In Their Own Eyes
Diary of a Shirtwaist Striker: January
by Theresa Serber Malakiel
January 1, 1910
I was so tired from the day's work that I didn't even know when the New Year was ushered in. And another thing, the people in our neighborhood do not celebrate. As Mrs. Bloom justly said this morning: "A new year means new sorrow. It seems to grow with time," and the poor woman shook her head mournfully. "There ain't a bit of coal in the house, mother," called to her Sammy at that moment. The kid was numb from cold and was anxious to start a fire. The unfortunate mother bit her lips hard so as not to burst out crying and left the house, making believe she didn't hear what the boy said.
The first time I witnessed such a scene I nearly went daffy. I couldn't understand why Mrs. Bloom ran out of the house. But now I'm getting used to it--it's almost an everyday affair, and I don't know as Mrs. Bloom can be blamed for running off--she can't simply listen to the children's pitiful wail.
I left the house without being able to heat up a bit of water and moisten my dried-up lips. I felt real wretched, but as I neared the Bijou I spied Jim in the distance. Something of the old thrill passed through me. It's the greatest joy in life to meet Jim nowadays--we have so much to say to each other. Jim spends his evenings reading and then tells me all about the things he finds in these numerous books and pamphlets he has been buying of late. At times he is puzzled about one thing or another and then I apply my knowledge from the book of life.
As we stood there talking Jim noticed that Fanny was surrounded by a couple of thugs, who were insulting the child in the most unspeakable terms. Without a thought of personal danger my brave boy knocked the two of them down. He was just furious at the police, who jabber so much about purifying the city.
"Mary," said he to me as I was dragging him away from further trouble, "this outrageous treatment of our women is an everlasting shame upon the heads of every citizen of this great city. In the South they put a noose about a man's neck for insulting a woman. Here we've grown so callous and cold-blooded that we take it as a joke."
While I pleaded with him to cool down I felt happy at the thought of the wonderful change in my own Jim.
Unable to remain near the Bijou that day, I took hold of Jim's sleeve and gently led him away from mischief. Gradually his indignation calmed down a bit and he turned his attention on something I had told him about the scene at Mrs. Bloom's.
"Mary," said Jim, and he blushed like a girl, "why can't we eat our lunch with the Blooms? We can buy all the stuff on our way there." This was the first time since I left home that he was asking permission to visit my new abode. It ain't that I didn't want him to, but I felt a bit nervous. I was ashamed to take him through the filthy yard which leads to the house, then up the narrow, dilapidated stairway and into Mrs. Bloom's gloomy, half-dark kitchen, where in spite of the bitter cold the air is just stifling.
Jim must have guessed the cause of my embarrassment, for he said: "I think it will take some time before the best of you women will get rid of your false pride. Suppose you do live in a wretched place, what of it? Poverty may be a curse, but it's nothing to be ashamed of."
Who would have thought this of Jim? But then I may as well say, who would have thought this of me? Perhaps it's only natural that it should be so; it's only inevitable that the human mind should keep growing once it's brought into action.
Make believe the little Blooms weren't delighted with the feast we gave them.
"Mary, you've a fine steady," they said to me when Jim left the house this evening. I tell you what, it's simply amazing to hear those kids talk--they're just like little old men and women. Poor kids! I feel sorry for them. They will never know the meaning of childhood--they never had any; they are born old. Why should this world be made up of such contrasts, I wonder? Here's us American children who act like kids even when they grow up and there's them that worry and suffer from the very cradle. Jim's company made me happy for a while and I hope I'll get some good rest tonight.
I’m beginning to think that if us girls make up our minds to see a thing succeed we are bound to have it so. The Carnegie meeting was even greater than us girls expected it to be. But I must say we worked for it. I left the house this morning much earlier than usual in order to make the round of the different halls and impress upon the girls the necessity of making this affair a howling success.
In every meeting room I encountered almost one and the same picture--girls divided into small groups talking earnestly about their sad plight and the seeming hopelessness of settlement in the near future. I must say, though, that all were deeply interested in the subject. There were many who balked against the decision to hold out still longer, having done their duty for so many weeks, they were now getting tired and I don't know as any one could be very severe with them for feeling that way.
But those who had once felt the grip of a policeman's hand on their shoulder were among the staunchest advocates of staying out to the last. As I listened to their discussions I felt glad the police were so generous in their treatment of us girls--their action was the best eye-opener. A day in jail and a girl couldn't help but realize the injustice of it all.
I was all tired out by seven o'clock, but had no time to stop and think of it. There was still plenty of work ahead; we had to get the girls that were arrested upon the platform and there muster them out according to the degree of abuse they had suffered. It's easy to say--six hundred of us arrested girls, a bunch of innocent girls arrested and placed on trial during these long weeks of battle for the crime of refusing to work for starvation wages!
I think that this meeting was the best ever--by the expression of the audience it was clear that it was appalled by the sight of us grouped together on that brightly-lit stage and justly indignant at those who were responsible for our suffering. Why, even I myself felt it more when I saw it right before my eyes--rows upon rows of young girls with the brunt of imprisonment printed on their chest. It's terrible, this sudden confronting of facts. A body can't help shrinking from a society where such a thing is possible. I know I had to; I was fairly sick at the sight of all those silent witnesses and I can imagine the effect it had upon strangers who did not know before the extent of the persecution.
The room went round and round me. I feared that I may faint and disturb that immense crowd, but luckily for me and the meeting I caught Jim's eye. It was full of devotion and encouragement, and made me feel as if a waft of fresh air had suddenly poured upon me and strengthened me in body and mind.
I must say that fate, which had originally brought Jim and me together, must look on and be proud of the result Jim is my mainstay nowadays. Having entered the path of truth through different channels we are constantly drawing nearer to each other. I now realize that life will be worth living when we finally join our hands and hearts in order to support one another in life's struggle.
The speeches! I don't see how anybody could listen to them and remain calm. It seems to me that all those present must have left the hall determined to see justice done to us sufferers. But as good as the speeches were, the climax was reached when that little Jew girl appeared on the stage. She looked so small and her voice sounded so childish that everybody gasped for breath--to think that she had been for a day in that wretched place called the workhouse! Poor kid! she tried hard to tell the audience why she was sent there, but succeeded in uttering a few words only and these so pathetic that even our own girls had to cry.
As the evening progressed I glanced occasionally at Jim and in the fullness of my heart I saw once more the dear, faultless, idolized man I had worshipped a while ago. The intervening few weeks had slipped from my memory. The unspoken tie which had bound us before, as if we were husband and wife already, was born anew. Unknown to myself I burst into passionate tears, but they were only tears of joy and hope for the future.
I think the backbone of the Bosses' Union is broken, though they wouldn't acknowledge it and keep up a brave front. The strike isn't as yet declared off and may not be for many days to come. But one by one their members come quietly to the union office, sign their agreements and take back their old workers.
God! what a satisfaction it is to see them do it. What a world of self-respect every new surrender gives us girls. This wholesale desperation gives the scab bosses the chill--they send their girls by the flock to the League to take out their union cards. Was there ever heard before a similar victory? And all because us girls kept pulling together and not on opposite sides, as most working people are wont to do. Just because we've made up our mind to stand and fall together.
I couldn't say that it was an easy thing, either. When I look at our girls or at the League women I only realize the terrific effort we've all made. As I come to think of my first entrance into this battle I can't help wondering at the amount of knowledge I've gained. I was but a silly girl rushing in for the thirst of fun in me, staying with them at the dictates of my heart and not my head, and finally reasoning it all out for myself.
I would just love to know if the people at large have at last learned the necessity of our organization, the impossibility of avoiding this strike. It ain't that I really care what they think, I should stick to the girls at any rate; but it's for the sake of those who are to follow us.
If I'd consult my personal interest I'd join hands with Jim at once, but not now, not while the girls are still fighting. Their pale, joyless faces would haunt me to my very grave. My suffering may make it easier for others to earn a living in the long run.
Mrs. Bloom told me of a neighbor who cut off her long hair and sold it for five dollars. Poor Mrs. Bloom! for the first time in her life she deplored the fact of being deprived of long tresses. Another woman had pulled off two gold crowns from her teeth and sold them for bread. It sounds more like a novel, but I'm sorry to say it ain't; it's as much of a fact as our general suffering.
Mr. Hayman met me again yesterday as I was going to Carnegie Hall and offered to take me as a sample maker on a fifteen dollar per week salary steady. I just told him that it ain't for myself that I'm fighting, but for Ray and Rose and Jenny. To think of it, fourteen-year-old jenny has to work at flower-making for just twenty-five cents a day! And she doesn't make it all during the day, either--we help her at night.
It ain't no easy job, this flower-making ain't. The kid's fingers are all pricked and swollen, then the dye gets into them and they fester like anything. But even this ain't as bad as Minnie's work. She just recovered from her sickness and some one got tassels for her to make. Talk about a merciful world! where does the mercy come in I don't know. Here is her that can scarcely breathe as it is, blowing from morning until night, for this is the only way of parting the numerous threads of silk that go to make up a single tassel.
