Front Page Titles (by Subject) MARRIED WOMEN IN FACTORIES.∗ - Methods of Social Reform and Other Papers
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MARRIED WOMEN IN FACTORIES.∗ - William Stanley Jevons, Methods of Social Reform and Other Papers 
Methods of Social Reform and Other Papers (London: Macmillan, 1883).
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MARRIED WOMEN IN FACTORIES.∗
While engaged in preparing a small treatise, “The State in its Relation to Labour,” my attention has been strongly called anew to the importance of the question of the employment of married women in factories and workshops. The bearing of the question is, of course, instantly seen when it is considered that every mother so employed abandons her infants and young children for ten hours in the day to the care of other, usually careless hands. The subject has long been one of chronic controversy in the manufacturing districts, especially in Manchester, where it is every now and then debated in the newspapers and public societies. In the “Transactions of the Manchester Statistical Society,” especially, will be found a series of papers on the several phases of the matter, by the late Dr. George Greaves, Mrs. M. A. Baines, Dr. Noble, Dr. Syson, Mr. T. R. Wilkinson, and others.
The Manchester Sanitary Association is ever registering and considering the infant mortality of the district. Almost every volume of the “Transactions of the Social Science Association” contains papers more or less directly bearing on the subject. The Reports of the Factory Inspectors, especially those of Mr. Baker, have recorded from time to time the most valuable facts, as well as the inferences and reflections of the Inspectors; and there are various other official publications to be presently mentioned, in which the question has been almost exhaustively treated. Yet nothing has been done, although it is impossible to stir the mass of records without discovering that the evils recorded are appalling in their nature. Can such things be in a Christian country? is the exclamation which rises to the lips in contemplating the mass of misery, and, especially, the infinite, irreparable wrong to helpless children, which is involved in the mother's employment at the mills.
It is a strange topic for reflection how the public, morbidly fixing their attention on some wretched murderer, or a score of dogs or rabbits sacrificed for the enduring interests of humanity, can calmly ignore the existence of evils which are so extensive that the imagination fails to grasp them clearly. It is a curious, and yet unquestionable fact, that a comparatively small and unimportant work is often undertaken with ardour, whereas a vastly greater and more urgent work of the same kind produces only languor. Thus Mr. George Smith succeeded in arousing intense sympathy for the small number of children brought up (often not brought up) in canal boats. The peculiar circumstances of the canal boats, and the definite manageable extent of the ideas involved, conduced to the success of the very proper movement which Mr. Smith carried out to the point of legislation. But infant mortality in general is, I fear, far too wide and vague an idea to rivet the attention of the public.∗ It is a question involving the whole of the lower-class population of the manufacturing districts. The actual excess of deaths is to be counted in tens of thousands. Briefly stated, the question concerns the mode of death of certainly 30,000 infants, and perhaps as many as 40,000 or even 50,000 which perish annually in this country through preventible causes. In no small number of cases the deaths are actually intentional infanticides, committed in a manner which defies the scrutiny of a coroner and jury. Thus the Registrar-General, in his Thirty-seventh Annual Report (p. xxiii.), refers ominously to the large number of infants suffocated in one town, and demands special inquiry, which, of course, has never been made.∗ In by far the largest number of cases, however, we may be glad to conclude that it is not real murder which we deal with, but a mixture of thoughtlessness and carelessness, varying in criminality from manslaughter up to mere misadventure and ignorance of an entirely innocent character. But in any case the facts are of the most serious nature, and must form suitable matter for reflection in the approaching Christmas season, round warm firesides and well-covered tables.
To form some preliminary idea of the amount of infant mortality with which we have to deal, we may turn to any of the recent annual reports of the Registrar-General, and we find a table giving the deaths of children under five years of age in the principal great towns. Thus, in the Forty-first Report, p. xxxvi., we find that the estimated numbers of children under five years of age in nineteen large towns add up to a little more than a million (1,023,896), while the number of deaths of such children was 85,250. The rate of mortality, however, varies extremely, being as comparatively low as 59·4 in 1000 in Portsmouth, rising to 65·8 in Brighton, 66·2 in Bristol, 73·2 in Newcastle, 74·8 in Wolverhampton, 78·6 in London, 82·9 in Leicester and Nottingham, and so on, until we reach gradually the higher amounts of 93·8 in Salford, 95·2 in Birmingham, 95·9 in Sheffield. The place of dishonour is occupied by Liverpool, with an infant mortality rising to a climax of 103·6 per 1000. In that great seaport the infants (under five years of age) are decimated annually! Now, if we assume that, with proper sanitary regulations, the infant mortality in towns ought not to exceed that of Norwich, which is on the average about 70 per 1000, we readily calculate that the excess of infant deaths in the other great towns in question amounts to 13,500 annually. But the question clearly depends upon the average of sanitation which we conceive possible. Portsmouth, which we should not at first expect to find very favourable to infant life, maintains an average as low as about 60 per 1000. The Registrar-General remarks that this low rate is probably owing in some measure to the presence of a large number of military and naval men, and dockyard artificers, representing several thousands of selected healthy lives. The dockyard affords employment to a large number of artisans, and there is not that inducement in Portsmouth for unothers to neglect their offspring which there is in the factory towns. I entertain, however, some doubt whether there is any reason for regarding Portsmouth as really exceptional; and if we take its rate as a standard, we find that the excess of the other great towns amounts to about 24,000, which, of course, does not include the excessive mortality of a multitude of smaller towns. Let it be observed that we have nothing to do here with the contrast between town and country. In a highly rural county, such as Dorsetshire or Wiltshire, the infant mortality does not usually exceed about 40 per 1000, and even sinks as low as 35.
I do not intend, in the present article, to enlarge upon the remarkable differences in regard to mortality which the great towns exhibit. Liverpool is especially anomalous, because, though standing at the head of the list, it has no great textile factories which would take women away from home. Renewed and very careful inquiry has, indeed, quite satisfied me as to the correctness of the explanation which I gave in 1870∗ of the excessive mortality of such towns as Liverpool and Salford. Until statists will constantly bear in mind the fact that the different towns and counties of England are to a great extent peopled by races of different characters, it will remain impossible to understand the profound sanitary discrepancies which they exhibit. It is not, however, to my purpose to dwell upon the influence of a mixture of population; it is only necessary to refer to the point as explaining anomalies which would otherwise seem to tend against the inferences to be drawn concerning other matters. In this article I prefer to direct the reader's attention to one of the existing social evils, which is unquestionably the cause of much of the infant mortality alluded to: I mean the employment of child-bearing women away from home. This is, beyond doubt, the most important question touching the relation of the State to labour which remains unsolved.
It has long, indeed, been one of the most frequent and urgent proposals of trade unionists that married women should be “taken out of the mills.” The so-called labour advocates are often a great deal nearer the truth than the general public believe. But then, unfortunately, they give reasons for their opinions, and these reasons will not always bear examination. Thus, in favour of the summary exclusion of married women, it is argued that the market is overstocked, and that if married women were taken out, the operation would realise a great social and domestic benefit, whilst “much of the overplus labour would be reduced.” This, however, is obviously bad political economy. We cannot possibly increase the welfare of the people by lessening labour, the source of wealth. No workers, too, are more to be admired than some married women, who, by indomitable industry and good management, maintain a family of children and a husband too. Where the husband is disabled by accident, illness, imprisonment, or otherwise, or has deserted his family, the wife cannot but be praised if she attempts to take his place and save the children from the Union. There will exist, again, many cases of married women without children, or whose children are past infancy, where the prohibition of employment would rest on no special grounds, and would be little short of tyrannous.
There is a reverse side of the question, which it is impossible to overlook. As pointed out by one of the factory inspectors,∗ no small number of women managing households and bringing up young children are, unfortunately, unmarried. Now, a law excluding married women from factories would obviously have the most disastrous effects upon these unhappy women, by banishing, in most cases, all hope of marriage. In too many cases it is the woman's power of earning wages which constitutes her hold upon the paramour. Beyond doubt, then, the exclusion of the class “married women,” simply by that definition, cannot for a moment be contemplated. It is the class “child-bearing women,” that legislation must deal with, if at all. Opinions will differ greatly, however, as to the extent, means, and purpose of the legislation required. The slightest form of interference would consist in excluding women from factories for a certain number of weeks before and after confinement. Mr. Mundella explained to the Factory Acts Commission of 1875 that in Glarus, and some other Swiss Cantons, a woman was obliged to remain at home for six weeks in all, fixing the time at her own discretion. There can be so little doubt as to the hygienic advantages of such a law, that the only question seems to be the possibility of enforcing the law. What is practicable in a small mountain district like Glarus, where everybody knows everybody else, might totally fail in an ocean of population like that of Lancashire or London. It will be generally agreed that the employer can hardly be made responsible for delicate inquiries into the condition of his female mill-hands. The Factory Act Commissioners bring forward, moreover, other serious difficulties; for instance, the danger of adding a new and very powerful motive for concealment of birth.
