soon as I got near the shop. And now I'm a real striker--felt the grip of a policeman's hand, had a free ride in a patrol wagon, spent a few hours at the police station and was arraigned in court. One may imagine things, but not until you meet them face to face do you really know what they are like.
Not until I was placed in a real cell and the door shut behind me did I realize what it means to be a prisoner, to be deprived of freedom of action and speech. And yet--ain't we deprived of it every day of our lives, I mean us working girls? We go to the factory bright and early in the morning and after that until we leave we are practically prisoners, except that we don't know it and imagine that we are there of our own free will; but it ain't so, we are there because we must or we would starve.
This is, perhaps, one of the reasons that us girls don't mind the jail as much as other people do, for we're used to the filth and dirt and a good many other things. But what shocked me beyond words was the horrible behavior of the policemen. And they kept to protect us from harm!
"How late were you out last night?" asked one of them.
"Oh, I don't think she has caught him yet," chimed in another; "she's looking for a match right now."
"They are silly, these girls are," assured a third. "Where's the sense of their going on strike when a woman can earn plenty of money without working?"
It's sickening to repeat all the things they did say to us girls as we sat in our cells huddled in a corner, afraid to breathe or even look up, for their eyes were full of beastly poison.
I don't know what I looked like, but it was certainly a pity to watch the other girls--they were too scared for anything--on the one end the horrid policemen, on the other four drunken women. Every time the policemen said something nasty the women let out a shriek that could be heard two blocks away. Across the hall from us a man kept walking back and forth like a caged animal. The terrible look in his eyes made me think of the tigers in the park--it was enough to make anybody refrain from approaching him.
A good thing that the captain got word that another batch of strikers were coming and he had to make room for them, so he took our names, asked a whole lot of questions and gave us another free ride to the court house. And I was mighty glad at that--didn't have to go to the night court or tell anything about being a jailbird to the folks at home.
Now I always thought that a court house was a magnificent place where sits a grave, dignified judge, many clerks, stenographers and great lawyers. But what a sad disappointment--the place they brought us to wasn't much better than the station house. The judge looked as though he had been out on a spree. The lawyers--a lot of cheap guys that you see hanging around the corner saloons. And the audience--well, they beat it all! One could have made up a funny museum of them. And talk about cases--a husband charged with licking his wife; a German woman accused of pouring out the leavings upon her neighbor; a wife deserter, a pickpocket, a drunken woman, a sneak thief, a dozen or more strikers.
One couldn't really recall them all. What I'm wondering at is how Miss Elizabeth could stand it all--to be there day in and day out and she not striking, either, except against everything that's wrong.
I thought it rather silly when they made me swear that I'll tell the truth--everybody else swore to do it, but as far as I could judge, very few told the honest truth.
"Your honor," says I when my turn came. "I saw them fight with each other and I knew them all, so I stepped in and took them apart. I'm sure you would have done the same if you were there."
And he had to admit that he would, but it seemed so funny to him that he had to laugh right out. "Discharged," said he, "and try to keep out of my way."
Another wrinkle--a conference of all the arrested girls. I only wonder where they find names to all these different conferences, but, then, what is the difference? You learn something new every time.
But it really amounts to this: The League women saw at last there ain't no use sending committees to the Mayor, or telling our troubles to a policeman, so, to please the girls, they got us to tell our troubles to that good soul--Helen. Of course, we understand that she can't do much for us in that line, but if she'll only give us a few of her kind smiles it will make it easier to bear the burden. And of this we were pretty certain, for Helen has always a smile for us girls, even when her heart breaks from sorrow. It's my belief that the kind soul will go down to her grave with a smile on her lips.
And still and all, I was startled to see the room filled with girls,
each eager to tell her tale of woe, but it did my heart good to see their
temper of rebellion--every one of them was prepared to face the music
to the bitter end.
I just wondered this morning where the protectors of all these girls were hiding. It's on our own responsibility that our parents sent us out to hunt for a job, and get in and out of all sorts of traps--then what sort of a love can they have for us when they deny us the right to band together for mutual protection?
In a way, I think we girls are to blame for being so timid all along and now everybody got so used to it that they take it for granted--it must be so. But, I'm glad to say, we left off creeping, and if we can do this much at the first attempt we're sure to be able to stand on our feet before very long. Once your eyes are opened you can't help seeing and protesting against everything that's wrong. They might as well stop the incoming tide as stop a body from fighting for liberty to lead a decent life.
The judges and police make the mistake of their lives if they hope to stop us by keeping up this jail business--every new arrest makes a firm convert to the cause. The girls' sense of justice becomes sharpened by the fact that they are persecuted for telling the truth. Helen tried to assure us that they'll impeach the judges--I'd like to know who'll be brave enough to do it. But anything is good, so long as it quiets the girls.
Some of the League women rushed off in a hurry, they said, to hold a conference with the bosses. I do hope they'll come to some understanding this time, for this strike is just killing many of the girls. But some of them labor leaders needn't think that they can bunco us into any tom fool settlement, for we won't stand for it. Us girls have come to realize that the welfare of one means the welfare of all, and this is likewise true about the hardships. Annie and Rosie don't amount to anything as long as they remain only hands and stand up each one for herself and let the devil take the hindmost.
But there are a few sleek go-betweens, smooth-tongued spiders I'd call them, and it's them that's trying hard to entangle us girls into a net. One of them mistook me for somebody else this morning and said more than he would have had he known I was a striker. That's how I came to know that they would like the League women to sign an agreement with the bosses and declare the strike off without consulting us girls about it. I listened quietly to all he had to say and never said a word to contradict him--it's good to keep your views to yourself once in a while and somebody else's, too, for future reference.
I tell you, life seems to be made up of surprises, and I certainly had one this afternoon when I went down to a meeting at the Thalia Theater arranged by those Socialists. I heard of them before this, of course, but only when pa was very much disgruntled with his union, then he would come home and put all the blame for it on the Socialists, which made me think that they were the worst ever.
But it wasn't really the Socialists that attracted me to the meeting--I was curious to see that woman the papers have written so much about, the one everybody calls mother. I couldn't understand how she could be a mother to everybody when it's real hard to mother one's own family.
To be sure, I know better now. One glance into her glittering eyes, a glimpse at the noble face and outstretched arms that are anxious to embrace the whole human race, is enough to make you understand how she does it, not to say anything of the words of wisdom that flow from her lips.
And suppose she gives her whole time to help others--that's what I call worth while living for. She's as happy as she can be, and if I was to compare her with my mother I'd surely take the latter for the martyr. And the reason for it is probably the fact that we're but one great family after all; that is, all the people the world over, no matter what color we are or what religion we believe in, and it's the welfare of that big family that should by rights interest us first, for isn't the whole bigger than the part, and each small family is but a part of the big one.
I must say, what with all the things we see for ourselves, and the different speeches we hear, a body can't help getting new ideas; but I know Jim would be sure to say that I've graduated into an anarchist. Let him. I think our people smell a rat and are bound to let me know it pretty soon.
But coming back to the meeting--I've learned a great deal there. That two armies of fighting soldiers isn't the only war in existence; that there is a terrible war raging just now and I'm a soldier in that war and that is the war for a bit of bread. I suppose I've felt it for some time, only I couldn't reason it out for myself; it took the people's mother to do it.
I could see that we working people were standing by ourselves, while on the other side stood our bosses, also a bunch by themselves, and now the way Mother Jones explained it to us it is clear that our bosses can't have any love for us, for every time we make a cent more they have a cent less left for themselves, and every time they can squeeze an extra cent from us they're that much the gainer. And from what I've seen for the last few weeks with my own eyes I can't help realizing that they've become so hardened in their growing greed that they're just ready to fight us to the end.
The mother said that it didn't have to go on that way, that all of us could have enough to live on if we only managed our own affairs in the right way, and if this is what the Socialists teach I earnestly believe they're talking common sense.
If one has patience to listen to their string of talk it becomes self evident that they've certainly learned what ails the people nowadays, and, I suppose, that by understanding the injustice they were able to find a remedy. To tell the truth, I don't see what we working people have to lose by trying their way of management. We can't be much worse off than we are today, I'm sure.
And I think they've pretty good people among them. They say that the little Jew girl who married one of them millionaires, the lucky dog--well, she's a Socialist, and she's certainly been good to her kind, especially to us girls during the strike. Why, she don't think anything of coming right among us, as if she was still a working girl, and doing all sorts of jobs--nothing is too small or too hard for her. And here's brave Mother Jones and many of the other people who have been our best friends during this trouble, and, as the saying goes, a friend in need is a friend indeed.
As I said once before, if only us girls could bring ourselves to reason out things for ourselves.
I’m really surprised at myself and all the courage I'm working up. But I've come to think that heroes ain't born, but made by circumstances. When I got near Levinson's factory this morning it just made me wild to see that high iron fence put up in front of the entrance--it came so much nearer being a prison than ever. And all to keep away the union people from taking down the girls. He thought he was smart, but us girls are just as smart, or even smarter, than he is. I made believe I wanted to work for him; told him what a good worker I was, where I was employed and a whole string of fibs why I'm out of a job just now. Mr. Levinson was delighted, took me up to the workroom and promised to employ me steadily. But when the afternoon whistle blew for the girls to get back to their machines the most of them had come down with me, not to return until the union is recognized.
As I expected, the conference proved a failure--we're to strike on. I'm not disappointed, for I felt it all along that the bosses won't give in so easily, and why should they? There's still over two weeks to the real season. They've time to lose then. And, considering the condition the most of our girls are in, I'm not surprised that the bosses hope to starve them into submission. But they forget that it ain't easy to starve these girls; they're pretty trained hands at that job.
I felt happy over this morning's success, but the afternoon put a damper over me. We were holding a joint conference with the Levcovitch people and it goes without saying that Sam, who is such a wonderful exception to the most of our men, was the chairman. Poor devil! when we were in the heat of discussing a new scheme of dealing with the scabs we were all startled by an irritated woman's voice: "For shame on you, Sam; you're chinning here with the girls, while your poor wife is most dyin'."
Terribly frightened, Sam jumped from the chair and ran right out, leaving hat, coat, meeting and all. And no wonder--he's just married one year and didn't have time to tire of his wife. This is the reason he worries so much because he can't support her just at present, when she needs all the care and attention--the woman is to become a mother any minute.
This makes me think of the fuss some people make of their first born and I don't know as they can be blamed for doing it, but here is one coming and not a cent in the house for the most necessary things, not to say of a doctor, medicine, nurse and all such things that follow sickness. People throw up to us that we needn't strike, for we're sure to get married. Here's a girl that had worked for many a year side by side with the man she married, always for a little less than he did, with the result that she didn't help herself, but dragged him down.
Poor fool! she married him and hoped to be happy, but how could she when the shadow of starvation is always hovering over their door.
The baby was born dead; perhaps it's better for it, but the mother is very ill, and in such circumstances! Big, handsome Bill heard of it and gave me $5 for Sam. Bill's all right, he is. I've often watched his actions to his good wife Bertha, and I've come to believe they're more like two good chums than husband and wife. That's what I call worth while being married. They say Bill is a Socialist, and I must add, if all the Socialists treat their wives as good as he does it's worth while marrying a Socialist.
The five-dollar bill will come in very handy for Sam, but how long will it last? So far the young wife clung to every bit they had in the house, for the articles were mostly wedding presents, but now I can see Sam taking them one by one to the uncle who prospers on the people's misfortunes. I know Sam; he's the kind that would rather die than go back on his fellow-workers. He'll just keep on fighting and believing as long as there's life in him. But why should this world be divided up so unevenly--so much misery on the one end and too much happiness on the other? This can't be right. I say the Lord bless the Socialists, if they mean, earnestly, to change things for the better.
I can't say that I felt very comfortable when Leonora brought me up to that swell hotel. I was really upset by the wealth and beauty amid which I found myself. Why, the carpets were so thick that my feet just sank into them. And the magnificent pictures, the artistic decoration and so many, many flowers, and at this time of the year! I certainly never saw anything to beat it.
I wonder where the saying of the Bible that "God is our father and we are all kin to each other" fits in this case? How is it possible that us girls are sisters to these rich women? If we were I hardly think they'd be so rich and us so poor. It ain't likely that a father should want to make such a marked distinction between his children. And granted that it was his fancy to do it, they should, by rights, have some sisterly feeling for us. They should want to do for us as they want us to do for them. But it ain't so. They've everything of the best and the nicest, don't really know what to do with their time and money, knowing that many of us girls ain't got a bit of bread. Oh, that cry for bread! It's rising ever louder; I'm getting so that I can hear it in my sleep.
And this may account for my unwillingness to go and mingle with those rich, but Leonora said it will help the girls greatly, so I went. We were brought into an immensely large room with a beautiful floor that made me feel like getting hold of somebody and have a turn or two. But what struck me most was that the several women, old and young, were dressed like spring chickens. And the way they directed their opera glasses at us! as if we were a show all by ourselves.
Leonora was introduced first, and as she started to talk the tears commenced to roll from her eyes. I've often wondered where she gets so many of them. But they didn't prevent her from telling the women in her own taking way the sad story of the shirt made by her mother and grandmother in Ireland and by herself in New York. A story of work, suffering, privation and self denial; a story of love for kin as strong as death; of the unknown virtues of the poor that, if they were disclosed, would astound the world even more than their so much talked of vices. The women listened intently to every word she said; they sat there as if rooted to the floor, and what wonder! I in their place would have felt like two cents. They should have been ashamed of wearing all those diamonds and velvets and laces. But somehow I failed to see it.
When Leonora stopped little Clara rose and I felt mighty proud of that simple Jew girl. She told them point blank that she came there to ask for help, but added that it wasn't for us present, only for the thousands of young girls who've been working since they were big enough to turn a wheel, that these very hard working girls were compelled to throw up their jobs, for they couldn't go on any longer; that they're down and out at present and that there ain't a bit of fire in their grates nor a piece of bread in their cupboards, while they are out on the streets fighting for dear life. And so she said for dear life, and so they are fighting for dear life, for going back under the former conditions is worse than death.
When Clara was through I saw the handkerchiefs go up to the eyes and heard a sniffle all over the room. But here I was introduced and had to make my spiel. I don't really know how I did it; this was my first experience. But I was so excited that I just rattled off a whole lot of things. I told them that we were abused and beaten and sent to prison for no worse crime than the desire to earn an honest living; that us girls are just being pushed and tempted to take up a life of shame, and asked them if they found themselves in place of us girls if they were hungry and tired and just beaten and hounded for wanting to be honest, whether they wouldn't turn the other road, if only for spite?
They felt so terribly sorry for us that each one of them gave from $5 to $10, but what's that to them? As much as if I'd given a nickel or even less. And now they're back again among their swell society, having a good time--I even doubt whether they'll give a second thought to all the things we've told them about.
Had quite a scrap with pa early in the morning and later another with Jim. Pa wanted to know whether I've made up my mind to listen to the advice of sensible people or was still determined to follow that motley crowd of mad women, saying that the women in general have gone stark mad nowadays.
But what got me huffy was his declaration that it was silly to make so much fuss over a bunch of foreigners, when the proper thing to do was to ship them back where they came from instead of letting them prey upon our free land. Well, I must admit that I told pa a thing or two, more than ma, or Sis would ever dare to say to him. And I don't care about it, either. I won't stand for anybody insulting my friends, father or no father. And the idiocy of it all! Here are thousands of young girls who have come to this country strong and full of desire to do things, but after slaving for a few years in the land of the free they have neither health nor money; they've become poorer and our country richer. It stands to reason that our generous country is robbing them instead of being robbed.
Pa, he was just wild at me, while Ma and Sis looked as if they thought I had gone mad. Talk about Sunday being a day of rest! Not for me; it seems there's no rest for us girls nowadays. To tell the truth, I've come to wish there wasn't such a thing as Sunday. For me, at least, it only means additional aggravation.
What my family fears most is that I may cause them to die of shame on the day of my disgrace, the nature of which I really don't know myself and I'm wondering if it shall be a great or little thing. But I and all the souls in pain who fight for a decent life right here, we can't really stop to think whether we are doing a great or little deed.
It goes without saying that I didn't go to dinner with the rest, and as soon as Jim showed up went out. I was glad to go anywhere, only to be away from home.
Some one at home must have hinted to Jim about what took place in the morning, for he looked wistfully at me as soon as we were alone and muttered between his teeth, "Curse it!"
"Why, Jim, what are you cursing about, and on Sunday at that?" "I'm cursing that blame strike of yourn," says he. "Before that nuisance took place you were perfectly satisfied with your lot, obeyed your father and cared and believed in me as every good woman should do, and now you seem so changed that I often wonder what has come over you."
"Why, Jim, my boy," I said, quietly. "I've grown up since then and learned a thing or two. A tin rattle and a funny man can't satisfy me any longer. I've come to understand that, until I left the work-bench on that Tuesday morning, I had lived in a trance without really knowing why I kept it up from day to day. I was no better than the cow in the stall--as long as I had enough to eat I was satisfied. But I'm sure, Jim, that even you wouldn't want me to remain a cow."
"I--I don't know what I'd want; I'd want you to be a woman and not a freak," blurted out Jim at last.
"I wonder what a man means when he says he'd want you to be a woman? If to believe in everything that's right, to sorrow for the needy, to help the weak, to censure the wicked, to refuse being stepped upon, used and abused, means not being a woman, then I don't want to be a woman. Honestly, I don't. My Ma is considered a good woman--she wakes up long before sunrise and she works and works until we are all in bed. And she never has her say, but does what Pa wants her to do."
"Mary!" exclaimed Jim in anger. "I'm sure you'll rue the day you've mixed yourself up with those darn anarchists. They'll be the ruin of you," and with this he left me standing near the house and rushed off.
I know that I may never see his face in this world again, for like two doomed ships we've crossed each other's path and then rushed on, each to what we think is our goal. And my own feelings ain't the worst, either, for they'd kill me at home if they knew about this quarrel.
Lord, but it rained today--as if the heavens had opened to wash the world's sins away. The funniest winter ever--almost the middle of December and nothing but rain. In a way it is better for the poor devils; they can't freeze to death.
But the rain didn't keep us girls from crowding the Grand Central Palace. Even long before the appointed time the doors were thrown open and tramp, tramp came the heavy steps of wet feet upon the stone stairs. But, alas! it wasn't for a dance or entertainment that we went there on this gloomy day. The starved, despairing and irritated girls came together to find out what the bosses said to our committee. We were all anxious to hear what the committee had to tell us.
The latter did not keep us waiting very long; they were right there on the job and I must give credit to the people who chose them for us--they couldn't have made a better choice. I think that the little Jew lawyer has a better gift of the gab and more brains than any man I've ever come across. I wasn't that stuck on the other fellow, but then he was in good company and was sure to keep straight.
Earnestly, without any flourishes, the lawyer told us just what reply he had received in answer to his proposition to settle the matter by mutual agreement. They didn't want to make any settlement. It seems they've changed their minds about their proposition to sugar-coat the bitter pills they want us to keep swallowing. Perhaps they are afraid it may turn our heads. The lawyer said they don't want to yield one jot as far as the union is concerned. Talk about us being children of the same father, I'm sure they don't treat us like sisters!
The committeeman then said that if the bosses tell us there's nothing to arbitrate it's best for us to take them at their word they'll have to come and settle with us without an arbitration--just give in, that's all. He then hinted that some fake labor leader had promised the bosses to settle the whole strike over night, and, of course, favorable to them--all for a couple thousand of dollars.
I'd like to see him do it--he's mistaken if he thinks he could bunco us girls as he kept buncoing the workmen all this while. Us girls wouldn't hear of going back without the union, even if he stood on his head.
As the lawyer rightly pointed out to us, the trade is mending, the bosses have big orders on hand on which they hope to make a lot of money and as they can't do it without our help, and all we ask of them is a little bigger share of our hard-earned money, so as to be able to have a roof over our heads and stop being starved, they'll be sure to change their mind when they are hard pressed for workers.
It just makes my heart burn when I come to think that here are they that's living in palaces and spending money like dirt, but are that greedy that they refuse the bit we are asking. But as the lawyer told us, well and good, if they choose to turn us down in that manner, let them; but us girls must have our demands for all that. And it can't be otherwise--the union is now the only means of assuring our daily bread and with it our life; that's just why they fight it so hard.
"You're all right!" yelled the girls when both men stopped talking. "We stand by the union until we die!" But even as they uttered that cry I could hear the sound of suffering in their voices, which were shrill and hoarse, many of the girls being too hungry to yell naturally. As it was the union had to pay their car fares, for the most of them ain't got 10 cents to their name.
What I'm mostly surprised at is the other unions. How can they look on at our distress and keep quiet? Do they forget that this is the first real girl's strike? And the sufferers are just drooping down one after another, like withered flowers. To tell the truth, I ain't much better off except for what I eat at home; but things are becoming so disagreeable up there that I almost choke with every bite. I can already see the time when I'll stop coming home altogether. As Pa's mouthpiece, Ma does her job even better than he himself could do it. I'm peltered with words all the time I'm in the house.
Three weeks is about all I could stand of the strike. Now my little money is gone and this morning I had to ask Ma for a half dollar. I had no car fare to go downtown with. But Ma, she said she'd be blessed if she would give it to me, that it was hard for Pa to keep up this big household, and that he didn't propose to keep me on his shoulders much longer; that Sis was now big enough to get a steady and that it was high time that I got a home of my own, for I was spoiling the girl's chances.
Her string of words got me so mad that I could have cried from anger, but I wouldn't give her the satisfaction. So I put on my hat and coat and walked out into the street. My people are sorely mistaken if they think that they can compel me to drop this strike.
Once in the street I stopped right in front of the house. I couldn't go downtown, for I hadn't a cent to my name--a very unpleasant feeling, I must say, is to be penniless. But on the other hand, it made me feel the more keenly for our poor girls who are penniless most of the time.
Talk about women being schemers, I don't think there's anybody to beat us at that, and that's just why we are going to win. If I had no cash I had some little jewelry, so I made my way straight to the pawnshop. But when I got right close to it my heart went pitter patter--I couldn't enter. Finally, the knowledge that I was due downtown early gave me courage and I went in.
I've always dreaded the thought of having to resort to a pawnshop, but not until I had to deal with one to-day did I realize what it felt like to be one of its victims. God! it just cuts you to the heart to see all the things they've got in there. The tears came into my eyes at the sight of a pair of baby shoes. I couldn't help thinking of all the pain it gave the mother to give them up. It ain't easy to take the shoes off your baby's little feet and all for want of bread! I can't make it out: "Why should bread be so dear and human flesh so cheap!
As I looked upon the many wedding rings I thought of Sam and his wife. The woman wouldn't part with her wedding ring unless it was a case of life and death, and, to tell the truth, I don't think any woman would. It must have been real distress that made them do so. Where, then, were the husbands who had promised to protect and care for them when they gave them the rings?
I don't really know what came over me; all of a sudden the light went out of my eyes and instead of different articles it seemed to me that the whole place was just chock full of people's tears and people's sighs. It was like in a dream that I heard the man talk to me and offer a dollar and a half on my little ring, for which I paid five. It didn't matter, I was glad to get that much. A dollar and a half would keep me going for the rest of the week. I've learned the trick how to live on almost nothing.
Had plenty of excitement when I got down town. We thought that everything was O.K. when we decided last week that we won't go back without the recognition of the union. But I guess we forgot to reckon Mr. Hayman's activity. He spent the Sunday visiting some of our girls and promising them a golden egg from a goose that'll die even before it's hatched. He's shrewd. He knows that he can bunco some of the girls to his heart's content. But I honestly believe he's found a match in others. The thing that made me furious was the fact that Mame, her that's been a good friend to me, was the chief go-between. No wonder I licked her the other day--I must have had a premonition. Sorry I didn't make a better job of it, so she couldn't do any mischief for a while to come. We had our hands full with many and I'm almost sure there's more trouble to come. What with the increasing cold and sickness, with the ever growing persecution of the police and judges and the effect of failure of the arbitration committee, we're sure to lose bunches of girls, not to say anything of the men. It's one thing to come to a meeting and grow enthusiastic and shout and promise to hold out and quite another to come home cold and hungry and find nothing but reproach and misery, which is the lot of the most of us.
Lord! it must be pretty near morning. I'm all dazed. I'd just come back from that living hell called night court. I can just see my finish with the folks at home after this. Pa won't stand for one of his daughters being out the whole night. He has always been very strict on that point. And I'm in doubt whether any explanation will do me any good. For all I know this may be my last night at home. It ain't that I care for this place particularly. I have no reason to of late, but I've nothing better to turn to. And still and all, when worst comes to worst I'll go. I just won't stand for their abuse and insinuations.
But the night court! Will I ever forget it? I'm still haunted by the memory of my night's neighbors. I'm sure nobody could help cursing the world we're living in after spending a few hours in that place. God! it makes my blood boil when I think of the way they're treated down there. The insect under our feet is thought more of than these unfortunate women, and yet they, too, were carried under a mother's breast, rocked, cuddled and petted in a mother's arms. They, too, were once young and pure and honest like the judge who comes there night after night to sit in judgment over them. I just wondered if he had a heart in the right place. It seemed to me that any sane person could understand after looking at them and listening to some of the things they say that none chose their horrible trade of their own free will. There was always some cause for their downfall, and man was always the one to help them down the slippery road.
I won't be surprised if I can't sleep for many a night to come. Their shadows, the way they've been brought into court will always stand out before my eyes. They were either over or under dressed; some still with a chance for recovery; others too old for any remedy. A child of sixteen seduced by her employer wanted some redress, another not much older was accused of trying to rob an imaginary victim, who professed to've been lured to her room. It made me furious to see the judge accept his words like those of an honest man and shut her off without a chance to state her case. If the rascal was as honest as the judge supposed him to be, why did he go with her? I wish I could have told the two of them what I thought of their behavior. The poor kid didn't have ten cents, not to say the ten dollars she was fined, and will have to go to the workhouse.
"He's an honest man and you, too, judge, are honest," she whispered as she was being taken back to the cell. Her words made me think of those uttered by Christ: "He who is himself pure should throw the first stone at her." I doubt if that judge could have done that.
A woman pointed to the policeman on the stand and said that he had been
taking her blood money for many a month, but since she had been sick and
come down lower on the ladder of degradation she can't afford to pay and
was brought here to be sent away, perhaps, for six months. But to whom
could the outcast tell her tale of woe, who would listen to her? Hers
seems worse than the leper's misery; she has none to ask for help on the
day of need. Is it a wonder that they turn to drink? Who can blame them
for doing so? I think they'd go mad if they didn't.
Our girls were all fined from ten to twenty-five dollars apiece. I being arrested the second time was fined twenty-five dollars and the judge warned me to keep out of his way or he'll send me to the workhouse the next time. I listened to him and said "Yes, sir," but he needn't think that I'll give up the strike on that account.
I think I hear some one moving about; won't be surprised if it is ma. She must have heard me come in. I'll just turn out the gas and make believe I'm asleep, or she is sure to start a row right now. And I need some rest; my head didn't touch the pillow as yet, and who knows if I'll have a pillow to touch tomorrow.
Just as I thought; pa stayed home this morning--to settle it all with me as he said. I never saw anybody more infuriated than he was. He just wouldn't listen to me telling him that I'd been arrested and taken to night court, where I was until I got home early this morning.
And strange as it may seem, my own father accused me and the rest of the girls of being a fickle lot. I didn't ask him to forgive me, nor did I cry, not even when he said that I was no kin of his if I'm to stay longer with the girls, and grabbed me and shook me up until I gasped for breath. But it pained just the same when he threw me down on the floor like one would a poisonous snake and ran out of the room hurling a terrible oath on my head.
But, hard as he was with me, ma's treatment was even worse. No sooner was she alone with me than she commenced the tongue lashing that hurt even more than father's blows. I did not reply; I had no word to say; it was too terrible to hear my own parents, them that have brought me into this world of their own accord, call me such terrible names and charge me with deeds that my worst enemy wouldn't dare to do. I just told ma that I didn't know who would be to blame if I should go wrong, for she never gave us girls a thought since we were big enough to be out and about. She never had time to guide us in our plays, choose our friends, or warn us against the many pitfalls that we met in our search for work and while working. Then what right did she have to wake up at this late hour and accuse me of having gone wrong? If she had taken the trouble to know something about her own children she would have been aware that I'd rather starve like a dog in the street or find consolation in the cold river than go to the bad.
I drank the bitter cup to the very bottom and half an hour later, when it was all over, I left the home of my childhood, perhaps never to return again. I couldn't say that it was easily done, but what can't be cured must be endured; my road had no turning.
Well, well, of all the miserable days that I've ever spent, this was certainly the worst. I left home hopeless, penniless and trembling at the very thought of having no roof over my head. Even at this moment, though I'm under cover, desolation and heart-ache seem to press me down, and according to my present feeling I don't suppose I'll ever be happy again.