Minnie is eager to make some money; she knows what her illness meant to the family and wants to make some amends for it. And it ain't the money alone--the girl wants to run away from her thoughts or she'd land where Lilly did. She had to be put in a straitjacket--her mind had given way under the terrible strain. In ain't no surprise, either. What else can follow in the wake of abuse and starvation but suicide and insanity? To tell the truth, of the two I would prefer the first.
Well, well, quite a pleasant subject I have dwindled to. I didn't know it until I just glanced at the note book. People say all roads lead to Rome, and with us girls everything seems to center around struggle and suffering. Here we are, thousands of us, for many weeks past, from morning until night, thinking, talking and working for nothing but the strike. And yet, I'm never tired to keep it up. The strike to me is like a many colored rainbow, each color presenting a new food for study. All the suffering and ugliness I'm surrounded with have done me a great service.
Took a flying trip out of town and did it in a parlor car at that, but this ain't the best of it, either. I came back with a check for a thousand dollars made out to the treasurer of the union. This money came from hard-working men and women who spend many long hours in the sweating dens of our large cities. It was donated to us girls by the convention of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.
As soon as our train left the city early this morning and sped out into the broad, open field I felt a heavy cloud lifted off my shoulders. It was real good to see the blue sky and white, snow-covered fields and mountains. I thought of our girls and wished I could take them all along with me and give them a chance to breathe freely for once in their life. How many of them are pining away in the close, stifling air of our big city, where the buildings are growing ever taller, the number of people larger and the ways of earning a living harder.
I felt like a forlorn sheep at first. I must have acted queer, for I noticed a grin on almost every face that was turned toward me. It made me real mad--it's all good and well for them that's got nothing else to do to know all the traveling etiquettes, but how in the world is one of us to know all these things--the hard work is enough to crush everything out of one's head.
To avoid their persistent glances I rose and wanted to enter the ladies' dressing room, but landed in the porters' quarters instead. It gives me a chill even now when I think of the half a dozen dark grinning faces. In anger I rushed back to my seat and buried my head in the window. I just longed for Jim and his good counsel.
Suddenly my ear was attracted by the conversation of two men, evidently salesmen. One claimed that the judges were treating us girls too mildly. What made him furious was the fact that the darned foreigners had not a bit of consideration for an American soul whose expenses run as high as eight dollars per day, cigars alone amounting to one fifty.
This conversation was something new again--no wonder us girls have to work for so little when the go-betweens spend that much. What must the boss himself be spending?
The delegation at the convention did not tend to raise my spirits, except for their good will and the money they voted to give us. But, honestly, I felt guilty to take it away from them--they looked, at least most of them, as if they never get a full meal.
I had to make my appeal for sympathy on behalf of those whose misery I have been a partner to, but even as I spoke I watched their stooped shoulders, their thwarted growth; they looked the typical overworked beings they are described to be.
For whom and for what do they waste their lives away? Their families don't get much out of their work, they themselves get still less; then where does it all go, this work of theirs? I--I don't know, but these thoughts drive me nigh crazy at times. These people are all self-supporting, honest and good to their kind--why should they be deprived of leading a decent life?
It was almost two o'clock when I got out of the convention. In a hurry to catch my train I rushed into the nearest lunchroom to get a bite, for I felt faint. It was an immense place where the sales and office girls take their lunch. It's amazing how quickly they do it. I wondered that they don't burn their insides with the boiling coffee, for they get through with the entire performance in less than five minutes with the waiting upon themselves and all. Of course, they don't eat anything to speak of--how can they? A girl can hardly spend more than fifteen cents for lunch, while some of them can't spend even that much, and what does a body get now for that money? The pity of it is that those hundreds of girls I watched there at that lunch counter were perfectly ignorant of their own condition, just as I was two months ago. I'm sure they would have had a good laugh at my expense had I tried to explain things to them.
It gave me the chills to listen to their talk--their whole existence is bent on imitating the rich. The train is nearing town; I will have to stop.
I was glad to get back. After all, there ain't no place like little old New York. And, to tell the truth, I think it's all Jim's fault. Dear old boy! He was waiting impatiently for me at the station. I knew he hated to see me go, but he wouldn't stand between me and the welfare of the strike for anything in the world.
And everybody takes him at his right worth. Mrs. Bloom said to me the other morning: "Mary, you're the hardest person I've come across. What ails you, girlie? The girls trust you with their affairs; you're loved by the kindest man livin' and needn't go hungry if you don't want to. Then why go around as if the world's sorrows rest upon your shoulders?"
It may be true enough, but how can a body be happy amidst all this misery; one insignificant little tree in this great forest of suffering people? To tell the truth, I don't think there's such a thing as a perfectly happy person nowadays; it seems that every one of us has some skeleton hid away deep in his heart.
When I got to the League Mary asked me to attend a conference. I was sure that we were going to get some money out of it and went. But it proved to be one of those fake affairs held by our supposed-to-be friends for the purpose of forming a new organization that would make it its business to drive the Socialists out of the union movement. If I hadn't felt so sad in general there was an opportunity for some good fun. It was to laugh the way those swell ladies were worrying about the welfare of us working girls.
"Why, they've been completely neglected by us," pleaded Eve, the temptress. "And the horrid Socialists lost no opportunity to enlighten them about the principles of Socialism. What will become of us if this is permitted to go on? We must at once start some systematic work in order to educate the girls out of Socialism." I guess she'll have a hard job.
Big strong Ann, who's got more money than she can count, sat there and continually nodded her head in approval of what Eve had to say. I would just love to make her roll up her sleeves and do an honest day's work, like us girls have to do all the time. I'll bet you ten to one that our union wouldn't seem too radical to her then.
"Labor conditions are too serious a matter," said one of the
"Those Socialists are dangerous," chimed in another, who has been changing her charitable occupations and husbands more frequently than some people do their clothes, and was therefore considered an authority on both subjects. "Their principles go to bring about the disruption of the home," continued the worthy matron.
I felt just like telling them that our homes can no longer be disrupted, for the most of us working people have no homes, but my opinion wasn't asked and I kept mum. I've gone through too much to care for their jabbering; it's only that they're trying their best to make trouble. I wouldn't be at all surprised if they'd be glad to see the League go to the dogs, but not on your life--we've too many good fighters in there.
As Pauline said to me: "It's just because I have that bigger ideal in view that I can work with such a devotion. If I didn't believe that this struggle is only the first step on the road to freedom I don't know as I could keep it up in spite of all the obstacles in my way."
I shouldn't wonder but that some day Jim and I will land in the same boat with Pauline and the rest of them who see greater hope for us working people than the mere winning of this strike, which may after all be lost again, even before we've time to say Jack Robinson.
One could hardly believe it, but Jim's getting stronger on that point than I am. "See here," he said to me when we left Carnegie Hall, "I think us working people are the stupidest ever; what's the use of making so much fuss against these judges now when it's too late; why in the world can't we stop sending them where they do not belong?"
I wonder why they've brought us down to the Tombs, unless they've come to look upon us girls as upon terrible criminals? It gives me the shivers to hear the grating of the iron doors. I feel as though the thick gray walls are drawing much closer and closer upon me. Their grayness is entering my very bones. They seem so old as if they were here from the beginning of the world. And the terrible, mysterious halls which lead one into a dark unknown distance, perhaps hell itself, where the shadows of all those that were here before us are still roaming about.
Lord! when we left the street the day was bright and sunny, but in this miserable place it feels as if the sun never shines. And I must say it's precious little that a body can feel within these high stone fences. One can hardly believe that there is such a thing as life, joy and happiness.
I'm that scared that I could yell at the top of my voice, if it would only break this horrible silence. And yet, strange as it may seem, I ain't a bit surprised at being here. I took it for granted when I was being dragged into a patrol wagon once more, for I knew all along that it was coming. This time the police had a fine crop--fifteen of us girls at one grab. But, to tell the truth, I'm more mad at that fluffy thing who was the cause of our arrest than I am at the cops.
As if we ain't got enough trouble; no, she need come down to show off before her fellow how brave she can be--anything to pass the time away. And why not? She didn't lose anything by it--had all the excitement she was looking for, posed as a martyr, had a dozen or more pictures taken free of charge and was then taken home by her rich pa. I'm sure she's now sittin' in one of them swell hotels eating a good supper and talking of the great deed--great, to be sure--to leave us in a lurch. It's on account of her that we'll have to stay here over night, for she had the trial postponed until tomorrow. I think it's a shame; it was she that started it all. I'm pretty sure none of the Jew girls would be that mean. And when I come to think of it, what did she do for us girls all these weeks, and yet the papers were full of her. They say she's goin' to be a lawyer; well I'm sure that this free advertising will pay her, for it will mean business in the end. Talk about the Jews being shrewd in the business line--I think our Americans can beat, them all hollow.
My hand is numb from cold; I can hardly see how to scribble these lines, but then, anything not to remain still. Poor Jim! I'm sure he'll feel even worse than I do, but it'll do him good in the long run. It will strengthen his spirit of rebellion, for we really can't feel a thing until it comes right near home. I'm sure Jim's sorry for all the girls and would do anything in his power to put a stop to these outrages, and yet it would be so different when he knows that I'm the one who is made to suffer.
This is perhaps one of the reasons why I'm so mad at that fluffy thing. If her sympathy for us hadn't been skin deep, if she had really cared for us girls the way we do for each other she would have remained with us. This more than anything else would have made her kind realize the horrors we girls are subject to. And I'm certain something would have been done.
But I really don't know as I ought to excite myself over it. I guess it's just because I'm hungry and Ray's sittin' in the corner crying to break her heart, and the other girls can't be much better off than we are. The most of them, like myself, are under arrest for the third time and are sure to be sent to the workhouse. And it ain't that I'm such a coward, but it means additional worry for the union; it stops them from attending to the strike proper, and that's just what our bosses want.
I wish they'd let us lie down at least. I feel as though some one has given me a good clubbing--well, the cops weren't a bit gentle in handling us girls. This time they've treated us like equals with the men criminals. It's funny, when we do something wrong or are blamed for doing something we didn't do we are punished like men, but when we want to have our say we ain't as good as they are.
And so this is the second day of my prison life; it seems almost a century since that woman first came in to fix us for the night. "Get out of my way," she growled, when Ray and I attempted to ask her a question. She was one of the trusted prisoners and looked upon us new ones with a feeling of superiority.
She unstrapped the board that had been fastened to the wall, pulled out from behind it a couple of dirty blankets, then climbed upon it, did the same to the upper board and ordered us to bed. I was mighty glad; I didn't know what was awaiting me after I'd get there. It's a good thing Ray was afraid to sleep alone and nestled close by me--it helped a bit. I ain't a nervous lady, but I think the strongest man must needs get the shivers at the sight of all them rats--they crawled around the cot, scratched upon the walls and squealed loud enough to bring the evil one out of his hiding place.
I left off writing this morning in order to eat my breakfast, but before I took a couple of mouthfuls I was called into the prison office. God! I thought that the rats and vermin were bad enough, but the questions they asked me down there beat it all.
I suppose that's what people call the sweatin' box--well, I didn't sweat; I turned as cold as a piece of ice--who were they to ask of my heart's secrets, to suggest things that were enough to bring blushes and tears to the most depraved being? It was just maddening to think that I was completely in their power. I felt as though the room was reeling before me, my brain refused to work and I answered their questions like one in a dream.
Luckily for me it was getting high time to go to court, and a guard took me across the Bridge of Sighs. The Bridge of Sighs--I've often read about it, but that isn't to be on it, to see the thousands of people rushing past, each stopping long enough to cast a pitiful, sneering or defying gaze in the direction of those who have sinned in the eyes of the law. I felt sick at heart; it pained me to see the look of despair in the eyes of the prisoners who were being led across like myself. I couldn't help feeling with them and against all those curious ones who come to enjoy our misery. But, suddenly, amidst the sea of faces I spied a pair of clear bright eyes--they carried a message of love for me. I had barely time to intercept it when I was taken into the prisoners' pen. I guess this is about all I'll see of Jim today.
Us girls spent two hours in that close, stuffy room and were again taken across the bridge--fluffy's lawyer has postponed the trial for another day. I'm really surprised that nobody tries to bail us out, but I don't know as they, down at the union, can be blamed so much; they surely have their hands full. It's heartbreaking to see what this one day did to the girls. They look as if they'd been for weeks on a sickbed. And now that Ray is taken away from me I feel like a stray duckling. The other prisoners look sneeringly at my writing and I guess I'd better stop.
Another wretched night, in fact, by far worse than the first--the woman above me would not stand for my tossing about, she had it in for me since the afternoon, and now thumped and growled like a mad cat. "Think of that swellness--this place ain't good enough for her. And suppose it ain't, your poor, dear darlin', there are others here, perhaps, as good as yourself."
I said nothing to her--what was the use--she was one of those creatures who are lost to all sense of reason; her yellow, shriveled-up face, her trembling hands and dull brazen eyes made me shrink from her in horror. She must have felt it at once and swore and cursed in the most unspeakable language. She had it in for everybody, her dead parents, her lost lover and still-born child, she hated them all and me with them.
It was terrible, terrible to see a young woman so deep down in the mud. I thought she'd drive me mad; I clutched at the boards of my bed to steady myself. "I ain't good enough for you," shouted my neighbor. "Wait until I get a chance at your hair--you'll see the stars flyin' in all directions." Here, luckily for me the guard entered and seeing her in convulsions dragged her out of the cell.
Her cursing helped me to forget the rats for awhile; it was now getting
light and I knew they'd run back in the holes. I longed for some rest
and peace, but this is not a thing prescribed for prisoners. Before I
had a chance to turn around and doze off I was told it was time to rise.
I'm tired, sleepy and
"Young woman," said the judge to me sternly when I was at last brought before him this morning, "you are under arrest for the third time--remember that you were last released upon the promise to keep within the letter of the law."
"But I did, your honor," I replied in a firm manner. He didn't like my answer and warned me angrily: "Mind you, woman, you are committing perjury; you are on your oath. The officer here says you've disturbed the peace."
I was about to say something to him about those officers when I caught sight of fluffy, togged out in her best finery, two men at her side and a half dozen reporters back of her. I just hated them all that minute. What was the use of talking; no matter what I'd say won't do me any good. Talk about the law being equal for all, rich and poor alike. No fear of her goin' to the workhouse. It's us poor devils that'll have to pay the fiddler for all the fun she got out of us. I'm sure everybody in that courtroom knew I was innocent and yet, after a momentary silence, the judge said to me calmly: "Five days in the workhouse."
Poor Jim! I saw him all the while standing in a corner, his head bowed low, as if he dared not catch my eye. But when the judge pronounced sentence he looked up and almost reeled off his feet. I believe the boy is completely stunned by the turn of affairs.
The full meaning of the verdict didn't dawn upon him until he met me at the door when I was being led back to prison. There was such a pitiful look of anxiety in his eyes as he pressed my hand that I couldn't help throwing my hands around his neck and embracing him right there in front of everybody.
"How can they be so cruel to you, Mary?" he muttered in a choked voice, the tears trickling down his pale cheeks. "Mary," he continued, "you are doing your duty an' I shall do mine; while you're away I will do the picketing for you."
And now I'm back again for another night with the rats. Tomorrow we'll be sent to the island. Meanwhile I haven't eaten for two days. It makes me sick to look at the so-called soup which they give us prisoners for dinner. I wouldn't give it to my pet dog, if I had any. I wonder if the time will ever come when prisons will be torn down, when all this greed, which is the cause of most of the crimes, will disappear altogether?
Oh, it's terrible, terrible to look upon all these women in their striped dresses and heavy shoes. The word convict seems to be imprinted on their very forehead. Perhaps it's only my imagination. I wonder what I look like. I'd just love to get hold of a bit of mirror. I must be even worse than the rest, for my garb is twice as big as myself. The matron had to pin it up all around with pins or I couldn't make a step in it.
I must say that this is better after all than the miserable prison down on Center street. Here a body has at least space to breathe. Of course, the work is hard enough to kill a horse, the companions of the toughest kind, the matron far from being gentle, the rooms gray, gloomy and bare of furniture except a number of wooden benches and the worktables. But when I think of the terrible filth I've left behind me I'm almost thankful for being here. And people say that we Americans have model prisons. I guess it's because they've never been serving time within them.
We got here shortly before noon and by the time my history was taken down and my clothes changed for the ones I'm wearing it was time to go for dinner. I wish we hadn't gone--I'm still sick to my stomach. I must say that hard as the work may be, the food is the worst part of the workhouse program. The tin dishes and spoons look as if they had been used by many, many miserable beings before us. The bread was made of nothing but bran and corn; the soup was even worse than the one at the Tombs, and I honestly believe that I'd rather starve to death than take another mouthful while I'm here. The potatoes were stale and sour, the gruel raw and all we tasted of beef was a horribly sickening smell.
The girls marched in the so-called dining room in line like school children under the severe supervision of the matron. And this is the only time when they're supposed to be given some freedom, when they're allowed to exchange a word or two with each other. But at every attempt to make a jest, which I must say was not of the Sunday school order, she threatened and upbraided them. It really made me smile when we were ordered to say grace. What a clear, open lie. Whom do they want to blind by it? I'm sure not the girls, for they know better; they realize that it's precious little that they have to be thankful for. And the matron had the hardest time in getting one of the girls to say it aloud for the rest. Each one tried in turn to shove it off on the other until it fell to the lot of Dutch Annie--a child of scarcely more than sixteen. She lowered her long lashes and with her still pretty mouth commenced to chant the few well-known words. With bowed heads the diners giggled, nevertheless, at the earnest way in which Annie performed her task and were, of course, upbraided by the matron.
"I'd be blessed if I eat this stuff," said my neighbor, pushing aside her plate of soup. "I guess some one must be getting rich on us," she continued in a loud enough voice for the entire assembly to hear her.
"Hold your mouth," shouted our overseer, "or you'll have another dose of the darkroom." The girl turned pale and bent her head low over the table. I wonder what chamber of horrors that may be?
Within half an hour the girls were back at work and I was set to scrubbing. I'm surprised that the boards on the floors do not wear out from all the scrubbing they're getting. I think it's the worst punishment anybody could have invented. To go on day after day scrubbing floors without any purpose or reason for doing it. I ain't no educator nor reformer, but, somehow, I fail to see how in the world they expect us girls to turn a new leaf, to become better through the performance of this stupid job. What enlightenment is there in lying down on the floor, brush with rag in hand, and moving on one's knees to cover many feet of flooring, scrubbing, washing and drying, until every bone in the body aches?
I'm surprised at myself that I've still enough energy left to put down my thoughts on paper. But people often say that by long practice a habit becomes one's second nature, and I've come to think that this is perfectly true about my scribblin'. I've simply got to do it. I see the girls are rushing indoors and must stop. This was a bit of respite we get after supper--horrid black coffee without sugar and some more of the same bread.
Thank the Lord! Almost two of my five days in the workhouse gone. And mighty hard days at that. It was only half past seven when we were ordered to bed last night--that's the rule. No lights or talking after that. But picture a room full of women who have been kept silent the whole day long and are not permitted to say a word to one another after the daily labor is done. Of course they talk, even if they have to pay heavily for it.
I was glad to get to bed, hard as it was, but I couldn't fall asleep to save my life. "Why are you here?" I asked of the girl on a cot next to mine.
"I suppose for the very same reason that you are here," replied my neighbor.
The tone of her voice told the tale of her guilt. My face turned crimson and I shrank from the thought that every other woman in the room was here for the very same reason. I didn't want them to think that I, too, was one of them and snapped at her proudly; "I didn't want to work for starvation wages and struck; that's the crime I've committed."
"An' I couldn't go on livin' on starvation wages any longer and had to sell my body instead of my hands," said the girl calmly.
My first impulse was to turn away from the sinner. But who should be the judge of our conscience? Who has a right to blame the girl for what she turned out to be? It's hard to tell what the best of us would do when pressed real hard.
The poor devil was caught in the act of replying to me and was taken out of the room--I didn't see her since and feel a bit uneasy--it was my fault after all. I'd rather they had punished me in her stead--I've only three more days of it, while she has many months. I scarcely slept for the rest of that night. And with the first rays of sunshine we were made to rise, wash, clean up the beds and go down to breakfast--black coffee and bread.
After that came the scrubbing business once more. God! I'm so sore that I can hardly move about.
I thought that twelve o'clock would never come, but it did and with it the horrid, nasty leavings of yesterday's soup. Dutch Annie put me wise to it: "If you don't fill your bowl with bread crumbs and make a mush out of that stuff, we're sure to get it again tomorrow," she warned me.
Poor kid! I'm really sorry for her. She got a talkin' to while we were out in the yard and I think her mother is more to blame for what she is than the girl herself. Annie eloped with a man twice her age. The rascal left her soon after and when the girl conquered her shame and returned home, to tell it in her own words: "Ma, she lifted the broomstick at me and shouted that I must never again darken her door. An' I didn't. But you see," she added blushingly, "I was still green in the business and landed here instead of having a good time. But I'll be more careful when I come out of here."
"You don't mean to say that you'll return to the same life?" I said with a shudder.
"An' what else am I to do?" asked me the girl point blank. I had no advice or suggestion to give her. In fact I've come to think that sending a young sinner to the workhouse is the surest means of perpetuating her in her trade. Here she meets many women more experienced than herself, women who have tasted all the bitter sweetness of a fast life, and, encouraged by their stories and triumphs, she comes out of this miserable place anxious to get another taste of gay life, from which she was prevented while at the workhouse. Who can blame her for wanting to fill her stomach with some of the good things? Not one who knows what it is to live on prison food. Lord! my own insides are so shrunk together that I don't believe I'll ever again be able to eat a full meal. I don't really know how they can go on that way for months, unless one gets used to it, like every other suffering. I suppose some of them have long since lost the taste and it don't matter what they get so long as they stuff themselves full. The worst part for them is the drink they miss so much. It is almost pitiful to see the expression of despair on their distorted faces. Well, it's bedtime again.
Now I know where my neighbor had disappeared to the other night. I've been there since myself. When I went to bed last night I was startled by terrible, heartrending moans. The woman alongside of me was in agony. A part of her face was all eaten up by some terrible disease and the creature could find no relief from pain except in drugging herself, but this was denied to her here.
I couldn't bear to hear her suffer so, so I forgot all the strict orders and got down on my knees close to her trying to find out if there was anything I could do for her. A minute later a pair of strong hands were dragging me swiftly into the dimly lit hall, and from there down, down a narrow stairway. It seemed to have lasted a long, long while; my shoulders ached, my head felt dizzy, but finally I found myself in the darkroom. The so-much-dreaded darkroom where a body remains strapped down to a pole in a pitch-dark corner and must keep moving the feet all the while to frighten the many rats away.
I think I was more dead than alive when they took me out of there this noontime. Even our big, fat watchdog got scared at my looks and sent me up to the sewing room for the rest of the afternoon. This ain't much worse than our city workrooms, except that a body dare not murmur a word, if one don't care to spend a day in the darkroom. But as old Martha says: "If you are here long enough you get used even to that." Poor, old, disheveled Martha! She says she has lived sixty-eight years, sixty of which she has spent between the street and the workhouse. It's for different things, too, that she's been coming there all this while. This last time it is for nothing else but too much rum. But who are we to judge her for taking it? As she rightly says, she'd been dead long ago if not for the warm stuff. It's really the only consolation she's got in this wide world. The wretched soul cried bitterly as she told me her tale of woe. At the age of eight her mother died from consumption and her father took to drink. She was beaten, neglected and starved until she fell in with a woman of the streets and then, oh, so many things happened. I wonder when I'll have my fill at the tree of knowledge! Where were our good people and the law when Martha was left alone in the world?
And what is still worse--her tale is the tale of many inmates here. Depraved as they may seem to us, they still shed many unregarded tears. If the people were only to hear of their untold tales they would surely want to turn a new leaf in the book of laws and map out a different path for all these poor, helpless beings.
They are neglected, suffer, sin, and are punished according to our laws. But when their term is up the doors close upon them, leaving them once more without shelter and food. They stop for a brief moment and then fall again a prey to vice and sin.
It may seem strange, but I've thought very little of the strike and our girls for the last three days. I have an idea that for the present my little mite is needed right here. The very air seems to be saturated with past, present and future suffering. It seems to me that I can be of some use to these shrinking, shivering, hopeless beings. Perhaps my word of human sympathy will help them to bear the harsh, upbraiding speeches of the matron, the darkroom and the miserable food.
Ray got one of her bronchial spells and they took her over to the so-called hospital. I wish I could find out how she's getting along. I think it was a crime to send her here to perform such hard labor. Why in the world don't they have some medical examination? I guess it's because they don't care what happens to the people sent here.
Two more days after this, but, silly as it may seem, I wish I could stay a while longer with them. As a part of the big forest of people I consider myself in a way responsible for their misery and degradation. It's us that live in sheltered homes that can still do something to put a stop to this terrible plague--they who are afflicted with it are too ill to attend to themselves. I'm mighty glad that I've the perseverance to jot down my thoughts. I shall try to make use of them some day.
This morning I went up to the sewing room to finish my yesterday's job. I was still tired from the experience in the darkroom and scarcely slept last night--I couldn't help thinking of Ray. She's got heart disease for one thing, and then this bronchial trouble.
"How's Ray?" I inquired of the matron when she came over to examine my work. I knew that questions weren't allowed, but I could no longer restrain myself. The matron gave me a stern look and turned to the next girl, but a moment later she came back and said: "She ain't a bit strong, but then she'll be out in another day."
"This may be too long a time," was my reply and I pleaded with our overseer to please let me see Ray for a brief moment. I was encouraged by the former's evident note of sympathy and hoped to obtain some relief for my suffering friend.
I know better now. "See here, young woman," the matron exclaimed, "no one is allowed to speak at work and I don't see any occasion for your doing so. If you keep up this chatter you'll go back to scrubbing."
"Oh, the poor creature must feel so lonely," I sobbed in frenzy.
"Pshaw!" sneered the matron. "We don't propose to stand for any scenes in this place," and with these words she raised me bodily from the bench and out into the hall I went. A few minutes later I was once more on my knees scrubbin', scrubbin', and mingling the soap water with my blood tears.
I was crying and thinking, thinking more than I ever did before in my life. How long were we going to suffer in this manner? Here was poor, unfortunate Ray living in a Christian land and yet slowly sacrificed on the altar of greed. And Dutch Annie and miserable old Martha and the thousands upon thousands of others, whose cry of despair had reached my ears at that moment. And as these unbearable thoughts crossed my brain I sobbed aloud. A hard punch between my ribs cut the thread of my thought and killed every vestige of hope which I still cherished about my seeing Ray before we are released.
I have my doubts if she will ever leave this place alive. God! Just to think of Mrs. Bloom if this should happen. What in the world will she do? How will she be able to bear it all? I know how she suffered before this. As I've lived with her day by day I marveled at her wonderful patience with which she bore the heavy burdens; she ain't the kind that bends, but this is sure to break her.
I really don't know how I have lived through this long morning, but then, I had my revenge during the noon hour. Big strong Lina broke loose and didn't she lay it into that watchdog of ours. It all started at the dinner table when Lina found a piece of bread floating around in her soup.
