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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/689

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THE "NEW WOMAN" AND HER DEBTS.

tures, let in gangs to the manufacturers, were herded like animals in the mills and forges, sleeping under the machines, eating there such poor food as they had to eat. Tasked day and night and often days at a stretch, they were rudely shaken from brief slumber to renew their work, and were goaded to labor by the whip.

Generation after generation of English factory operatives was thus martyred, devitalized, degraded, before reaction of public feeling and tardy legislation gradually combined between 1802 and 1876 to repress these abuses. So, by toiling sixteen and eighteen hours out of the twenty-four, by living in stables, by being beaten and starved under employers drunk with avarice and power, these early mill hands—grandmothers, mothers, maidens, and tiny children—bought with blood and tears the right for woman to compete industrially with man. In this sad, this heroic effort, a million beings were engaged whose lives were needlessly shortened or sacrificed to the dreadful treatment and surroundings they had to endure before the cry of their pain was heeded by the lawmakers, before a century of suffering, demoralization, and oppression forced into existence that great saving and preventive agency, the British Factory Acts.

The crusade for government interference and protection of the wage-earner against insane and inhuman greed—alas! even the greed that makes parents wreck their offspring by early labor—was carried on for seventy-five years by men alone. I am sorry to count no feminine helper among the reformers, to blazon no woman's name alongside Lord Shaftesbury's.

In the United States the first mill employees enjoyed a better fate. Nevertheless, long working hours, the toil of ignorant children, and other abuses of unrestricted industrialism early called for remedy; and since 181:0 Massachusetts has led the ever-widening movement for regulating factories and improving the condition of labor.

The American girl who profits by this hard-won emancipation, to whom has fallen the precious heritage of economic independence, who is able to-day to pursue freely and at ease in laboratory, studio, office, and workshop all the skilled trades and professions only because other humbler sisters have trodden a rougher path and cleared the way by manual effort, this "new woman" owes to all female breadwinners commensurate gratitude and many sacred duties.

First, by virtue of ampler leisure, superior education, and social importance, we owe protection. Do we give it? No. It is a significant fact that while in England the Factory Acts were secured mainly by men of rank, wealth, and public spirit for the laborer, in America such statutes usually originate with and are pushed through by the workers themselves, half educated, un-