As A White Slave Free Essay Sample
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On the break of the day I departed, not with the ones who seek pleasure, but with the ones who work extremely hard all day long so that they can survive. Everyone was hurrying, women of all ages and looks and rushing men – and I along with them as a part of the large crowd. I was interested in the stories of working girls about poor pay and inhuman treatment. And the only way to get to the bottom of it all and find the truth was becoming one of those paper box factory girls. And that was what I did. According to the status, I started searching work without reference, help or experience.
The hunt for work was an exhausting one.
If my wellbeing depended on it, the search would have been dispiriting and nearly aggravating. I visited many different factories in and around Sixth Avenue, Grand and Bleecker streets. Places where the workers demise into the hundreds. Everyone asked me the same question, “Do you have experience doing work?” After my negative reply, they did not give me any further consideration.
“I will do work without any money until I learn,” I pleaded.
“This is not a place where women are tough trades,” one of the men said.
“No one is born with the knowledge; then how do they learn?” I asked.
“The women always have a friend that is eager to learn and she doesn’t mind losing money and time to teach her, we don’t mind since the beginner does the work for nothing.”
By no persuasion could I obtain an entry into the larger factories, so I concluded, at last, to try a smaller one at No. 196 Elm Street. Quite unlike the unkind, brusque men I had met at other factories, the man here was polite. He said: “If you have never done the work, I don’t think you will like it. It is dirty work and a girl has to spend years at it before she can make much money. Our beginners are girls about sixteen years old, and they do not get paid for two weeks after they come here.”
Since I couldn’t beg my way into the large factories, I decided to try my luck with the smaller ones situated at No. 196 Elm Street. Dissimilar to the cruel, surely men I had encountered in the factories before, the man here was polite. “I assume you wouldn’t fancy the work here if you haven’t worked before. It’s dirty and the women have to waste many years before they can start earning much money. The beginners here are girls about the age of fifteen and they only get money after two weeks of work,” he said.
“And how much do they earn after?”
“Sometimes for a week’s work we start paying them 1.50 dollars and when they become more skilled we send them on piecework, where they get paid by the 100.”
“And how much afterward?” I asked.
“Good ones can earn from five to nine dollars a week.”
“Do you have many girls working here?”
“In the building, around 60 and some take the work home. I have been in this business only for a few months, but if you have decided to make try I can put in a word for you. I’ll speak to my partner. Sit down and wait for a bit until I find him.”
Soon after he went out of the room I heard him talking about me outside and insisting that I should be given an opportunity. He came back along with a short man who had a German accent. He came and stood next to me and didn’t speak, so I asked again for the work. “Well, come on Monday in the morning and we will think what we work we can give you. And go to the desk and give your name to the gentleman there.”
On Monday morning, I dressed in a calico dress which would suit the trade I chose. Since I figured that every working woman carried a lunch and since I was to give the impression that I’m used to carrying a lunch, I put it into a nice little bundle and covered it with a paper, a brown one which had a spot of grease on its center. I was quite proud of my thoughtfulness and eye for detail, yet a bit annoyed since the grease spot was slowly growing in size.
Although being so early, all the girls were already there at work. The only entrance to the office was through a small wagon-yard. After I made my excuses to the gentleman at the desk, he called a good looking small girl with her apron full of pasteboard, and said to her:
“Escort this lady up to Jane.”
“Is she going to work on cornucopias or on the boxes?” the girl inquired.
The gentlemen told here that I am to work on the boxes and I followed the small girl. We climbed the darkest, most perpendicular and narrowest stair that I had the misfortune to encounter with. We continued our way through tiny rooms, full of working girls, to the fifth or sixth story which was the top floor, I can’t quite recall which. When we got there, I was out of breath.
The little girl told Norah that I am to be put on boxes. Which made all the girls surrounding the long table, turn and glance at me with eyes full of curiosity. Norah, the girl with auburn hair lifted her eyes from the box that she was making and answered:
“Show her where she can leave her clothes and see if the hatchway is down.”
Afterwar, Norah told one of the other girls to get me a stool and sat down by the table. The table was piled with many pasteboards shaped as squares, with labels in the center. She put a long piece of paper on the table, took a scrub-brush, and after dipping it into a bucket of paste rubbed it on the paper.
Next, she took one of the squares of pasteboard and, running her thumb delicately along, turned up the edges. When she was done with that, she took one of the pieces of paper and put it quickly and neatly over the corner, connecting them together and holding them in place. In a fast motion, she cut the paper off at the edge with her thumbnail and turned it around and did the next corner. Soon I figured that this was a box lid Since it was quite easy after a few tries I managed to make one.
The work itself was not hard to do yet it was distressing since the room we worked at was not being ventilated and the smell of the glue and paste were repulsive. There were piles of boxes and they made it impossible to talk to the girls except for Therese, who was a beginner like myself and set by my side. In the beginning, she wasn’t eager to speak, yet after I gently asked her several questions she became more talkative.
She told me she lived with her parents on the Eldrige Street and that although her father was a musician, he wouldn’t go to the streets to play. She also told that her mother was sick almost all the time and that her sister works at a passementerie where she can earn from three to five dollars a week. Therese also had another sister who had been spooling silk for almost five years and made six dollars a week. Despite that, since her hands and face and hair are colored from the silk when she comes home after work it makes her sick.
“Have you worked before?” I asked her.
“Oh, yes; I was also working at passementerie yet on Spring Street. I worked from seven till six o’clock, piecework, and made about 3.50 dollars a week. The reason why I left was the cruelty of the bosses, and we were given only 3 small oil lamps to see to work by. The rooms were pitch black, yet we were never allowed to burn the gas. And since other ladies would come and take the work to do at home and did it cheaper, we did not get as much pay as we would otherwise.”
“What did you do after you left there?” I enquired.
She told me that she worked at a fringe factory and although the owner of the place was a woman she was unkind to all the girls that worked under her. After working a whole week from eight am to six pm with just a half-hour dinner break the woman paid Therese only 35 cents.
“You know a girl cannot live on 35 cents a week, so I left.” she added.
“How do you like the box factory?”
“Well, the bosses seem kind. They are polite and always wish good morning to me. Nobody ever did this in any other place I ever worked. Yet for them, it is a good bargain for a poor girl to give two weeks’ work for nothing. I have worked for about two weeks, and I have done a lot of work. For the bosses, this is a pure gain. And they also told us that they often fire a girl after her first two weeks saying that she doesn’t fit. After the trial time, I am supposed to get 1.50 dollars a week.”
When the whistles of the surrounding factories blew at 12 o’clock the forewoman told us we could quit work and eat our lunch. I was not quite so proud of my cleverness in simulating a working girl when one of them said:
At twelve o’clock the whistles of the nearby factories blew the forewoman informed us that it was the time we could quit work and eat our lunch. My proudness about my clever imitation of a working girl faded when one of the girls offered me to send out for my lunch. After I told her I brought it with me she laughed and told me with amusement that girls now make fun of anyone carrying a basket and that no working girl carries a basket since it immediately marks her as a worker.
After the girls went out for lunch I enquired about the prices. It turned out that 5 cents will get them a nice pint of coffee, with milk and sugar if preferred. 3 slices of bread with butter could be bought with 2 cents. A sandwich costs 3 cents. Often several girls would put their money together to buy a little bit of food. 5 cents could buy them a bowl of soup and four girls would get a taste of it. They can buy warm lunches by clubbing together.
After lunch, an hour later when it was one o’clock, we came back to work again. Since having finished 64 lids, and since the supply had been used, I was put at “molding in.” The job was to fit the bottom into the sides of the box and paste it there. In the beginning, it is rather difficult to make all the edges come closely and neatly together, but after a little practice, it can easily be done.
During the next day, I had to sit with several new girls and tried to get them to talk. To my greatest surprise, it turned out that they weren’t willing to tell me their names or where they lived and even how they lived. I used every trick a woman can use to get invited to their homes yet unsuccessfully.
“How much can girls make here?” I asked the forewoman.
“I have no idea,” she answered; “the girls here never tell each other, and the bosses keep their time.”
“How long have you been working here?” I enquired.
She told me that she had been working here for about 8 years and during that time she had thought her three siblings. She said that the profit is steady if the girls have many years of experience to work fast enough to make much money.
All the girls here left an impression that they were content. They would sing during the day, and make the little building resound from their songs. They would begin singing on the second floor, probably, and every other floor would take it up until all the girls joined the song. The girls were mostly kind and polite to each other. Their arguments weren’t fierce nor they lasted for long. They were all exceptionally kind to me and did all in their power to make my work less hard and less tedious. I was filled with pride when managed to make my first entire box.
There were two girls at one table on piecework who had been in a great many box factories and had varied experience. They told me that women don’t get paid even half enough at any work and that a box factory is not worse than any other places. There is no such work that a girl can do with hard work and make more than six dollars a week.
“No girl can dress and pay her boarding on that,” they said.
“Where do such girls live?” I enquired.
She told me that they live in boarding-places on Houston and Bleeker, and around places like that. These girls are able to get a room and meals for 3.50 dollars a week. The accommodations may be only for two, in a single bed, or it may have a dozen, according to the size of the room. The girls living in such places have no comforts or convinces, and generally undesirable men stay at the same place as they.
And the houses that are meant for working women with all the comforts and frauds. The girls don’t obtain home comforts and then the restrictions are more than they will endure. A girl who works all day long should have some amusements, and she never finds it in such homes.
The woman told me that she had been working on box factories for eleven years, and it had never given her a living. On average, she makes five dollars a week and pays out 3.50 for the board, and that her wash bill is at least seventy-five cents. For one-pound candy boxes, she gets paid fifty cents a hundred and forty cents for half-pound boxes.
“What work do you do on a box for that pay?” I asked her.
“I do everything. The same as you did before I get the pasteboard cut in squares. I first ‘set up’ the lids, then I ‘mold in’ the bottoms. The result of which a box is formed. After that, I do the ‘trimming,’ which is the process of putting the gilt edge around the box lid. I also do ‘Cover striping’ which is covering the edge of the lid which is the next step, and afterward, comes the ‘top label,’ which the finishing step of the entire lid. Then I paper the box, do the ‘bottom labeling,’ and then put in two or four laces on the inside as ordered.”
She said that one box passes through her hands 8 times before it turns into a finished product. She has to work extraordinarily hard and without breaks to be able to create two hundred boxes in one day, which makes her 1 dollar. And obviously, that was not enough money for handling two hundred boxes sixteen hundred times for 1 dollar. These women were very cheap labor.
Conclusion of the White slave essay
Maggie, a really bright young girl who sat in front of me told me a story that broke my heart. She told me that this was her second week in this factory and as agreed she would not get paid until the next week when she is expected to earn a dollar and a half for six days of work. She told that her father was a driver but now he is sick and no one knows what is wrong but the doctors told them that he would die very soon. She is the oldest child being and has two younger sisters and a brother who is twelve years old. The child gets two dollars a week at a cigar-box factory for being an office-boy. In a house on the Houston street, they have 2 rooms which are really small with low ceilings, and they live with many Chinese people in that house. The monthly rent for this place is fourteen dollars per month and because of that, they don’t have much to eat. Yet the father doesn’t mind since he can’t eat and they could not live if their father’s lodge did not pay their rent.
She told me that before working in this box factory she had once worked in a carpet factory at Yonkers. She had to work one week before she had enough skills to move to working at piecework and started making a dollar a day, yet when Maggie’s father got sick her mother wanted her to stay at home and help, yet now since she is making so little she wished she could stay on her previous work.
She also wanted to try something else but there is little work someone like her could do and in the end, she couldn’t find anything. Her father had sent her to school until she was fourteen so that she could learn to be a telegraph operator. She went to a place on Twenty-third Street, where they taught the job, but the man responsible for teaching had told her that he would give her a lesson only if she I paid 50 dollars in beforehand. And considering her situation she could not do that.
Afterward, I introduced them with the Cooper Institute, about which I thought every person living in New York was acquainted with and knew that it was for the benefit of such cases. To my great astonishment, I learned that the workers around here were completely unfamiliar with such a thing as the Cooper Institute.
Every time some of them were grumbling about wages that were unjust, and about some of the factories where they had been unable to get the amount of money they were promised after work being done, I told them about the mission that Knights of Labor carried out, and about the existence of the women’s society that has been organized lately. All of the girls were pleasantly surprised to learn that there were many means to support women in getting justice.
One of the girls that were working one floor below me told that the bosses did not allow them to tell each other how much they earned. And One girl who worked on the floor below me said they were not allowed to tell what they earned. And although she had been a worker in this factory of five years, her salary did not get more than five dollars a week. Besides all of the unfair wages, such factories had totally no conditions for women to work. The rooms were tiny and without any kind of ventilation. Which could have horrifying consequences in case of a fire, since in such factories there was practically no way to escape.
After I had discovered all the information needed from the most talkative and cooperative girls, I was impatient and extremely eager to leave that place once and for all. The work here was tiresome and exhausting. Another interesting and worth mentioning thing that I’ve noticed on my way to and from the factory is that men were much willing to offer their seats to the working girls on the cars than they were to offer them to women that were well dressed. Another thing that I have managed to detect is that men tried to flirt with me much more while I impersonating a box-factory girl than I ever had before. Also, the girls were polite in their manners and as nice as ones educated and raised at home. They always remembered to thank each other for the slightest help, and there was quite a little air of “good form” in many of their actions. I have meant many worse girls in much higher positions than the white slaves of New York.