Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

cities alone, such as New York, can be found the state of the problem in its full development; and facts true for New York will be in the main true for other American cities.

Working-women may be defined as those who work for wages. Their earnings are the measure of their skill, intelligence, and previous preparation for their work. This paper will deal strictly with that division of working women who are the lowest wageearners, those in the manufacturing industries, excluding domestics and women in trade.

There are stated to be fifty thousand more women than men in the city of New York, the whole number of working-women being nearly two hundred thousand. The lack of employment among men has forced into the ranks wives, mothers, and daughters. The number of working-women is significant when taken into conjunction with the fact that New York has, among cities, the largest percentage of habitual drunkards and the largest number of liquor saloons to the mile. Of these two hundred thousand women, many are by turns unemployed, praying and suffering for work to do.

Women in New York, according to the census of 1880, are classed in 114 manufacturing industries, excluding domestics and women in trade. We have to consider the work of the women in these 114 industries, and to analyze with limited detail, both from a hygienic and an economic point of view, the most crowded branches. We have also to consider the health of these workers, what is its absolute state, and whether the home hygiene or the industrial hygiene is at fault; and, finally, what the philanthropist suggests to better the condition of that class of society under consideration.

The first study of the hygiene of industries was by Ramazzini, of Padua, in 1713. The interest then first aroused has been steadily increasing in all civilized lands, until to-day a large literature exists (at least on the continent of Europe). Legislation regulates cerlain abuses of former times, ingenious inventions obviate many, and large-hearted philanthropy is pondering the rest. It must be remembered, in treating of the hygiene of women's work, that they as workers are not strictly comparable with men. Woman's more delicate constitution, her inferior power of sustained muscular effort, greater tendency to “worry," and greater susceptibility to poisons are facts against the sex.

The observations of this paper are founded upon study of women in New York, observed in their working places, in the hospitals and dispensaries, in their homes, and in the working-girls' clubs, where they are gathered for recreation and instruction.

Of the one hundred and fourteen manufacturing industries followed by women in New York, the workers on men's clothing claim the largest number, including shirt-makers and tailoresses. Workers on women's clothing come next, making a total of women who sew of about one-third of the two hundred thousand. Then follow in lesser proportions the tobacco-workers, the silk-workers, and workers on hats and caps; and, in smaller numbers still, the workers, in factory or shop or home, on laces, textiles, fans, boxes, boots and shoes, book-binding, artificial flowers, wall paper, feathers, cotton, flax, jute, wool, and matches. This list includes the principal occupations followed by the lower classes of workingwomen,- those industries only whose votaries are numbered by thousands.

Occupations are injurious to the worker by reason of the position or restraint required, by reason of the exercise of some part of the body to the disuse of the rest; and they are injurious because of harmful conditions of the surrounding medium, as excessive heat, moisture, exposure, or deleterious emanations in dust or in gaseous form. It is unfair to judge of the hygiene of an occupation from a physical examination of a woman who follows it. It must be known what the home and personal life are outside the work, and with what discount of strength the woman began her task.

It will be possible to give but a brief hygienic analysis of the most crowded of these industries. The sewing-women in New York include the makers of men's and women's garments in every grade and part. The needle, in all civilized countries, occupies more women than any other one industry. Sewing in some form is the staple industry of English and Irish women, employing forty out of every hundred. The proportion is less in this country. Nevertheless, the “Song of the Shirt " was never sung with deeper anguish than to-day in our opulent and philanthropic city. Sewing will probably always be the largest industry for women. The fact that the remuneration is so tragically small means that the demand for the work to do is pitiably great. Even in the lowest grade of sewing, no worker steps out that there are not a score ready to replace her. Sewing of the rude order done by the majority of the needle-women of New York is not skilled labor. It is the work of women who have never had technical training

of any sort, who have turned to sewing as the one thing a woman can always do if she can get it to do, who cling to it as the only alternative to utter starvation. The occupation of sewing, which involves a steady application from eight to twelve hours a day, may affect the health of its follower from the strain on the eyes, from the in-door life, from constrained attitude and constant application, sometimes from poison in the material worked upon, and from the use of the sewing machine. Occasionally, the cry arises anew, both among the laity and the medical profession, of the curse of the sewing machine, to which much of the ill health of sewingwomen is attributed. A careful study of the lives and physical disorders of sewing-machine operators will, I think, justify the conclusion that a moderate use of the sewing-machine does not injure the average woman, but that no woman can operate eight or ten hours a day by foot-power without harm.