"I ain't no dog to eat other people's leavings," she shouted at the top of her voice.
"Hold your mouth shut," warned her the matron.
As if by magic the girls all dropped their spoons and centered their eyes on the distinguished pair, who resembled two angry roosters. The matron thought to frighten Lina with her bossy eye, but the other wasn't of the timid kind either.
"Are you deaf?" shouted the matron, coming close to her. But Lina must have been waiting for her to do so. In an instant, before the other dogs had time to get near them, she threw her opponent down on the floor and gave her a few digs with the feet.
I could have laughed and cried at the sight. Lina settled some of our accounts, but we all knew what it meant for her. Nobody touched a morsel of food after the rebel was dragged out of the room. Rough, callous and degraded as these women are, they still have a human heart hidden under the unpleasant surface; they all felt with and for their kind, or as some of the Socialist speakers had told us, they, these wretched beings, were class conscious.
We worked on for the rest of the afternoon as if there was a corpse in our midst. I didn't hear anything about Ray. Perhaps she is--I won't, I won't say the word, but will tomorrow ever come?
Here I am back again at Mrs. Bloom's and Ray home with me. I don't really know why, but it seems like a dream, my arrest, the Tombs and the workhouse. Somehow I can't think of anything just now but Jim's words of love. Lord! but that man does love me. I'm almost afraid to think of all the happiness in store for me; I don't think it's right. And yet his passionate greeting made life worth living once more; it drove away the gloom cast upon me by the experience and association of the last few days.
"Jim, I'm hungry," were the first words I said to him. I knew it was stupid of me, but I hadn't anything decent to eat for almost a week. Jim didn't mind it a bit; he took me and Ray down to one of them big restaurants and ordered everything they had on hand. It must have broke him, for he ain't no millionaire by any means. Still, I didn't care. We ate and ate and ate, until we almost burst.
I hear Ray's coughing again. I wonder if it's from the food. I know her eyes were bigger than her stomach; she took more than it was good for her. And now she's in for the rest of the night. God! That dry, hollow cough sends a chill through my body. It sounds terrible in this death-like stillness. But my feeling ain't nothing as compared with the suffering it causes her mother. Poor woman! When they're all asleep she hides herself in a corner of the kitchen and weeps her aching heart away.
I asked Jim to pay my rent for me today, and don't know as I ought to be ashamed for doing it. I couldn't very well remain here without paying, not that she would object, but because I have a conscience and I ain't ready to go yet. Am determined to stick it out until Hayman settles. Why, it would be a terrible sin to leave Mrs. Bloom and Ray and the other girls just now, when they're worse off than ever. But I don't know any more when this strike will end--it seems to be everlasting--bosses I keep settling every day in the week and yet I was told at the league this afternoon that there are four thousand still out.
The league women are just crazy for Jim, and no wonder; he was of more help to them this week than I would have been. Took off a week from his job and worked for us girls. It's really marvelous when I come to think of the turn affairs took in my life.
Jim said father was ripping mad when he heard of my plight. Said that I had disgraced him forever, but Jim didn't mince words with him--just told him what he thought of the entire treatment of me and promised to change my name as soon as I would be willing to do so. The minute Jim spoke these words the truth of what he wanted to say flashed upon my mind. 'Jim, dear," said I quietly, "won't you marry me when Mr. Hayman settles with us girls?"
I wonder what my former friends would think of me if they'd hear that I proposed to Jim. But where's the wrong in it? Jim asked me to be his wife and I refused. Then why not be honest and tell him that I've changed my mind?
But Jim didn't think it out of the way one bit. "Yes," he said quickly, before I even had a chance to finish. "I'll marry you on the day your girls go back to work." Here he made me promise to go with him and take out a license, just to have it handy in case of necessity.
We talked and talked; there seemed to be no end of things to talk about. Jim, too, had occasion to become better acquainted with our girls and he praised them quite a little. Everybody knows him as Mary's Jim. And he says he ain't a bit ashamed of it.
"Mary," said Jim to me after we had talked a while about our future life, "I don't know as I could be called a woman's rights man, but it seems to me that these women ought to try and wake up us men as well. I know this little woman," pointing at me, "did wake me up. I've come to believe that us men do not understand the make-up of you girls. For we would know better if we did. It's silly talk; we can't live without one another; there can't be no man's nor woman's world, Mary, there must be a human world."
I just wonder what pa would say if he heard Jim talk. Lord! I'm so tired that the pen almost falls out of my hands.
Jim came bright and early this morning; said he was afraid he'd miss me. I knew by his looks that he hadn't slept a wink this night. He later told me that he couldn't get over the luck that had fallen to his share. I remember I heard some one say, "He loves best who prays best," but I'd say he loves best who thinks most. Jim could have never known such a love in his former state of mind. And that's just what he, himself, admitted to me today. "Mary," says he, "I couldn't commence to tell you how different my feeling for you is today from what it was two months ago. I then thought that I was a mighty oak and you the clinging ivy that would wind around me. Today, Mary, I know better--I understand that the soft clinging ivy is at times apt to suffocate the strong giant, while another oak of equal power standing side by side with me can only bring additional shelter and shade for my future prosperity."
I honestly believe that I must hurry and catch up with Jim or I'll be left behind before I know it. He seems to be learning things by leaps and bounds. But the beauty of it is that he don't keep anything to himself; he always tries to share his knowledge with me.
Promised to go up and visit the musicians' union this morning and took Jim as the other partner; we might as well begin our partnership at once. I knew he was anxious to go down to the City Hall and it may have been cruel of me to keep him back, but then duty comes before pleasure, at least to the soldiers in the ranks. And to tell the truth, I don't ever want to be a captain; somehow or other, willingly or not, a body is apt to get spoiled.
Coming back to the musicians' union. If I had my choice I'd rather call them a corporation than a union--at any rate they act that way. I got sick of the string of red tape they gave me. Just told them right out: "If you are too stingy to help us girls, why don't you say so?" The idea of their putting me off for two weeks. And what are we to do until then? I do hope the strike will be over by that time. I, at least, have no appetite to meet them once more.
I felt rather queer when we got to the City Hall around 1 o'clock. Marriage is rather a complicated affair and though I wasn't married to Jim as yet, this public announcement meant just as much to me as the latter ceremony will.
Jim and I do know each other and seem to understand each other's nature, and yet there seems to be such a world of difference between the life of a man and that of a woman that it's always a question how it will turn out in the end--this merging of two beings into one common life.
I looked rather shabbily dressed for a bride, but then most of my clothes
is gone and what was the use of dressing up--had to go picketing in the
Perhaps it's the best that they do--a few less girls suffering in loneliness. It ain't no easy thing to be a lady boarder in a room as small as a cage and as cold as an icebox. The man goes out, meets friends, takes in a show or two; but a girl, if she ain't of the gay kind, wastes her years away between the shop and the hall bedroom.
I got a-talking to one of the girls down there while we were waiting. The poor kid didn't look more than sixteen, though she said she was eighteen. She had left her mother and father on the other side and came over here alone. It wasn't long before she met this fellow. He ain't very old, either, but somehow I didn't like his looks. I sort of fear that he ain't marrying her for good. I couldn't help pitying the girl--here she's getting ready to become a wife and mother without the least thought about the grave duties she was about to accept. She kept fiddling with her wedding ring, which was hanging on a ribbon around her neck, and saying that she was so happy. I doubt if she knew what the word meant.
It seems that excitements will never cease with us--a new wrinkle today, an injunction. Well, well! who ever heard the like of it? I know I didn't. Was trying hard to find out the meaning of the word, but it seems to have as many different definitions as there are people in this wide world.
One says it's to assure order, the other to prevent it. One claims it's for the benefit of the working people so as to keep them within respectable bounds; others say it's to gag the working people.
I, for one, don't see where its usefulness or justice comes in. Taking, for instance, the one we were served with--it's nothing but a mean trick to keep us from walking on the sidewalks and talking to anybody we wish to. If this ain't gag law I don't know what is. To tell the truth, I think that them judges and their henchmen (the shyster lawyers) have gone a bit too far. The strings are liable to break and then--the Lord save them from the women!
We didn't worry very much. What is an injunction after all? A piece of paper. We crushed it into our pockets and went on to picket as usual. Them judges don't know what sort of people they're dealing with, when they make an attempt to shut up the League women. They can't understand what it means to devote one's life to an ideal. I'm almost inclined to believe that our women wouldn't fear death itself, not to speak of a police court sentence.
We had lots of fun down there on Walker street this morning. Here we were, every one of us that was served with an injunction to keep away from that neighborhood and there stood a pack of common dogs, placed there for the purpose of disturbing the peace. But instead of our being afraid of them, they seemed to be stupefied at our daring. It's because they're the sort of animals that bark as long as you don't show them a stick and give them to understand that you can fight back. But once they see that you're ready to defy them they commence to crawl. God! if only our workingmen were as brave as the women--the tables would surely be turned.
I'm sorry I couldn't see all the fun; had to rush off; was booked to speak before a lot of college girls. And thus it happened that for the first and, perhaps, for the last time in my life I went to college. But I wouldn't hear of going again. I had an idea that there ain't no worse snob than the young college snob and didn't think my words would have much weight with the girls, so Elsie went along with me.
But the world does change, I must say. Who would have thought of it only
one short year ago. Here was I a plain, ordinary shop girl, with scarcely
any education at all, sitting there on that high platform among many wise
professors and looking down upon hundreds of well-to-do college girls
who have spent their lifetime on books and study. And all because we woke
up and fought for our rights. Respect yourself, and others are sure to
follow suit. I do think that the working people as a whole would be better
off if they had some self respect.
His words gave me lots of encouragement and I made my spiel, and if I have to say it myself I do think I made a good job of it. Of course, they can't really understand our position. How could they? They've never known what suffering and privation means, while us girls hadn't a bit of sweetness in all our lives.
I've spoken to those women for nigh a whole hour and when I got through the wise men were the loudest in their applause. I think it's because the people hear the truth so seldom nowadays that when a body has the courage to speak right out they think it's great. But I couldn't help saying what I did, for it was just what I felt. Didn't even have a chance to see Jim today; will spend the day with him tomorrow.
Another Sunday passed. Tomorrow commences a new week and still no prospects, no hopes of settling this bitter fight. This is a hard, cold, merciless world, I must declare. But amid the narrow-minded, short-sighted mass stand out the few individuals--the forerunners of a better world to come. Oh, I'm so happy that I can honestly count my good Jim among them. There ain't a doubt in my mind but that Jim will always stand up for right against might. And the young girl whom I met at the entertainment this evening--I can imagine she'll get all that's coming to her, but she didn't seem to mind it one bit. Just got up from the chair and in her plain, simple way made a confession. Said that she was the daughter of the lawyer who served us with the injunction; told us that he was the noblest father living, but that was as far as his kindness went. She did not agree with him; she sympathized and felt for us girls, so not being able to do anything else she raffled off a little clock and made ten dollars, which she gave right there and then.
People like her have been hounded and abused and crucified before this, but they keep fighting for the truth until the majority have to think their way.
For ain't the freedom we are so loud in praising today something fought for by our forefathers a little over a century ago? The trouble with the truth is that it doesn't become popular until it has almost outlived its usefulness.
Here's my father--now that I've gone through all these hardships and am ready to start a new life, he's waking up; told Jim he'd like me to come home and if we're to be married it is not more than proper that I marry from my father's home. I'm afraid his proposal is a bit too late in the season. Where was he, my natural protector, when I was shoved in among all those rats--four and two-legged ones? Did he stretch out his hand to give me a bit of bread when I was almost perishing from hunger?
Lord! it's a good thing that nobody reads this notebook of mine--I scarcely think they could make anything out of it. Some might think me quite mad, and yet I'm keeping as closely to the subject as I possibly can, but I'm speaking of life as it strikes me every minute of the day and there're so many different things to think of that I'm at times quite puzzled to know what is of the most importance.
But then there's hardly anything I meet with now-a-days that ain't worth while recording--some day it may help to steady the ground under my children's feet. Us girls are the pioneer fighters for women's rights, for them rich women don't do much except talk a lot, while us girls show in reality how women can stand up for their rights.
I talked over the injunction business with Jim today. He was just furious that these men should have the power to rob us of our freedom and forbid us to tell the truth. "Don't worry over it, Mary," Jim tried to console me, at the same time, "A new truth never had the majority with it; it's the dreamers, Mary, it's them that have dragged us up to our present position. I'm willing for them to call me a dreamer, to sneer and laugh at my ideals; he laughs best, Mary, who laughs last."
Lord! if men and women would only know how sweet it is to sit with the man you think most of in this great wide world and talk and reason and hope together. Yes, I'm positive that if people only knew what it means there wouldn't be half as many divorces as there are nowadays (and the poor don't get divorced, because they ain't got the cash for it).
I do wish I'd know how to rid ourselves of those blackguards, the leeches that stick like court plaster. One would think that they'd be tired, that now, since the majority of girls have won the strike they ought to go back where they came from, but that wouldn't be like them. I think what they want is to break the prestige of our having won. That's why they publish these reports that there ain't more than five hundred girls out on strike. What a lie! They know well that there are pretty near three thousand still outstanding. On the face of it, it would seem that they are our friends and want to boost us, but it ain't so. The people read that all the girls except a few hundred have gone back and stop sending in money, and this would mean, after all, that us girls will be starved into submission.
I don't know, I don't seem to understand it at all--there seems to be some undercurrent pulling things to pieces. If anything really useful for future guidance is started it's soon put a stop to. Here's that settled shops business. I wonder why it was dropped. Of course, it's a hard proposition and requires a great effort, but it'll pay in the end.
I don't understand why the smart people can't see it in this way. To my plain mind it seems absolutely necessary to meet with the settled shops. In fact, if I was in place of the League women I would devote most of the time to it. Met Kitty today--she had been out two weeks when her boss settled and she went back to work. I've become used to our girls and stood in the fight under fire all this while and talked to her as I would have talked to them; but, Lord! my words were Greek to her. Why, the girl was as ignorant as they make them. And she's only an example of the majority who went back before they had a chance to see and learn.
I told it to one of the women up town, but her answer was: "We ain't in no position to take it up just now." I wasn't as sure about it as she was. We must strike while the iron is red hot, while the other girls are still interested in the proposition, or we'll be obliged to close shop before very long. The woman argued, objected and tried to prove to me that I was wrong, but, with all due respect to her ability, I have not been able to convince myself that I wasn't right.
I left the League quite upset, and, as luck would have it, it never rains but it pours, into whom shall I run in but--my father. It may be wrong and yet I thought that meeting was the greatest piece of nuisance in the world. My father was ready to crush me down right there and then, when I refused point blank to go home. His words fell upon my head like a sledge hammer. First of all he wanted to know if I still persisted in having my own way. He taunted me with not having any feeling of gratitude or regard for the folk at home. Now, to be honest about it, I have loved my home as much as any girl does. It was nothing but my parents' treatment that turned me against it. People say there's a time when patience ceases to be a virtue, and this was exactly my case. My father thinks that I didn't act rightly towards him, but I must say the same of him. I told him the God's honest truth, but he called me a liar, scorned my ideals, mocked my hopes, threatened my freedom and drove me away from under his roof.
If a daughter wrongs her father she has the whole world against her; he has the right to deal with her according to his fancy. But if a father doubly wrongs his daughter his punishment is expected to be forgiveness on her part. I think it's because men are slaves to custom, after all. But I ain't. I shall never forgive him--never!
And I told Jim so, too, this evening on my way home. I was surprised to hear him plead with me that I make up with my father. In fact, it was almost a blow to me, for I've come to think of Jim as of a man always ready to stand up fearlessly on the side of the wronged party.
I told him that he had no right to reproach me with having hurt my father's feelings, for I was honest with my father. But, then, I knew Jim did it out of the goodness of his heart, and, I think, because he would like to see me out of this wretched place.
But I don't know as he has so much cause to complain. I let him treat me to supper every evening and pay my board to Mrs. Bloom, and actually took a dollar bill in cash from him.
I don't mean to say that I do him a favor, but it goes to show that I've come to think that he and I are one. That to stand high in his account I've set aside my principle not to take a farthing if I didn't work for it. I mean to do my share when Jim and I are married, and earn my living--every workingman's wife does, though not all may realize it.
But setting these little differences aside, I'm the happiest of all the brides I met yesterday at the City Hall. Our union will be tied by a double knot. Now since Jim, too, is converted to my way of thinking, we shall be one in spirit as well as body. But the fight is still on and tomorrow morning there is some more picketing to do.
This injunction business pops up like a rubber ball. Our women were all called to court this morning, kept for a couple of hours and sent home none the wiser for having been there. I think it's a scheme to keep them away from mischief. The bosses are foolish if they think it'll help them any. Pickets may go and pickets may come, but the fight will go on to a finish.
Had a talk with the German woman--she's the mother of a grown-up family. Her husband is a union man, and terribly opposed to women's activity outside of the home. But my German friend has a heart that goes out to us girls and she comes and helps us on the sly. She said that her children would be wild if they knew what she's doing around here. I like my friend, but somehow I have no sympathy for her in this case. If a mother can't bring up her own children in her way of thinking she has nobody to blame but herself.
Still and all, she is a heroine as well as the brave women who watch that place down on Walker street in spite of the orders of the court to refrain from appearing in that neighborhood.
As I was talking to Jim about it this morning I was trying hard to get up enough courage and ask him for some money--my shoes are on the blink. But do what I may, the words wouldn't escape from my throat, can't beg for myself. And yet our people say that I could take the first prize in begging for the cause. It's because I've learned to bury my personal feelings when the welfare of the other girls is at stake. I wouldn't mind to beg from night until morning and then from morning until night again, only to relieve the terrible hardships a bit. The poor devils have actually shrunk from the bitter cold and lack of food. The grocers and butchers in this neighborhood have their sympathy with us girls, but as one of them told me this morning, "I've been giving on credit until I'm broke. I know that these men and women mean well; that they are honest at heart, but where in the world will they get the money to pay back debts when they scarcely earn enough to go on from day to day?"
Three hundred girls went to work yesterday, and another two hundred today, but Mr. Hayman seems to be as firm as a rock. Many of the girls have left our ranks and I don't know how many more are preparing to leave. It's real hard. I first thought that the beginning is the hardest, but I know better now. It takes a great deal of nerve to keep up. And Jim--every time I meet him I read one and the same question in his pleading eyes: "Are you free to come yet?" It always makes me feel miserable. I know some people would call Jim Mr. Henpeck, but he ain't. He has more character than a dozen of those loud-mouthed yaps.
Jim himself said to me the other day: "Mary, I wouldn't think half as much of you if you weren't so firm to stick by the girls to the last. Only, Mary, a man is a man for all that. I'm longing for you every moment of my life."
I tell you what, it's a great thing to be in love, upon my word it is, especially if one loves a man like Jim. But, then, while love lasts every woman thinks that her man is just IT Even that French dressmaker thought so, though her man was flirting with all the girls in the workroom right under her very nose.
But I ain't a bit jealous of Jim, and don't see much sense in being jealous, anyway. I think that when people get jealous of one another they may as well quit--what's the use, the confidence is gone?
Lord! I don't really know how daffy I am on Jim, until I catch myself thinking and writing of nothing but Jim. I mean to jot down about that lady lodge I visited this evening--it's worth while. "The Sisters of the Eagle," they style themselves. Parrots, is what I'd call them. It's to laugh to see those big, grown up women rigged out as if they were going to a masked ball. And how seriously they take it all. The fat mother superior in her square red cap and winged shaped sash across her shoulders acts as if she was the Czar of Russia. I think they've more secrets than brains in that lodge of theirs. A baker's dozen of women, each carting a big cake with her to the meeting, but none could spare a few cents for us girls.
Yes, I'm tired enough. One can't be of much good after putting in eight weeks like us girls did. And yet, while there's work to be done, I don't feel a bit weary; it's only when I get back here and stretch out on my narrow cot that it seems I could remain here forever.
For the first two weeks of my striking career I saw nothing before me but the miserable conditions of my companions and didn't even once think of my own health. How could I? Then came the quarrel with Jim and the family and I had still less time to bother about myself. The surroundings I've found myself in didn't tend to improve my health, nor did the week in prison. And today I almost feel guilty to burden Jim with a wreck of a woman.
I ain't the only one that broke down, either. They say Elizabeth is down and out and Leonora looks as though she's within an inch of the grave, and Helen--I really don't know how that girl lives; she don't eat anything the whole day long, for she's so upset that her stomach won't digest any food at all.
But I suppose we'll all keep up to the end. It can't last much longer after all--the season's now in full swing, the orders have to go out. What those bosses don't resort to! Helen drew my attention to an advertisement in one of the newspapers this morning. The Triangle wants waist makers, promising them from fifteen to twenty dollars weekly, free lunch and dancing during the noon hour.
No wonder they're so anxious to get workers. Their place has been closed the fourth month. I met several of their strikers today, and, upon my word, they didn't seem half as upset as their bosses. Only that their faces have dwindled down almost to nothing and their clothes are so shabby that they could hardly get work in a decent place. I guess that's just how tramps are made--a man loses his job and walks around looking for another until the clothing wears out and the man has to say farewell to his former surroundings, for everybody commences to look upon him with suspicion.
Met John. He has been down with fever for over four weeks. Got sick while doing work for the union at the rate of twenty-three hours a day. He got on the job the very first day and stayed there in that close office; didn't hardly eat anything, and worked and worried with the result that he had to be carried off in a stretcher.
The Lord bless him. He is one of the nameless ones who do their work not for reward or glory, but only for the good of mankind. When I looked at his thin face and staring eyes I was thankful that it fell to my lot to know the man. I'm sure the world will be the better for him having lived in it.
While I was talking to John who should come in but Sam that worked for Lefcovitch? Sam, he's still out and his wife is now working and supporting the two. Sam felt rather embarrassed when he told it to us, but I don't see why he should be. I know I'd rather go to work any time than see Jim scabbing.
It's enough to give one the blues to get into any of the halls nowadays. The few girls still out wander about like forlorn sheep. Some of them seem to be resigned to their fate, others are simply stupefied from suffering and just perform their duty automatically.
God! what a terrible, bloodless tragedy this strike of ours turned out to be! Yes, I'm right in saying bloodless, for there ain't a bit of blood left in the girls. I don't know, but I had a funny day and can't help seeing everything from the dark side. I guess it's because Jim didn't come 'round.
Strange as it may seem, in spite of my moods and thoughts, I ain't a bit sorry for having struck. For the last few years things have been getting steadily worse. Wages decreasing and the cost of living getting higher. Many of the people that I've met since the strike have lost half of their families through nothing but starvation. Why, even the charities reported that this year is the worst ever. It was about time that somebody should protest and I'm glad that us girls were brave enough to do it, even if many will have to pay with their life for it. I'm willing to forfeit mine.
At Elizabeth's suggestion I went into a paper box factory to ask for a job. Even from the outside the place is enough to give you the shivers. It looks as old and dilapidated that a-body can't help fearing that it may topple over any time.
But then the outside ain't in it when you see the inside--the smell of paste is enough to kill a hog, the filth around the table is knee deep and the type of girls that works there reminds you of a lot of haunted animals that have been driven to their last resource. And no wonder! I don't really see how anybody with a bit of hope for the future can consent to remain in this living hell. That's just what it is; even the workhouse is much preferable to this place--it's dirtier than the former. You can't say a word the whole day long and the wages paid for the work don't afford better food than they give at the workhouse.
I didn't remain there more than a half an hour. The boss offered me a dollar and a half per week. God! I first wept and then cursed when I left the miserable place. There seems to be no end to the depth of suffering. Is it possible that the nation as a whole is ignorant of it all? How dare they to cry out against white slavery when girls are driven to it with the strong whip of hunger? Lord! I'm ready to embrace anything which promises a remedy for the aching hearts, relief from the wholesale starvation.
It seems to me that the working people won't be ground to dust much longer. They bore about as much as their nature can stand; their ever rising fury is bound to break out any day.
Jim was wild at my going when he saw the effect it had upon me. "God bless you, child," said he. "I know it's all true. I'm myself of the opinion that we're on the eve of great changes, but then--you must save yourself for bigger things."
"But, Jim, Jim," I pleaded. "What are we coming to? Jim, my boy, where is the remedy?" And even as I asked him that question I seemed to hear the echo of a great uprising coming from afar and I can hear it even now--it keeps ringing in my ears all the time.
Well, whatever may happen, I'm happy in the thought that I won't have to fight alone much longer. It will always be Jim and I--I and Jim. It is a sin for me to go on in that manner. I know that I must not cry. I must not give way. There's lots of work ahead for both of us. But, then, the surroundings make me so wretched, so wretched! I talk to the girls about sticking it out, and at the same time can't help thinking that I'm wrong. They have but one life to live, why increase their misery? They won't see better times, at any rate.
I'm preaching the truth just the same. And truth is best all the time. But, then, I'm so mixed up that I don't rightly know what I mean. And what is the wonder! There's poor Ray coughing away her last days, and Minnie and Mrs. Bloom with her many sorrows and the money, too, stopped coming in. Saw Mr. Shindler this afternoon. The man is almost mad from despair, but I think it's their own fault in a way. Why keep an army of walking delegates and pay each from fifteen to eighteen dollars per week? I wouldn't give them five cents, if I had my say. They don't know the first thing how to treat us girls. I'm pretty sure that the League women would have done the work voluntarily, without a cent's pay.
Jim didn't like my saying this, but I'm a partner to this striking game and have a right to judge what I think is wrong. I hope Jim's right and I may be wrong, but them paid officials ain't no better than a sponge for sucking up money. I wouldn't care a snap if it wasn't needed to keep up life. I know some girls that have received only three dollars benefit for the whole time of the strike. God! three dollars for eight weeks! What didn't these poor kids have to endure? Even I myself couldn't commence to understand it, for I stayed home for a while, then had enough to take to the uncle for a couple of weeks, and now Jim's helping me out and still and all, I went hungry and cold many a day. But they--they hadn't a drop of help from anywhere.
I don't know what is coming over me. I can't do no good by saying all these things. Perhaps it's the last bit of suffering. Maybe things will take a better turn before long.
Lord! I haven't felt as good in many a day. Mr. Hayman sent word this afternoon that he would like to see a committee. I do hope they may come to some settlement. I'm almost sure that if he was to give in the others wouldn't keep back much longer. As it is, people say that there ain't more than eighteen bosses left in the whole organization.
I don't wonder one bit that they couldn't exist. How could they, when they're all engaged in a hair-pulling match, each trying to outdo the other? It's entirely different with us girls. We have nothing to fight each other for. From the very first day we came out on strike all of us, well paid and poorly paid, girls were determined to stand or fall together.
Some blame us girls for having started this whole affair. They claim that it's going to hurt everybody and won't help us. Well, I beg to differ. It helped us already-twenty-one thousand people enrolled on the union books, about seventeen thousand back to work under agreements with the bosses, the remainder still fighting and at the same time being molded into types that will withstand any fire.