I can't say that I ain't got any friends, even if my own kin did disown me. These noble Jew girls won't desert a friend in the hour of need, and it's thanks to that sweet little Rose, who is giving her time, her life, her soul to us girls, that I'm in this place, which, though it don't feel like home, is better than the dark street.
But it's mighty hard to sit in a cold, cheerless room, knowing that everything that was once dear to your heart is slipping through your fingers as through a sieve. I remember once at the circus I was wondering at one of the men--he held a pretty bird tight in his hands and told us to watch him, but even as we looked the bird disappeared and nobody seemed to know how it happened or where it had gone. And to-day I seem to be performing a similar trick--I, too, had a wonderful bird and kept it hidden away deep in my heart, but it's going, going, and will soon be gone never to come back. I'm almost sure that Jim will go with the rest. Jim, the man whom I loved above everybody else; Jim, who was my idol, my life, my all! But so much has happened since I felt that way that I don't seem to care any longer. It's strange how one can change so quickly, but I look at things from a different point today--it ain't Jim's comfortable living that I care for, and even his affection don't seem to attract me now that I see our thoughts and beliefs drifting further and further apart. How long could this mad passion last, and what then? To tell the truth, I'm just dreading the thought of tying myself to him forever and a day. And it will probably be for the best if we never meet again. But it ain't an easy job, this tearing of all ties; it's bound to tear something in your heart which can never be mended again. But why worry over all these things? The best thing is to set a lock upon one's thoughts and go on with one's task.
This world is certainly a funny game; a body can never tell what card will strike you next. There I was so hungry and didn't know where my next meal was to come from and here I am sitting at a heavily-laden table and feasting my eyes on food that probably costs more than Mrs. Bloom spends in a whole week for her family of five.
But, somehow, I didn't enjoy it--scarcely took a morsel of it. Nor did Miss Morgan's presence seem to add relish to it all. On the contrary, the valuable silverware, the beautiful flowers, the wonderful music all threw a gloom over me. I couldn't help comparing it with the breakfast I had this morning in Mrs. Bloom's kitchen--seven of us, some standing, others sitting on a chair, a box or washtub, each holding a roll and a cup of weak coffee.
The very thought of it made me furious; I couldn't forgive myself for sitting at this rich board; my place was with the girls who can't even afford a bit of butter to moisten their bread earned in the sweat of their brow. And I wasn't a bit ashamed of my feeling; had they asked me I would have said it right out, for what have they done that us working people should have a liking for them?
To read the newspapers one would really think that they're doing the Lord knows what for us girls, but they ain't; our children down on the East Side keep dying like flies for want of feed and a bit of warmth; us girls are in such terrible trouble with the police and courts, but how many came to our aid? We are half starved, our thin bones shiver under the scant clothes and what does their help amount to in comparison with their incomes? No, it's the poor and the poor alone who would make a sacrifice every time for their own poor.
They've brought me to their fashionable clubhouse to hear about our misery. To tell the truth, I've no appetite to tell it to them, for I've almost come to the conclusion that the gulf between us girls and these rich ladies is too deep to be smoothed over by a few paltry dollars; the girls would probably be the better off in the long run if they did not take their money. They would the sooner realize the great contrast and the division of classes; this would teach them to stick to their own. But say and think what I please, we simply have to go to them for the present and accept as little or as much as they're willing to give. The lines down at Clinton Street are growing daily. And it ain't for curiosity that they come there and shove and push, only to get a bit nearer to the sacred door behind which sits Mr. Shindler. No, it's nothing but merciless hunger that brings them there.
The women gave us a thousand dollars, but what does this amount to? Not even a quarter apiece for each striker, and I know of many that need at least a ten-dollar bill to drive the wolf away from the door. And can there be a worse wolf than the landlord when there's two months' rent due him?
Only this morning as I was leaving home I walked past an evicted family. It almost broke my heart to see their pitiful faces. Can they be blamed for insisting that their daughters give up the strike and go back to work? Some of these people hadn't a cent to their name when the strike first started and one can imagine the state they're in after almost four weeks of idleness.
I can't understand somehow where in this world the justice comes in as it is arranged just now--here's us that work hard and steady and must face starvation as soon as we cease to work, while them that's idle have more money and good things than they really know what to do with.
I think it's foolish of us working people to accept our fate so quietly. It can't be that we are doomed to go through life in misery and darkness, without a ray of natural light in the shop, without a bit of sunshine at home. Can't the working people realize that we are at the complete mercy of selfishness and greed? I did to-day when I was brought face to face with all those riches; if they'd know what's good for them they wouldn't bring us in their midst, for, if anything will, this is sure to arouse the spirit of rebellion. I know it did in me. I felt sore for the rest of the day.
Met Jim this morning. I guess he must have been watching out for me. "Mary, I want to talk to you," said he, taking me aside. I felt a queer feeling come over me, but said nothing and followed him for a half block or so without either one of us speaking up when Jim, he says to me:
"Mary, I've heard about everything that had happened home. I can't say that I approve of your father's action, but, Mary, you have to acknowledge that you, too, were wrong. Can't you see, girl, how silly it is, to say the least, your going around with this gang? And where is the earthly use for it? Here am I, that cared for you as you were--simple, jolly, care-free and good. I don't want your high-falutin ideas; give them up and I'm ready to offer you a home and a strong protecting arm. You'll be my wife and mind my home and I will work for you and care for you; you won't have to bother about anything."
My lips trembled; the words wouldn't come to them for a while, so irritated
was I at his talk--and suppose a girl does get married? Does that mean
she has to be dead to everything else? To tell the truth, I was never
so sure that a working girl gained so very much by getting married. I
always felt that us girls do it more because we can't help ourselves.
But I've been cured, so I spoke my mind:
"Not my wife!" exclaimed Jim in a shocked voice. "And can you explain the reason for it?"
"Yes, Jim," said I. And I reminded him what I told him some time ago; that I've grown up, and added that I was pretty nigh tired of being taken care of and if I ever got married I'd want to mind our home and take care of our children, or, in short, I explained to him that I'd want to be a partner to the game, and left him before he had a chance to say another word. The world keeps moving and everybody gets a chance at snubbing as well as being snubbed, and I had mine. Jim needn't think that he's everything because he happened to be born a man.
People say there ain't an ill wind but blows somebody good, and that was true of me today. I was so miserable this afternoon when I got back from my meeting with Jim that I felt as if I would be glad for somebody to dig a deep ditch and let me just sink into it. But the excitement and search warrant against Bekky made me forget some of my own troubles.
Bekky is one of our dare-devils--the judge placed her under bonds and she couldn't go near the factory so she followed the forelady of her shop across the river and laid it into her so she won't be able to sit for a long time to come.
When her boss, Goldstein, found it out he took out the warrant, and got his brother-in-law, Hirsh, to find Rebecca. The girls went wild when they saw Hirsh come into our meeting room--Hirsh, he was their pest while they were working and is something worse since the girls are out on strike.
But Rebecca, she was the first to spy him, and the minute he reached the front door she switched down the back stairs and into the kitchen, donned a big apron and sat down in a dark corner peeling potatoes. We girls nearly burst our sides laughing while the detective kept searching for her from the roof to the basement, looking into every closet, but he ain't no match for Rebecca; she knew how to evade him when he got very close to her. Hirsh and the other fellow spent there a couple of hours and went home, while Rebecca was whizzed off in an automobile as soon as it got dark. She'll stay with one of them millionaires until the danger is over. I tell you what, clothes do make a difference. Rebecca looked as nice as the best of them when she was togged out in one of those ladies' clothes, so as not to be recognized. And I wished so much that every one of us girls could dress that nice, and I don't know as anybody could blame us for wanting pretty things--we're still young and would like to appear to our best advantage.
But now that I'm home again I can't help thinking of Jim and that last scene between us. I know it's all for the best, but when I come to think how much I cared for him once upon a time it makes me miserable.
Today is Sunday, so I stayed home for a change. I went to see Minnie, poor girl; she's down with the fever. I knew there wasn't a cent in the house, so I pawned some of my last trinkets and brought her some change; made believe it's from the union or she wouldn't have taken it at all.
It just cut me to the heart to enter that basement flat--dark, musty and so low that I could hardly stand upright, and I ain't very big. Poor Minnie; she's only a shadow of her former self. She didn't know me or Ray, who came along with me. Somehow she took me for the judge, the one that had such a great share in hounding us girls, and if I hadn't darted aside she would have surely jumped at me.
I tried to induce her mother to send her to a hospital, but she wouldn't hear of it. She has still the old-fashioned idea that a hospital ain't nothing but a poorhouse. Poor, old lady, she's had her share of suffering. But this strike, which enlisted two of her daughters, the main breadwinners, was the hardest of all. And now, thanks to the brutality of the police, Minnie is down and out, and who knows if she will ever get better?
We stayed there a while, then did some picket duty and went to the Church of Ascension. And of the pleasant things that have happened to me during the past few weeks--and they were mighty few, I must say--this sermon was the best. It wasn't about religion at all, nor about heaven nor hell; just about the men and women we meet with every day of our lives, the injustices we are suffering under and the hope for a better future. His text was: "For the needy shall not always be forgotten, the expectation of the poor shall not perish forever."
The minister spoke of the army of unemployed who stand for hours in line in order to get a cup of coffee and a bit of bread, and of the unfortunate women who are compelled to barter their very flesh for a bit of bread, and of the many crimes committed for nothing but the necessity to satisfy the craving of the stomach, and of the mothers who can't get any bread for their suffering children and welcome the latter's death as a relief from suffering; of the numerous pitfalls open to the daughters of the poor. But, said he, "For all that and all that, the poor are not forgotten, their hope of coming into their own will yet be realized, for they're the masters of the world after all--it is they that are building the houses and running the railroads and baking the very bread they ain't got to eat, and lighting the streets and sailing the ships and making the clothing."
Then he turned to our strike and said that woman today is doubly a slave; that she has a twofold task to perform and it isn't her place to spend ten hours a day at the machine, and there isn't a person with a clear conscience living who wouldn't think that fifty-two hours is long enough or even too much. But, said he, "The wicked have overdrawn the lines at last, for even the weakest of the weak--woman has risen in rebellion against the terrible oppression. And as through her cometh man's life, so through her shall come his liberation."
As I sat there listening to those words of wisdom I suddenly saw myself in another world where the working people have thrown off all the fetters that have kept them bound to their bosses, and were themselves enjoying the fruit of their labor instead of feeding an army of idlers. I felt as though I was sitting in the people's church after they had come into their own and tears of joy and happiness were trickling down my face, but I minded them not; I was eager to embrace and join hands with God's children--man, woman, Jew, Gentile, dark and white alike.
On our way home we turned around the corner of Grace Church; it was all a-glittering with gold and beautiful lights, while a few steps away the bread line was rapidly forming, though it was still lacking two hours to the time of distribution. I wanted to stop there and tell those miserable, degraded men what I had just heard and the bright hope I'm cherishing for them, but I knew they weren't in the mood to listen to words. They wanted bread.
Lord! I do wish they'd stop to muddle us girls with their attempts of settlement. I'm pretty sure it's all her, that sleek temptress. The serpent that tempted Eve was cursed by the Lord: "Because thou hast done this thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou crawl and dust shall thou eat all the days of thy life."
I'm inclined to believe that these curses ain't strong enough for her that's mixing in our affairs. I've come to realize that there ain't no worse plague than a false labor leader. For the best of them ain't nothing but a crouching, miserable instrument of the bosses. The latter have at least the courage to come right out with the goods. They don't hesitate to say that they ain't got any love for the working people. But this ain't the case with the other leeches; they twine around our bodies, holding us down tight, while they themselves yield their head and extend their necks to the bosses.
It makes me wild to see that woman in our midst. And I'm almost sure that we ain't going to succeed until we make an effort to shake off these serpents. I think we ought, by rights, forbid these hirelings to trample upon us. It's my honest opinion that us girls ought to be allowed to manage our own affairs and I told her so, too. Came pretty near having a real fight with her. She ain't satisfied with arranging all these tom-fool conferences--nay, she must needs give out false reports to the newspapers. I wonder who gave her the authority to do so? I'm sure it ain't the League women, for they ain't got much love for her neither. But she's mistaken if she thinks she can fool us girls into submission by any of her tricks.
What gets me is the idea of some people that us working girls don't know nothing. Beginning with our bosses, who would go wild if we dared tell them that we're every bit as good as their own women folks, and ending with those leeches of ours? But when we come to think of it, us girls are every bit as good or even better than them, for they never turn their hands into a bit of useful work, while us girls help share the world's burdens all the time.
To tell the truth, I often wonder where the justice comes in in this world of ours--here's us that work hard and ain't got nothing, while those that's idle get all the fat plums and boss us about into the bargain.
But this doesn't mean that we're to be left all by ourselves in this terrible fight. I don't see why the other unions don't take a hand in it. Us girls have relied upon our own strength as long as we could bear it. But we've at last come to a pass where it's impossible to go on that way much longer. We simply must get assistance somewhere.
Went up to the teamsters this evening. I guess there is some unknown tie between us working people, only we didn't come to understand it as yet. I felt perfectly at home when I found myself in the midst of these grim, rough-looking men. And the reception they gave me was so different from the one we received from the rich ladies. Here you could feel that you've met with a kindred spirit. When I saw the hardened, gray-haired old men cry like children at our tale of woe, I got more confidence in our struggle, for I knew that we won't be allowed to starve to death as long as there's such sentiments expressed for us.
"Brothers," said their president when I was through talking, "I needn't say that us working people have a feeling of admiration for these brave girls." And he went on describing our devotion to the cause and telling them so many, many things which made my ears burn. But I was all attention when he got to the point that it ain't only our struggle that us girls are fighting, but the battle of the entire working class, for woman's demand for equal wages with men will put a stop to the bosses discharging men workers whenever they can and supplanting them with women. I thought that this plain driver had hit the nail right on the head. In his own simple way he had thought it all out. And a new hope arose in my sore heart--that the working people are sure to reason out their condition before long and as soon as they do they're bound to find the right way out of it. The hard-working boys had no money in the treasury, so they taxed themselves a half a dollar each and gave me $24 and said to come again when we need more.
It did my heart good to see the little girls come back from the workhouse. The bosses and their barkers, the judges, needn't think now that they can break our strike by sending some of us to prison. I must say it must be a sad disappointment to them.
I would have just loved to let them have at least one glance at little Rebecca as she landed from the ferry boat where so many of us girls were waiting for her. "Girls," she said to us, with a loud laugh, "don't worry about going to the workhouse. It ain't worse than our own factories are." When one of the reporters got to questioning her, she said: "You can say in your papers that the sending us across the river won't break the strike; nothin' doin' in that line."
"Say, Mary," she whispered to me a few minutes later, when we were away from the rest of the crowd, "my knees are sore to the bone from scrubbin' an' do you know I'm almost starved. And, say, it's enough to kill a body, the company you meet there is."
Well, well, they may talk all they want about great heroes and heroines--our girls are the real stuff. To tell the truth, I don't know as they could act different if they wanted to--the road to freedom ain't got no byways--a body must continue to march forward on a straight path or turn coward and traitor, but us girls ain't built that way.
It was real touching to see that old Italian whose daughter had been to the workhouse with the other girls. At first, when he heard of what he called her disgrace, he cried and lamented. The poor simpleton thought he's sure to have an old maid on his hands now, for no man would care to marry a convict, but when he saw all the homage that was being paid to the girls, and the beautiful flowers they received, he broke down and confessed it was wrong of him to stand in her way and he wouldn't care if she stays out as long as it will be necessary.
I wish we'd have many Italian fathers like him, for we have our hands full with them. I don't really know what we would do if it wasn't for the Italian Socialists. The Italian girls are like a lot of wild ducks let loose. I ain't a bit surprised that our bosses are so anxious to replace us girls by Italians--they're good workers and bad thinkers--just what suits the bosses, but it is pretty hard on us. To tell the truth, I don't know as these simple souls can be blamed much--their thinking machines were never set in working order.
I think that of all the people I know the Italians treat their women the worst--they grow old before they've a chance to be young. What a world of difference between them and the Jew girls.
But I think there'll be some change all around. The plain, rough driver told the truth--this first girls' strike is a fight for the future of the millions of people to follow us. If we only had many men like him! I've often asked myself what keeps the men from doing something for us women and have pretty nigh come to the conclusion that it's their foolish desire to be it. I guess they're afraid that us women will outdo them when we get down to do things in a business-like way.
They're quick enough, though, to raise a row if us women would go scabbing on them. But it's really their turn now on the scabbing line. We've had our hands full this afternoon with a gang of men who couldn't be persuaded to join the union when it took only a few minutes to get every one of the girls in that workroom to become members.
I was mighty glad for the plain talk some of the girls gave them. "If you ain't going with us now, then you're against us," said Pauline, and with this she jumped to the door, opened it wide and exclaimed: "Go, or we'll make hash out of you before very long." And I tell you what, it worked like magic--the cowards feared the girls' strength and after some more grumbling and protesting had finally paid in a few cents each and gave in their names. "Don't fret," said Clara to me later, "we're going to make them plunk up the rest. There are more of us in the workroom than their kind and they ain't nothing but trash, anyway." Honestly, my head goes round and round from the many things we see and have to go through, but it's all right.
Lord, what a miserable night I spent! The girls told me that Jim was around looking for me and I felt sorry for the chap, and, another thing, Clara handed me a note and made me promise to keep it sealed until this morning. At daybreak I couldn't wait any longer and tore the envelope--I can't really say what I felt then--it said that by the time I'd open this note she'd be dead and free from suffering. Poor, poor, girl! She's lost all her strength in fighting her way through, one may say, since she was big enough to walk about. It seems to me that she feared she'd weaken and give in to the enemy, so rather than do that she made an end of it all. But it's just like her to think of us girls, even while she was about to die; her last words were for me.
For a brief moment I was like thunderstruck; the next I fetched my hat and coat and started for Brooklyn, where Sarah was boarding. Even to the last minute I had a faint hope that she may be alive and I'd save her from self-destruction. She was still warm when we got into her room and took off the noose from her neck; her face was scarcely whiter than the night before, when she gave me that fatal note, but her head fell lifeless on our hands when we tried to put her down on the narrow cot. Her wide-open eyes stared into the unknown, her wish was fulfilled, she was free from suffering.
Stupefied, I stood gazing at her and thinking of her brief life. Did she ever live? For one can scarcely call living this miserable existence from day to day, which us working girls are doomed to, this steady sewing of sleeves, sleeves, sleeves, until the whole future presents but one monster sleeve. Sarah had made thousands upon thousands of them, and at the end of six years' work she had to take her life, for she had nothing to live upon as soon as she was out of work. She was too proud to go begging or borrowing, and was compelled to dash her ship of life to pieces.
It's terrible when we come to think that this happened here in our own free land, next door, you might say, to all these many millionaires. The working man ain't much better off than the slave, but it's worse for us girls. When the man is down and out he can still go into a saloon and get a bite to eat at a free lunch counter. He can go in and warm up his cold, shivering body, but for us there ain't nothing left but starvation or the street. If we come to reason out things Sarah can't really be blamed much for her act.
And still and all, her death broke me up for good. If she had gone wrong the judge would have sent her to prison for a few days. If she hadn't died in the attempt to do so he would have given her a year. But what else could an underpaid, overworked body do? Poor kid! There ain't even a kin of hers around to shed a tear over her corpse.
And it ain't only us waistmakers that suffer so badly, either. I went up to a meeting of the white goods makers and when I heard their troubles I thought that we ain't in it.
And there are the human hair goods makers; they, too, are striking, but to tell the truth, it seems to me that when us girls have reached a point where we understand enough to go out o strike there's still some hope for us. Take the paper box makers--they're so deep down in the mud that they can't even lift their head any longer--it's for their kind that I don't see any hope at all. Nor for the kind of people like Jim that won't simply listen to reason, just like a stubborn mule. I've cared too much for Jim not to feel bad about this parting; it tears my heart to pieces, for his sake as well as mine; I've something bigger to help me out, to make this personal sorrow insignificant, but he ain't got nothing but his own little self to think of, for he thinks of me as a part of himself, his is what I call the selfish love. I've heard women say to treat a man like a dog and he's sure to lick your fingers. If that be true Jim'll come back to me; he'll learn to love me not only for what I look, but also for what's in me, and if that should happen--well, what's the use of hoping; I've almost given it up for a bad job.
Have had a busy day and evening helping the Socialist women with the reception which they had arranged for us girls. I honestly believe that they couldn't have done anything better with their money--a body gets a few cents, buys bread and relishes it, but in a few minutes it's all forgotten and one is as blue and miserable as ever, but when one spends an evening in a brightly lit hall in company of congenial people, a good floor and some music to help glide along, I tell you what, it acts better on one's spirit than any amount of medicine. And why should it be a shame to dance, even if we are out on strike for the last six weeks, are almost starved and don't know what we'll do for food next.
If it wasn't for Sarah's death, which put a damper on us all, we would have had a real fine time. But Sarah's death came too near home and we all couldn't help thinking who's to follow. But no sooner did we bury the poor soul than we had to back to the strike and its numerous duties, and the Lord knows they were plentiful. We can't devote much time to anything but the strike nowadays.
This is just why the dance was needed, though some people did object to it, as if us poor devils ain't entitled to a bit of fun any longer. I think I can find an excuse for those others--they had never been in our boots and don't really know what to make of us working girls. It must seem to them that we are made of different material or they wouldn't talk that way. Look at the rich kids--they attend gymnasiums and basketball and lawn tennis and tea parties and so many, many different things and everybody takes it for granted that they need it all. While it's but a few who realize that beyond the gray covers of our daily drudgery there is still hid the joy of living. That we from the East Side tenements need recreation as much as them that live in the palaces.
Had some fun! Inez gave us her car for shopping purposes, but we didn't know enough to find out whether the man who ran the car would wait for us. Rushed upstairs and got all our packages and ordered them taken to our automobile. But, Lord have mercy upon us poor souls! When we reached the street loaded with parcels like the devil with sins, there was no automobile in sight. It didn't matter so much after all--we had a good laugh at our own expense and carted the things to the hall.
When I got there Jim was waiting for me, and, by the way he acted, I'm beginning to believe he has changed his opinion about us girls. I tried to be as jolly as I possibly could under the circumstances--I don't believe of sniffling before anybody, especially Jim--I wasn't going to show him how bad I felt. What's the use? And yet, I'd be more than happy if I could turn him to my way of looking upon life. Not that I'd want to boss over him. I wouldn't want that for anything in the world--no more than I'd want him to boss over me.
The place was just jammed and Leonora had a hard job getting to the platform--she had to introduce the workhouse girls, and I must say this for her--she certainly did it in a most touching way. I perfectly agree with her that this disgraceful treatment of us girls is going to be an everlasting shame upon the heads of those cruel judges.
The girls are to get medals for bravery--it's no more than just that they should. I'm inclined to believe that they're as brave as our Revolutionary fathers themselves.
I had a few turns with Jim, but could not do much talking. He said that pa was somewhat sorry for all that happened. And a good thing that he is. For my part he can stay that way, too, but it may help the others a bit; he'll be more careful in his treatment of Sis. I wonder if she's got that steady yet which I prevented her from getting.
People say that it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and that is true about Sis--my sad experience will give her a chance to sponge upon pa for everything she'll want.
Poor Sarah! Perhaps if she had waited until tonight and diverted her thoughts a bit it might never have happened, but, then, who knows; perhaps she is better off after all.
It just struck me this morning that this is the second month since we are out on strike. It seems easy to say the second month. But Lord! Thirty-two whole days, 7248 hours since Clara said to us girls down at that big meeting: "Come, girls, let's go out on strike." And all those hours were hours of suffering, agony and growth. Yes, growth--whatever else we'll gain from this strike it certainly was an eye-opener to some of us, myself especially.
Only last night I spoke to Jim about my family and today I came pretty near breaking with them for good—until death would unite us once more. Had escaped by a miracle. Arrest now means the workhouse--well, what of it? All my father could do is to disown me as his daughter officially. I’m most beginning to think that blood ties ain’t everything after all. There’s my own sister, Sis. We were nursed by the same mother, brought up under the same roof, and yet we’ve absolutely nothing in common.
While I was at home and as giddy as she herself we used to scrap at every opportunity. Since I grew up and became interested in other things we scarcely spoke to each other. But here’s little Ray--no blood relation of mine--of a different religion, from another land, and still and all I’m sure she’s more to me than any sister could be.
I’ve become a philosopher of late. It seems to me that this world of ours will be a better place to live in when people grow less selfish, stop thinking only of themselves and their flesh and blood and share their affections with all good people, tie or no tie.
I think that the strike has helped us girls considerably in that line. There’s that feeling of kinship among us that amazes even me at times--we feel with and suffer for one another. I was so happy this morning when I noticed the girls are a bit brighter after yesterday’s affair, but there were only about two thousand at the dance. The other four thousand who are still out with us felt too miserable to come.
This strike is the toughest proposition I’ve come across in my life. One would never believe that us girls will be able to stand all those terrible hardships. If only the union was able to give us at least a half dollar per day so as to keep the body and soul together. But this would mean three thousand dollars daily, not counting all the fines paid into court and many other expenses.
And yet, when I come to think that in this big city alone there are 55,000 union men it don't seem such an impossibility to keep us girls supplied with bread until we win. If they'd only be as thoughtful as the teamsters and give half a dollar per head it would already mean over $75,000, or in other words victory for us girls.
I've had the settled shops thrown up to me. What can we expect from them when they don't even make much now; besides, girls are girls after all and still have a great deal to learn before they will know what solidarity means.
Was sent to one of the biggest and richest unions in town this evening. The men wore their prosperity on their coat sleeves and they acted like real swells; they met behind closed doors, have a private office where committees can wait all they want until it suits the royal assembly to receive them. While I was waiting one of the men told me that their local has four hundred members, that their initiation fee is $75 and that the dues are $1.50 per month. He then added that the wages they receive are so high that there's scarcely a man among them but that's got a home of his own.
After an hour's waiting I was allowed to enter. It took a committee of three to escort me to the platform. The members were all dressed up and looked slick for fair. I thought that here I was sure to get a heavy lump for our girls and talked to the men for over twenty minutes, telling them incidents of the strike that could have made a stone shed tears. But not these people; they sat there like they were chiseled out of ice. Another committee of three escorted me out of the meeting room and a third committee informed me an hour later that they would send $25 some time soon.
The loud ringing of church bells this morning was the first reminder of Christmas--the holiday I used to await with so much anticipation. The bells were telling us of peace on earth and good will toward men, but when I thought of the peace us girls are enjoying it made me smile at it all.
Don't know why, but somehow I had no heart to go to church and went picketing instead. Just as I was leaving the hall who should I meet but Jim. Poor boy! He didn't look as if he had peace, either. Something seemed to bother him. We walked along for awhile, when he said quietly: "Mary, I'd like to buy you something for the holiday, but dared not." I tell you what, Jim is mighty careful the way he treats me nowadays. He has finally learned that I, too, have to be consulted about some things. And right he was not to buy it without asking, for I wouldn't hear of it. The idea of me getting presents when the girls ain't got no bread.
Jim understood what I meant and said he'd give it to the union, then. It's all good and well for the rich to follow that custom of present giving, but why should us poor people insist upon imitating them I can't see for the life of me. We should know better than spend our hard-earned money on useless trumpery.
Jim came along with me and stood out in the cold until my time was up and another bunch of girls took our places. I'm around the Bijou nowadays. Wouldn't dare come near Haymans--I'm a marked chicken in that neighborhood. So I just exchanged places with another girl who's done her job at the Bijou until it got too hot for her to be there.
From there Jim and I walked up Fourteenth street and went into the Salvation Army headquarters to see for ourselves how people came to beg for a dinner. Lord, the most pitiful sight ever! Can there be anything worse than to see a human being full grown and healthy stretch out his hand for charity, standing in line for hours in order to get a bit of meat and a piece of bread? And what different types--some ashamed to lift their eyes, others hardened to all shame and humiliation, but all hungry and anxious to get a taste of real food, which they probably get only this once a year. I was really surprised to see the effect this had on Jim. As I looked at him it struck me for the first time that Jim was what he had been because he knew no better, because he didn't take the trouble to see all sides of life. That his heart was as good and noble as I once thought it to be, but it was covered over with a thick mass, which it was now beginning to shed.
Dear boy, his eyes filled with tears when he spied that little kid dressed
in a man's worn coat and torn shoes without stockings. I'm sure she ain't
more than ten years old, but the way she pushed herself to the front and
looked wistfully at the spread out parcels one would have reckoned her
to be an old grandmother.
"Darn it!" exclaimed Jim, following her with his eyes. "There's surely something wrong somewhere, if a child of that age has to go begging for the kiddies, while she's scarcely more than a kid herself."
Silently, for the first time in this holy morning, I delivered a prayer to the Lord. The Jim I disliked was slipping away and a new one, nobler and more generous, was entering into my life.
We left the barracks after a while, had a bite and, I leading the way, started up Fifth avenue. I thought it was a good policy to let him note the difference. And, sure enough, he did.
"Mary," says he, "it seems to be a shame that these people gorge themselves with all good stuff, while most of the others have to stand in line in order to get their leavings. I--I really think you're about right in trying to help make things as they should be, for it seems a grievous sin to live amid all the misery without lifting a finger to help."
And so I've succeeded in awakening another human heart. I know Jim, and am sure that he won't shrink from the trials he is sure to meet on this new path of life.
Elsie and I went to a rich lawyer's house this afternoon, and upon my word, even now in winter, the place he lives in seemed wonderful to me. I can just imagine what it looks like in summer.
As I was walking up the pretty avenue and looking at the heavily curtained windows I was just thinking of the people that live behind them and wondering if they ever knew what suffering and sorrow meant. Somehow it seemed impossible to associate these two together.
I felt a bit uncomfortable when I found myself in that magnificent library,
under the shrewd, scrutinizing gaze of our host. The grand dame gave me
two of her bejeweled fingers and looked as if she had bestowed a great
honor upon me.
I'm sure I ain't greedy and don't begrudge her what she's entitled to, but I couldn't help grumbling at her happy lot when compared with some of our girls. While we were waiting for the invited guests to arrive the lawyer took time to explain to Elsie that it's only the women who took up the strike and strikers as a vogue. "You'd be surprised," said he, "how much opposition this tomfoolery meets with among the men."
That's just what I thought myself, though I ain't no big or even little lawyer. But I couldn't help laughing the way Elsie gave him tit for tat. I don't really blame him for taking a liking to her--one can't help doing it. When he wanted to know why us girls stick to the union she told him that he would, too, if he had to work, for the union was the surest means of obtaining a living wage.
Then he was curious to find out who our leaders were and she replied that every other girl with brains in her head tried to lead her timid sister out of the terrible suffering they were both undergoing. When asked why us girls didn't strike before this, Elsie replied that we just woke up from a long sleep.
One of the lady visitors wanted to know why us girls don't take positions as servants if we have to live under such hard conditions while working in the factory. Her question made me that mad that for a minute I forgot where I was and said to her: "No, thanks; none of that for mine. I can't see where the improvement comes in by washing your dirty linen. If you people don't see anything better in store for us you'd better give up the idea of helping us out of our trouble."
I honestly believe it's a sin against ourselves that we are committing by going to them and telling them the mournful tale of our hardships. I'm sick to my neck of their few paltry dollars. What do I care for the $130 we collected there? I'm tired of charity. The sooner we demand justice as our right and not as a boon from the rich the better for us. It seems so silly, this traveling from mansion to mansion. It makes me real downhearted and I always wish I hadn't come.
I'm sorry this time, too. I'd much rather have spent the afternoon with Jim. I know he didn't like to see me go; he just dotes on every word I say as if I was a prophet. He realizes how much more I had learned during these weeks and ain't ashamed to learn, even if it is from a woman.
Dear Jim, I know he frets over my shabby clothes and surmises that I ain't got too much to eat. But he admires my devotion to the girls and cares more for me than he would for some of these rich ladies who come sailing among us girls and trying to pry into our very soul.
I can't help thinking of the change in his behavior toward me--it's more gentle and loving than ever, but there's a sort of dignity in it which lifts me at once to his height, which carries with it a recognition of me as a human being. I'm sure Jim is a woman's rights man, though he don't know it and probably would resent it if he did.
I'm wondering what'll happen tomorrow. I hear it rumored that we're about to be sold out. I'd like to see any one trying to sell me or any of the other girls. Not on your life! We ain't the menus girls are on our guard against these fakers.
Early in the morning had to go to a conference of shop delegates at Beethoven Hall. As soon as I spied the shiny, smooth-chinned leader I was on my guard--knew that there was something in the air. If I had my way, say, I wouldn't trust that man with five cents, not to say with the welfare of us girls.
In his soft, snake-like voice he tried to impress upon us the necessity of coming to some understanding with our bosses, whom he had met the previous evening. It seems to me that he meets those fellows entirely too often. I tell you what, when a leader comes to you and sings a song of praise for your boss rest assured that he ain't no friend of the working people.
I let him talk to his heart's content, then asked quietly, "And what about the union? You told us all about the goodness of our bosses and nothing at all about the union."
"Now, see here," said the cur, sternly, "don't get excited and excite others with you. We'll do the best we can under the circumstances."
I felt a bit uneasy--his answer boded no good. But even then I knew it in my bones that the girls won't listen to him or his propositions unless the recognition of the union went with it. Us girls ain't going to be buncoed by those trimmers that speak and scheme to suit their own purpose. For further assurance of my convictions I looked around me, and if our fake benefactors had known the girls the way I know them I'm pretty sure they would have left out some of their hot air.
In the afternoon there were five mass meetings held in different halls in order to give all the girls a chance to vote on the latest proposition. I made it my business to have a peep at all of them, and I must say it was the greatest sight I've met yet. Girls with sore throats and girls with broken noses; girls with wet, torn shoes and girls without hats or coats, shivering from cold and faint from hunger; they were all on hand; their condition didn't matter a bit. Their vote was wanted and they came. Tired, half starved and almost dropping from weakness, they stood up on the tables, clung to the banisters, steadied themselves on window sills and hung onto the balcony railings. Their deep, thoughtful eyes wide open, their lips parted, they tried not to miss a single word uttered from the platform and the expression of their worn faces was even more eloquent than words.
Like a numberless army of bees they rose in a body against those who were trying to mar their future. "We're sick of all these assurances," shouted Fanny. "This is the time to strike them while the iron is red hot and we're going to get what we want or die in the attempt."
To listen to the numerous individual expressions one would have thought that us girls must be positive of a near victory, and yet this very morning many of the girls deserted our ranks and went back to work, but it doesn't seem to matter; somehow we've become so desperate that we look upon the whole thing this way: We don't die twice and don't live on forever, and us girls are resigned to accept whatever comes along. At any rate, it's better to die fighting than being fought with your hands tied behind your back.
"We ain't going back!" yelled Molly, jumping from a nearby table onto the platform. "I move that we remain out unless the bosses sign an agreement with the union." I'm happy to say her motion was accepted unanimously.
Could Sis ever be stirred by emotions like those that stirred my heart at that moment? Could there be a greater happiness than the happiness of living and doing for others?
As I was coming into the League after the meeting I met the silent labor leader and asked if the American Federation would be a party to the large mass meeting to be held at Carnegie Hall next Sunday.
"I don't very well see how we can do it," was his reply. I could have spit in his face for this answer, and from a representative of our mother organization! I guess he's looking out for some fat job and is afraid to displease the politicians.
I often wonder how our League women don't see through all these men. It seems strange that they should meet them on brotherly terms. I know I wouldn't want to be that man's sister!
Spent this morning in the office of the union and, honestly, it pretty near did me up--the lines of applicants for strike benefits grow hourly; as it is they already extend from the fourth 'way down to the ground floor, standing four abreast. It's enough to break one's heart to witness their misery, even for a little while. People are dying with hunger, and this, coupled with the horrible brutalities practiced upon our girls, reaches a point where description becomes impossible.
We in the office had to listen to their tales of unbearable cold, of starvation and sickness that reigns in their gloomy homes. The truth of their words could easily be verified by the care-worn expression of their pale faces. God! where do we get the power to stand it all? I myself often go for days with just a bit of dry bread, but somehow a body's insides get so dried up that one don't mind it any longer--only that our strength is giving out bit by bit.
In the afternoon I met with a lot of rich guys--representatives from different organizations, who have at last woke up and want to call a protest meeting against the outrages of the police. Lord! with whom didn't I elbow there--the boss of those who talk votes for women and those who seem to worry so much about the salesgirls and so many, many other big guys that a plain little shop girl had no show at all among them.
To-day, more than ever, it was made clear to me that money does all the talking. It was simply ridiculous to see them bow to her who owns so many millions, all except one little Jew girl and myself. It makes me laugh when I think of the woman who was so terribly excited when Miss Morgan offered her her hand. "I--I really can't, Miss Morgan; my hand is not clean," muttered the silly fool, while only a minute previous to that she shook hands with a number of ordinary mortals. But she needs polish it off before it can touch Miss Morgan's sacred flesh. And she a well known college woman!
It was funny to watch them when the question of speakers was taken up for discussion. "We don't want any agitators," protested one of the lady bosses. "We are here to see that the Carnegie meeting has the tone of respectability attached to it."
It goes without saying she means the Socialists. I couldn't help wondering why the rich are so afraid of them. Is it because the Socialists don't mince words and show them up at every opportunity?
I must say this wasn't the case at this conference. Not one of those big people present thought of treating the matter openly; on the contrary, they tried their best to arrange matters so that things should be smoothed over--a sort of mutual admiration meeting they proposed it to be.
It's sickening, and that is all there is to it; their cowardly way of doing things; always afraid of offending some one of their kind. Throwing dust into our eyes, that's what I call their conference and professed desire to take our part.
I just sat there and had a good look at those women whom we admire so much from the newspaper stories. One of the richest looked like she was used to many a spree. The other reminded me of a big, strong horse; the third was so rigged out that a body couldn't make out whether she was a person or a mummy. And the few men present--there was no backbone to them except one or two. I didn't feel a bit that they were my superiors.
It seems that the morning and afternoon weren't enough for my wrought-up nerves. When I got home I found that Mrs. Bloom was served with a dispossess. What am I to do? Here I am living under her roof and sharing her crust of bread whenever she's got it, without being able to repay her for the kindness. I ain't got anything for the uncle any longer and as much as I hate the very idea of it I think I'll have to ask for strike benefits after all. The Lord knows it ain't easy for me. I kept from doing it for pretty nigh eight weeks, and so did most of the other girls. But want is apt to make you do anything. People sell their honor and flesh all on account of it. Must go in and tell Mrs. Bloom not to worry.
This was a busy day for fair! I must admit it ain't easy sailing, the life of a newsy. We see them running about the streets shivering from cold and perhaps from hunger, and never pay any more attention to them than to a stray dog or cat.
It's only when a body gets right on the job, like I did today, that one realizes what terrible hardships these small boys have to endure. I'm still numb from cold--was out on the streets since early in the morning until night and, as luck would have it, this was the coldest day this winter.
People say a friend in need is a friend indeed. And the New York Call proved to be the only true friend among all the newspapers of this large city. Its management gave us a special issue free of charge and us girls sold it for our strike benefit. We did it without a momentary hesitation, without a thought of the humiliation it carried with it or the bitter cold we'd have to endure. Us girls have gone through so many trials that it makes no difference what we're to do so long as it is for the good of the cause. But I sometimes wonder what other experiences there are in store for us.
I've heard people call the newspapers the mouthpiece of the people. Well, I'm pretty sure that The Call is the mouthpiece of the working people, but the latter can't somehow see it.
It's funny when I think of the way many took our going out on the streets--big white sashes across our shoulders and heavy bundles of papers under the arms.
"What sort of a wrinkle is this?" muttered a well-dressed man whom I asked to buy a paper. "I think you women are going mad for fair," he added, looking at me with disdain. "Go home; woman's place is in the home."
I wonder if the man knew I had no home to go to, nor did the most of us girls who were out on the streets selling the papers.
"Won't you buy a paper?" I next asked of a woman on her way to work.
"I don't believe in this business," she replied haughtily. "There ain't no earthly use in making all that fuss when a body might just as well go to work without striking. Decent women leave that job to the men."
I watched that woman for a moment as she rushed on and pitied her for her great ignorance of her own condition.
"Can I sell you a newspaper for the benefit of the girls?" I inquired of an elderly gentleman, probably on his way to the office. He stopped and gave me one of those nasty smiles that send a chill through one's body.
"The girls," repeated the old scallawag. "Why, they have always had my admiration, but why buy the paper? I'm ready to give them money just for their good looks."
I caught his last words as I was turning the corner a few feet away from
him. I was on one of the poorest spots, near Twenty-third street, and,
finding that my attempt to do business there was useless, I slowly made
my way down town, and the further I went the easier it became to dispose
of my load. Here the
Down on Third street I met a poorly dressed woman, I suppose, on her way to the grocery store. She stopped, asked me for a paper and gave me a dime. "Keep the change," she said to me. "You girls need every cent you can get. My people will do without the quart of apples I was about to buy."
I took the coin from her and, on the impulse of the moment, raised it to my lips. It meant more to me than all the dollars received from the rich--hers was the true Christian spirit.
And so is that of our dear, brave girls. Half frozen and hungry, they refused to drink the hot coffee prepared for them at the headquarters of the League; they still resent every attempt of charity. And yet the coffee was bought on money they took in from the sale of papers. Why, some of us girls received as much as five dollars for a single paper. Oh, Lord! how my bones do ache and the chilblains--they're almost killing me; I could scratch off the very skin from my body. I tell you what, us girls can't be accused of weakness of character.
Well, another day spent on the streets of New York! A day of study and many experiences. I tell you what, the street is a mighty good thing if a body watches it with open eyes. I doubt if anybody could get as much out of a year's schooling as I did of the few hours of my newspaper trade.
Paid a visit down to Wall street this morning. I was somewhat anxious to see for myself what them big fellers think of our strike and us girls. But I ain't ashamed to admit that I was left in the soup--the real thing is hid behind locked doors; it's only them $10 and $20 per week millionaires that I've met, and they are the worst ever.
The way they look upon you, as if you ain't worth to tread upon God's earth, and yet, when I come to think of it, I realize that they're tradeless know-nothings who are lost as soon as they lose their job. I was so disgusted that I didn't take the trouble to say anything to them--what's the use? They don't care a rap about us girls, except in the way that old fogy did.
I felt a sinking sensation, though, when I got to Park Row. Here it was even worse. This was the first time that I came face to face with the real Bowery tramp. With bleared, bloodshot eyes, red noses, trembling hands, stooped backs and tattered clothes, they huddled together in the doorways. It was impossible for me to remain there more than a minute--this was too much for my tired nerves.
It was too painful to think that in a rich city like ours there should still exist the possibility of encountering a similar sight. I couldn't make myself believe that all these men have fallen that low of their own accord--the bread of charity can't taste good to anybody. Who, then, was responsible for their degradation?
I couldn't reflect upon the subject very long--had to get down to the Jewish theater in time for the matinee--the manager had promised to let me do business. He advised me to announce my wares from the stage and I tried to get up there. This was no easy task, by any means. Down, down I went into a dark, musty cellar, finding my way by the dim light of a small gas jet. The narrow hall was lined on both sides by two rows of small, flimsy wooden partitions.
It's hardly believable, and yet those sheds were nothing but the dressing rooms for the actors and actresses. I must say, this new discovery was a terrible shock to me. Somehow it was impossible to associate the gay men and women we meet on the theater stage with the life in a cold, dark cellar. It's bad enough that the bakers have to spend their days in such places; but then we've all become used to that and don't seem to mind it any longer, as if the baker was born for the cellar life. But not so the actor. For the first time in my life it suddenly occurred to me that the actors and actresses are not performing their antics of their own free will any more than I would be making waists just for the fun of it.
Here, again, I had to control myself and rush on with the sale--it was getting late. I had taken in a goodly sum of money, but wasn't satisfied with the day's work, so took a new supply and went up Broadway to meet the theater going crowds. I know better now. It only goes to show how little I still knew of life, especially in that part of the city. The vultures in human shape were out for prey and the streets in that neighborhood were no place for a woman. My first impulse was to turn back, but the money is needed so badly that I made up my mind to be deaf to all sorts of insinuations, and I stayed and heard words that I hope never again to hear in my life. I saw women ready to exchange their honor for a few cents or a meal. Venerable gentlemen, perhaps fathers of large families, paying the price. Young men escorting their ladies to theaters and at the same time flirting with the girls on the corner. But what of it, even if it did make my blood boil in me and my head ache as if it would split, us girls had sold thirty-five thousand papers and took in more than five thousand dollars?
Ray and I are sure to get three dollars apiece. That means five dollars for Mrs. Bloom's landlord and a whole dollar for bread. One can buy twenty five-cent loaves for that.
A human sandwich! Yes, that's precisely what I was today. I wonder why in heaven people look with such contempt at the unfortunates who have to make a living that way? To tell the truth, I really do not know why they are worse than the gay actress or the school teacher or anybody else who's trying to make a living by honest work.
After all, I don't know whether it is harder to put on two boards with large letters written upon them and thus parade the streets, or stand up on a brightly-lit stage and sing and dance while your heart is, perhaps, breaking from some secret sorrow.
I must say I've become a different being; I can't look upon things with the same eyes I used to. I don't seem to distinguish any longer what is respectable and what ain't. I don't see why the baker is worse than the doctor--both help prolong human life.
It seems to me that everybody ought to be willing to do what's right and that's just why I pinned on my chest and back those two large posters, picked up a bundle of Calls under my arm and promenaded up and down Twenty-third street for more than two hours. By doing this I've accomplished a double purpose--I've advertised the Sunday meeting and given the public to understand that us girls won't stop before anything if it is for the good of the cause.
And sure enough, whom should I come across but Mr. Hayman! "Mary, is it possible that you've come down so low?" exclaimed the gentleman, evidently pained at my appearance.
I just told him that the success of our fight is more important than any personal humiliation. Then added: "Think of it, Mr. Hayman, and when you get home put it in your pipe and smoke it."
They can stand on their head, but there ain't no use--they'll have to give in after all. "How vulgar," murmured a lady coming out from one of the stores. She was dressed to kill and under her arm she carried a little puppy.
It's strange how widely different our views are. She thought it vulgar to fight for a noble cause and I think it's more than vulgar, in fact, criminal, to pay thousands for little puppies, carry them about, fondle them and surround them with all sorts of comforts, while thousands of little children are dying for want of proper care.
I really felt sorry for that swell. From morning until night and from night until morning she doesn't think of a blessed thing but herself, until she's about sick and tired of her own person and for want of anything better turns to dogs.
A few minutes later a gentleman remarked that us girls are too anxious to gain notoriety. He wanted to assure me that the best woman is the one of whom neither good nor bad is ever heard outside of her own home.
I do wish the people would stop sending us to homes which we ain't got. What if we do make ourselves notorious? If we can't gain the people's attention any other way, then let it be through notoriety. There wasn't a person that passed me this morning but stopped long enough to read the poster and that's just what I wanted.
Met Jim near Fifth avenue. He came right over, greeted me in the most friendly way and walked alongside of me as if nothing was the matter, as if it was perfectly natural for me to do what I was doing. He seemed to approve of my rig. I must say, but the world does change!
The landlord kicked like a steer. He won't hear of being satisfied with five dollars; said that he don't buy houses for charity, but to get all the money he can out of them. I believe him. This cry for money is sickening. As if they're the happier for having lots of it? They wanted to know at the League if I was going out on picket duty tomorrow. Why, to be sure I am, and Jim's coming along with me.