The hygiene of the sewing. machine has received much attention, and the weight of medical authority coincides with the view I have stated. In France, England, and the United States, for a generation, sanitarians have been industriously trying to discover whether Elias Howe was a benefactor of his race or not. Layet believed that, after a certain habituation to the machine was established, then anæmia, dyspeptic and nervous troubles, always supervened. He noted a marked enfeeblement of the lower limbs, and was “not far from believing in atrophic change in certain regions of the spinal cord.” Decaisne examined six hundred and sixty-one sewing-machine operators, and concluded that within certain limits, according to the strength of the individual, the sewing machine was not attended with greater injury to health than working with the needle. Dr. Nichols, a few years ago, made a report on the subject to the Massachusetts State Board of Health, which was founded on the examination of a large number of women. He would limit the safe use of the sewing-machine to three or four hours a day for a woman of average strength. He found operators liable to indigestion,- attributable to impure air, the sedentary life, and want of open-air exercise, - muscular pains in the lower limbs, general debility, and, very rarely, peculiar nervous effects. The working of the foot-treadle has, of course, been the source of the alleged injury. The unhealthful tendencies of the sewing-machine are greatly diminished in shops by the substitution of some other motive power.

Sewing-women are a very large class of hospital and dispensary

patients, and ample opportunities are afforded on all sides to observe them. A steady-working sewer is only rarely sound; but the degree of her lowered vitality and strength will be, as in many of the classes that I shall speak of, proportioned to her food, her home, her wages. The suffering among needle-women has greatly increased within the last few years. The rate of pay has been reduced through the system of “sweaters,” or middle-men, by competition with country workers, by contract work in reformatories, and by the underbidding of the degraded Russians, Poles, and Italians, who are landing in such hordes upon our shores. Who could read without indignation the story of the working-girls, who told the Congressional Immigration Committee what they had suffered because of imported labor ?

The tobacco-workers are next to the sewing-women in numbers in New York. Their work should be properly classed later, among the poisonous industries ; for here we have a toxic element — the nicotine and ammonia to be inhaled and absorbed. Great difference of opinion has existed in regard to the ultimate deleterious effects upon health of working upon tobacco. Ramazzini, Heurtaux, and Kostial, in Italy, France, and Germany, respectively, have been pessimistic in their view; while Duchâtelet, Ygonin, Berretti, and Chevallier claim that tobacco-workers are as healthy and longlived as any other workers, or more so. A certain amount of habituation, a mild nicotine poisoning, has to be endured, having its analogue perhaps in “learning to smoke.” All agree that tobacco harms women more than men. Kostial records that, of 100 female cigar-makers, twelve to sixteen years old, 72 fell sick in six months after beginning the work. A great deal of cigar-making and cigarette-making is carried on in tenement houses. A few years ago, an attempt was made by the trades-unions to prevent this by legislation, on the pretended ground that the combination of tobacco and tenement house was a most deadly one. The law was passed, but was soon discovered to be unconstitutional. The agitation of the subject led Dr. Tracy, of the New York Board of Health, to an investigation. He examined 214 families, taken without selection, and set them against a number of factories. To his surprise, he found that, in respect to air, light, ventilation, food, cleanliness, and material emanations, the home-workers in nearly all cases had the advantage. This is an exception to the usual contrast between home and factory workers, where the advantage is usually on the side of the factory, as has been shown so conclusively by your honored President, Mr. Carroll D. Wright. Anæmia of a rapidly advancing kind is the misfortune of these girls. My experience with female workers in tobacco has profoundly impressed me with its ill effects. I have found these women almost invariably pallid, anæmic, passing quickly to a stage of grave functional disorders. Of a large number examined at workinggirls' clubs, where they had entered without selection, I found scarcely a sound one who had worked six months. They form a considerable proportion of dispensary patients. Home hygiene will do much to assist the worker in her constitutional resistance to nicotine, but, I believe, cannot entirely counteract its toxic effects.

The city does not afford examples of the largest factory systems, yet still in New York we can find a small army of factory girls. We are indebted to your esteemed President for his study of the Factory System in this country and abroad, and for his widely accepted conclusion that it is home and personal hygiene, and not the factory, that tells upon the operatives. Mr. Wright shows how, conditions in the factories being equal, the health of the operatives varies exactly as their home surroundings. Factories have to some extent been regulated by legislation; but it has been so well understood by manufacturers that it is policy on their part to do all possible for their employees' health that we generally find the large places with good hygienic conditions.

The dusty industries and those having to do with poisons are most important for our consideration. The typical dusty factories where women are employed are those of cotton, wool, hemp, flax, and silk. The types of the poisonous industries other than tobacco are the making of hats and caps, of artificial flowers, wall-papers, and matches. The dusty industries work their harm both by inhalation of dust and by its external irritation. Machinery is doing away with much of the waste that formerly was cast into the air. In this country, much greater security is provided for operatives than in Europe; and “cotton consumption,” for example, is here almost unknown.

Let us take up the principal dusty industries in a very brief review. In factories for cotton, flax, and jute, the dust is composed of silicious particles, fibres of the different materials, and woody fibres. Cotton factories, which formerly were the most harmful, are now, from improved machinery which checks dust, comparatively innocuous. Flax-working is one of the most unhealthful of the dusty occupations. Consumption is very common. Greenhow

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »