Appeal to the Wealthy of the Land/Essay 5

ESSAY V.

But we are gravely told, that some of the seamstresses ought to go to service—that servants are scarce; if they would condescend to fill that station, they might have comfortable homes, abundance of good food, light labour, and high wages.

That there may be found some individuals among those oppressed women who might go to service, and whom a false pride prevents from taking that course, I admit. But on a careful inquiry of the Matron of the Provident Society, and of the Managers of the Female Hospitable Society, I am persuaded the number is small, and bears but a slight proportion to the whole number of the seamstresses. There is among them a large proportion of aged widows, who are wholly unfit for service, and many young widows, with two or three small children, who are as dear to them, as theirs are to the rich; whom, of course, they cannot bear to part with; and whom their wages, as servants, would not support at nurse.

Extract of a letter from Mrs. Margaret Silver, Secretary of the Female Hospitable Society.

"Philadelphia, Jan. 5, 1832.

"On consulting with the Managers of the Female Hospitable Society, we have concluded from the experience which twenty-three years have given us, to return the following answers to your queries:—

"1. The number of women who apply for work in the winter season, is, on an average, five hundred.

"2. As to persons among them fit for house-maids, or service in families, not one in fifty.

"3. As to the number of widows, the proportion is as seventy-five to an hundred; the remainder, chiefly wives deserted by their husbands, or whose husbands do nothing for the maintenance of their children, who are too young to do any thing for themselves.

"4. As to aged females, one half are of that class, and one fifth of the whole infirm.

"Yours, &c.

"Mr. M. Caret.

"MARGARET SILVER, Secretary."

Extract of a letter from Mrs. Queen, Matron of the Philadelphia Provident Society.

"Sir,—As far as I can judge, from what the women told me last winter, I should think that at least six hundred of them were widows. At least two thirds of them said they had children to support. The recompense they received averaged about fifty cents per week, while they took out work. Few of them lived in the city. The greater part of them came from Kensington, Northern Liberties, and Southwark.

"Mr. M. Carey."

The pernicious consequences of the inadequate wages paid the women of the classes in question, is strikingly displayed by the state of the out-door paupers in the city of Philadelphia, in 1830. Of 498 females, there were,

Seamstresses, - - 142
Washerwomen, - - 62
Spoolers, - - - 28
Shoe-binders, - - 10
—— 242

Being nearly one half of the whole number. There were 406 widows.

It may excite wonder how the seamstresses, spoolers, &c., are able to support human nature, as their rent absorbs above two-fifths of their miserable earnings. The fact is, they generally contrive to raise their rent by begging from benevolent citizens, and of course their paltry earnings go to furnish food and clothing.

I stated that there are two honourable exceptions to the low rate of wages paid to seamstresses. They are entitled to a high degree of applause, and are worthy examples, which ought to be generally followed. The one is "the Female Hospitable Society of Philadelphia," the other "the Impartial Humane Society of Baltimore." The former, although its resources are very slender, too slender considering its usefulness, has uniformly paid 183/4 cents for making shirts and duck pantaloons, and in the same proportion for other articles. The scale of prices of the latter is as follows:

cents. cents.
Linen shirts, - - - 75 to 87 1/2 Gentlemen's shams, - - 18 3/4 to 50
Gentlemen's pantaloons, - 62 1/2 to 75 Children's suits of clothes, 50 to 87 1/2
Roundabouts, - - - - 75 Do. cloaks, - - - 62 1/2
Linen collars, - - - - 10 Do. mittens, - - 10 to 12 1/2
Unbleached cotton shirts, large, - 25 Women and children's aprons, 6 3/4 to 31 1/4
Do. do. small, 12 1/2 to 18 3/4 Women's plain dresses, - 43 3/4 to 50
Bleached do. large, - 31 1/4 Bonnets, - - - - 25 to 75
Do. do. small, - 25 All other articles in proportion.

It is deeply to be regretted that in such a wealthy and public-spirited city as Baltimore, this institution has but three hundred subscribers,[1] although the subscription is but one dollar per annum; whereas for so glorious an object as rescuing such numbers of interesting females from penury and distress, and all their demoralizing consequences, had the annual subscription been five dollars, there ought to have been one thousand subscribers.

The following is the list of prices paid by the Female Hospitable Society of Philadelphia:[2]

cents. cents.
Fine linen shirts, - - - 50 Drawers and duck pantaloons, - 18 3/4
Next quality do. - - - 40 Check shirts, - - - - 16
Fine muslin do. - - - 40 Flannel, do. - - - - 14
Next quality do. - - - 37 1/2 Collars, separate from the shirt, 6 1/4, 8, 12 1/2
Next quality do. - - - 31 1/4 Quilting, - - - - .75 to 1.25
Common muslin shirts, - - 25 Comfortables, according to the size, from
Coarse unbleached do. - - 18 3/4 $2 to 2.50 and $3.
Boys' shirts, - - - - 18 3/4 Bed-quilts, do. do.

The case of the spoolers is at least as hard, and their sufferings as great, as those of the seamstresses. By no degree of industry and skill can they earn in summer more than a dollar and a quarter, or a dollar in winter; and during the latter season, they are, for the most part, employed but half their time.

Philadelphia, July 1, 1833.

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  1. This fact must excite a high degree of astonishment and regret. There are in Baltimore citizens whose liberality may, in some cases, vie with the illustrious examples set in Boston, which stands pre-eminent above any other city in the world (London perhaps excepted) for displays of munificence on the most magnificent scale. That citizens of such a calibre should overlook the claims of this noble institution—should not make a liberal provision for it, so as to place it on high ground, and to enable it to extend its usefulness to a degree commensurate with the demand upon it, can only arise from its merits not having attracted a due degree of attention. I venture to hope that this state of things will not be allowed to exist much longer, and that the institution will have in future that degree of support to which it is fairly entitled.
  2. The observations made in the preceding note respecting the Impartial Hospitable Society of Baltimore apply with equal force to this Society. Its objects, and views, and merits, are the same. Too much praise cannot be awarded to Mrs. Snyder and Mrs. Silver, who have devoted many years to this institution, and contributed largely to its success.