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DURING the last summer, the author of the following Essay, saw, in the United States Gazette, a proposition for essays, “on the inadequacy of the wages given to poor females, for their labour; and upon the effects of their low wages on their happiness and morals.” He had before thought upon this subject, and was therefore induced to bring into some order the views he had taken of it. The forın of a letter was adopted, because it seemed to him, that he might thus accomplish his task with greater ease to himself. And the letter is supposed to be addressed to a gentleman, who was designated, in a printed address to the public of Philadelphia, within the past summer, as a suitable
person for the office of a minister to the poor in that city, because, it was supposed
by the writer, that if the Essay should be successful, and should therefore be printed, it might thus in some degree be made subservient to the cause of this ministry, in the city in which the letter would in that case, be published. The writer, however, then knew not, that the premium offered for the best Essay on this subject, was wholly the contribution of an individual; although he was aware, that there was an individual in Philadelphia, who had felt and written much, upon the inadequacy of the wages of poor females. This individual is as well known for his enlarged philanthropy, as he is for the extensive business in which he has been engaged. To him, therefore,
MATHEW CAREY, Esq.,
This Essay is respectfully presented, by
JOSEPH TUCKERMAN, Boston, February, 1830.
REV. THOMAS ALLEN.
Boston, September 29th, 1829. MY DEAR SIR,
I thank you for your letter of the 9th instant, and I greatly rejoice that your attention is directed, with so much earnestness, to the condition of the poor, and to the means of their improvement and happiness. You have but just begun, you say, to cultivate an acquaintance with them, and have much to learn upon the important question, of the best means of doing them good. I, too, am but a learner upon this question. But I have the advantage of the experience of a few
years in the service of the poor; and I shall be glad and grateful indeed, if, by giving you the results of this experience, I may, in any degree, assist you in the course of benevolent exertion, to which you have devoted yourself.
Let me, however, frankly state to you, that I know little of poverty, or of the poor, except as I have seen them in Boston. You will perhaps say, that there is but little difference in the condition of this class of our fellow beings, in any large city. In some respects, without doubt, this is true. But in others, I apprehend, it is not true. In some of our large cities, there has been a much greater influx of poor foreigners, even in proportion to the native population, than in others. And not only is the amount of poverty thus increased, and of course, its necessary sufferings; but there is also, probably, more than a proportionate increase of vice, and
of the miseries of vice. In some cities, also, trade and commerce are for a time more active, than in others; and the demand for labour there, is consequently greater. The industrious poor can, therefore, more easily obtain support for themselves, and for their families. And, besides these causes, there are others, which may occasion great suffering for a few weeks, or a few months; and may make the city in which they occur, for a while, to be a scene of greater distress, than may be felt in others, and perhaps not very distant cities, in the same season. I refer to the circumstances, for example, that, for a considerable time, rents, and certain articles of food, may be held at the prices of a time of prosperity, while the demand for labour is so much lessened, that a very large part even of the virtuous poor may not be able to obtain the employment, by which they can pay for a home, and subsistence for their families. This, in truth, is at this very time a fact in Boston. I think that it is not so, or at least, not in an equal degree, in Philadelphia. And I know that every one in Cincinnati, who is disposed to work, may even now not only support his family, but that there is a demand there for labourers, beyond the supply of them.
The circumstances, however, in which one or two cities differ, in respect to the condition of the poor, are, without doubt, of much less importance, than those in which they resemble each other. You, will, I am sure, be able to give me much and important instruction, by your observations on the state of the poor,
in your own city. And I shall be happy if I can throw any light upon your path, by any suggestions I may offer in regard to those, by whom I am myself surrounded.
You have confined the inquiries in your letter to two topics. The first is, “ The inadequacy of the wages generally paid to seamstresses, spoolers, spinners, shoe binders, &c. to pay rent, and to purchase food and clothing." The second is, “The effects of these inadequate wages upon the happiness and morals, not merely of those females, but of their families, when they have any; and the probability that these low wages frequently force poor women to the choice between dishonour, and the absolute want of common neeessaries."--To arrive at any satisfactory results on these topics, we must, however, look beyond them, to the elementary principles of wages; and to the connected circumstances, physical and moral, which have an important bearing upon the wants, the virtue and vice, and, therefore, upon the happiness and misery of
In the first place, then, let us consider the doctrine of wages in its more extended application. By following it back into its principles, we shall understand more clearly, not only how far the sins and sufferings of the poor, at any time, are to be ascribed princi. pally to the inadequacy of their wages to the support of their families; but, how far it is even practicable at any time, to accomplish an important change in the rate of their wages. And in this course of inquiry, we shall best ascertain what are the true means, and the only true means, of doing for them, and to them, the greatest, the most extensive, and the most permanent good. I am aware that I have thus brought you to the verge of a wide field of observation. But be not discouraged, for I have no thought of attemptin thoroughly to explore it. I shall but direct your at