When us girls saw the bright light for the first time we had to rub our eyes; we could hardly see at all--everything seemed so strange. We strained our ears, but were deaf to the things preached to us. Gradually as the days went by we commenced to learn, and now--well, well, I have to laugh. I'm considered too radical by some of our League women.
It's strange about those very women--they go around the poor and wretched, see and know all the misery and injustice, deplore it, but when it comes to take a stand, to speak the truth, they shrink back from doing it. Of course, they ain't the majority, but they're the ones that's got the money, and that counts nowadays.
Why, even at this late date, after all the clubbings and arrests and other abuses, after the steady persecution and injunctions, some of our would-be well-wishers try to excuse the people and judges, mingle with them in society and look upon us that speak up without fear as if we were in the way.
I can just imagine what Mr. Hayman felt when he had to send for us after all. Why, the man is as stubborn as a mule. I suppose he was pressed real hard. And just because our girls stuck together. I don't see why in the world the entire striking crowd didn't understand it that way. Here is Susie from the Daisy Waist Company--poor kid! it's terrible to see her wander around from place to place; only three of them still outstanding--the others went back scabbing. Of course, I can't blame the girl for refusing to follow them. I don't see how as I would do it, either. But, then, if we use some common sense it's easy to realize that Susie can't hope for a settlement; that she don't really help us one bit by standing out.
I just told her to come and stay with us, the stray duckling that she is. If Mr. Hayman will settle we'll manage to smuggle her in. It's a mighty good thing to have one like her in the workroom--she surely knows what she wants.
Lord! but Jim was happy when I told him the glad news. I thought he'd smother me with kisses. I'm a funny goose, I am. I feel embarrassed to say a word about our love making, even here on paper. And yet, it is only natural. I'm sure there ain't nothing to be ashamed of. Mrs. Bloom wanted to know the other day whether I've grown so cold that nothing in this wide world can heat me up any longer. She never saw me behave different to Jim than I do to the rest of them. The idea! I think it's terrible, this public love making, as if a-body needs carry one's feelings on the sleeve.
Jim fully agrees with me. Not by word or motion does he betray his passion before others. He makes up for it, though, when we are alone. I think the man would go mad or commit suicide if he was to lose me now. I'm beginning to wonder whether he is so radical because he loves me, or he loves me so because I'm as radical as he is. I say and repeat the word radical and, upon my word, I do not know what it really means, only people have been calling us that. I'm pretty rusty in book knowledge, but I mean to make it up when Jim and I build our little nest.
I thought so. Bill said that Hayman behaved like a madman. He swore and stamped his feet and cursed--just because he has to bend a little. His feelings are hurt, he said. And what about ours? Let him look back and think of the many hours, and days, and weeks, and years that us girls had to bow before his temper. So far nothing came out of that conference--Bill ain't the kind to monkey and dilly dally with the bosses. You have either to sign the union agreement or we'll keep fighting you. That's just what he said. And Hayman told him to go to -----.
I think it's better not to have any hopes than to have them and lose them as we did our hope of settlement today. I couldn't make myself say a word to the girls, for fear we'd all burst out crying. Many a one sat there biting her lips as hard as she could.
I ran out of the meeting room and outside the door came face to face with Corrola--she's a brick, I must say. Here's a girl who's got more money than she will ever be able to spend, no matter what she does with it. To think of it, that she should go in and spend three months in a New York laundry, but that's just what Corrola did, and during the hot summer months at that. She wanted to find out for herself the real life of the working girl.
And now, since the beginning of the strike, Corrola has been spending her days and nights in the courts--bailing us out as fast as she could sign the papers. I put my head on Corrola's shoulder and had a good cry. I was crying not only for myself, but for Ray and Mrs. Bloom, Minnie and Dutch Annie, poor old Martha and all the rest who have to suffer in order that others may enjoy.
Hadn't the heart to tell the folks here that the conference fell flat. Mrs. Bloom got some supper on account of our possible settlement--promised the grocer to pay him next week when Ray and I will get our wages. I wonder how many more weeks will pass before we get any wages? It's surprising how much love this woman bears in her wounded heart. I know and had quite a share of it since I am here.
This evening Jim and I went to Cooper Union to hear the Socialist boss of Milwaukee. I tell you what--he looks and acts, the boss every inch of it, but if that man ain't got brains and ability to do things I don't know who has.
I ain't a bit surprised that there are so many Socialists in his city--I think he can convince any one that the only hope for the working people lies in a clean sweep. Upon my word, after the many weeks of strike this has almost settled Jim and me--we're about ready to join the great army of comrades.
It may be silly, but I have a soft spot for that word-kept calling Jim that way while he was taking me home. But Jim, he said I can't scare him by it--that the world as it goes today is either right or wrong, and it certainly can't be right, or my experience couldn't have taken place; then, if it is wrong--what is an honest man and woman to do but join hands with all those who want to right the wrong.
I didn't say much to my good, noble Jim, only nodded my head in approval, for I knew he was right. How can a body look on at our girls who are doomed to suffering from their very cradle and remain indifferent, unless as one of the so-called labor leaders told me not long ago: "I've killed my sentiment many years before this." But what care I for labor leaders or no labor leader as long as Jim and I understand each other fully.
I must have been born in a shirt, am what people would call a fortune child as compared with the other girls. Here's Lilly, for instance--she is all alone in this world, not a kin or friend to cling to. I can't really understand how she managed to push through all this while. With her it's gloom all the time; not a ray of sunshine from anywheres--she's the real hall bedroom girl. God! it's only by a hair's breadth that I've escaped being dragged into this horror. Where would I be today if not for Jim. My own dear Jim, no wonder I've hugged him so close to me before I let him go this evening. Honestly, it's almost a sin to have such fits of happiness amidst all this worry and trouble.
All comes to him who works for it! All hail to us girls--we got what
we wanted--Mr. Hayman had to sign the agreement after all. Oh, I begged
and coaxed them and they took me along on the committee--just wanted to
see for myself how he behaved. Well, well, he made me think of the animals
at the circus--jumped and kicked and gnawed his teeth to the very last
moment--but us girls had the strong whip over him--he must send out his
orders and pride must go. Ours
I know that it has been going on that way for a long, long while--the poor worked and suffered and watched their children growing pale from lack of food and ill health. But still they went on uncomplaining--it's all because there's a dark curtain hung over their tired eyes and they don't see natural things in their natural light. And yet--the contrast is getting too great. I know it's nothing but the terrible contrast that helped open my eyes and Jim's.
Lord! I never thought of it to this very minute. Why, upon my word, this is supposed to be my wedding day! But how could I think of myself at such a critical moment--what is one little tree in this great forest of people? It's the girls! Oh, the girls, they were so happy that they cried for joy. And they've all grown so dear to me. It may be foolish, but I really dislike the idea of parting with them--they have been the means of awakening me to a fuller, better life. They are to go on working and slaving day in and day out, too busy to think of leisure by day and too tired to get much rest by night.
One would scarcely think that two months could work such wonders in a person, but it's exactly two months today since I left Hayman's; I couldn't hardly believe it myself, only for my scribbling which I have been doing day by day. Jim and I read it over the other night. Yes, Jim--he doesn't know yet what happened--I ran straight home as soon as I informed the girls. Ray is sick in bed--I thought that the glad news may act like medicine.
I don't know, I just hate to think of it--but the relief may have come too late. God! my heart almost breaks for her; nobody knows how I've come to love that sweet girl. And her kind mother--herself worn out by hunger and bending under unbearable burden she watches at the sick bed of her first born, her hope, her pride. The doctor said Ray needs good nourishment--what mocking advice in this household!
I know, I've promised Jim to marry him on the day Mr. Hayman settles with us girls. I shall keep my promise; in fact, I'm happy to do it--I'm perhaps as anxious for the event as he himself. But there's one thing Jim can't refuse me on my wedding day--he, too, will have to make a promise. I shall not leave Ray at her death bed, and Mrs. Bloom and the little ones, they were my only consolation in the hour of sorrow. I'm bound to do something for them, their suffering has reached the summit.
Jim'll come and stay with me here, and we'll pay Mrs. Bloom board and our share of the rent, and I'll go down to Hayman's and keep Ray's place for her until she's well enough to do it herself. I know Jim won't like it, but his noble heart and good common sense will do the job for me.
I'm a bit nervous Jim's liable to drop in any moment--we have the license ready, and no matter how late it might be, he will insist upon the fulfillment of my promise this very evening.
Strange--I love, I adore Jim. I'd die if I was to be prevented from marrying him, and yet--now on the threshold of the event itself I'm torn asunder by a thousand thoughts and fears and hopes--I'm entering upon an entirely new path of life. I'm assuming responsibilities I know nothing of. Will I be equal to my task?
I'm inclined to think I shall. I've thought it all over many, many times;
I think every girl should, and I mean to bring myself to the point where
I could be a real friend and companion to Jim. I shall be with him in
the hour of joy and in the hour of sorrow. I shall soothe and comfort
him, consult and advise. For one thing--I know Jim will meet me exactly
on the same grounds--we will be, we must be, happy.