It appears pretty plain that if there is to be legislation concerning child-bearing women something more thorough is required. The women may be quite fit for work in one month; but what about the infant? The latter is pretty sure to be relegated to that scourge of infant life, the dirty fungus-bearing bottle. I do not think that it will be possible for the Legislature much longer to leave untouched the sad abuses which undoubtedly occur in the treatment of infants, especially in the manufacturing districts. The existence of such abuses is sufficiently indicated by the high rate of infant mortality already alluded to. More than ten years ago (May to July, 1870), a long controversy took place in The Manchester Guardian as to the existence and causes of this excessive mortality. It was evoked by a paper read by Mr. Baxendell to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester throwing doubt upon the facts; but it appeared to be conclusively shown by Dr. Arthur Ransome that there was an enormous death-rate of very young children in Manchester and certain other towns. About the same time Sir W. T. Charley, Mr. Ernest Hart, Mr. George Hastings, and other gentlemen formed an Infant Life Protection Society; and the subject was also brought before the House of Commons by the first-named gentleman. The Report of the Select Committee on the Protection of Infant Life∗ contains startling revelations, which have never received the attention they imperatively demand. The following passage from the Report of the Committee (p. 4) contains a concise statement of what they considered to be proved concerning infant mortality:
“The ordinary mortality among infant children under one year of age is estimated at 15 or 16 per cent.; but the mere fact of their being hand-nursed, instead of being breast-nursed, will, unless great care is taken, raise the death-rate, even in well-conducted ‘homes,’ to 40 per cent. and upwards. In the inferior class of houses, where the children put out to nurse are, for the most part, illegitimate, the death-rate may be 40 to 60 per cent. in the rural districts, and in the large towns, where the sanitary conditions are more unfavourable, it mounts up to 70, 80, or even 90 per cent. All the witnesses concur in this; and there are three or four circumstances which strongly confirm their general opinion.”
It is frequently implied or stated throughout the “Report, Evidence, and Appendices,” that the present treatment of infants often amounts practically to infanticide. According to the late Dr. Lankester, then coroner for Middlesex, illegitimate children are “killed off” before they are one year old; and the Committee calmly assume that not more than one in ten of such children ever lives to grow up. In a petition presented to the Home Secretary by the British Medical Association (Report, p. 237), it is asserted that no action of the police can discover the great amount of secret infanticide which is daily perpetrated in this metropolis and elsewhere. The same body asserts that “in manufacturing towns, where children are placed out by the day, a very large infant mortality exists, chiefly owing to the administration of insufficient or improper food and opiates, by the women in whose charge the children are placed.”
And again, we have this important statement: “Those children who live, and reach adult life under such adverse circumstances, are physicially and morally weak, and in most instances lapse into pauperism and crime.”
After reading some of the facts contained in this grim Report, it is impossible not to concur in this remark of the Infant Life Protection Society, though it occurs to one to ask, what has become of the Society? “It is astounding to all those who know the facts connected with baby-farming that . . . the State has left this great mass of helpless infant life to suffer and die in the hands of persons too many of whom make of death a trade.”
The question, however, referred to the Committee was merely that of the best means of preventing the destruction of the lives of infants put out to nurse for hire by their parents. By “put out to nurse,” was taken to mean put out for more than twenty-four hours at a time. Thus the treatment of children generally was not expressly considered, and the recommendations of the Committee resulted in nothing more than a Bill for the registration of persons who take for hire two or more infants under one year of age to nurse for a longer period than a day. In the next session the Bill became law, under the title of “The Infant Life Protection Act, 1872” (35 & 36 Vict. c. 38). In addition to registration, the law requires every registered baby-farmer to send notice to the coroner of all deaths in the registered houses, so that inquests may be held in the absence of medical certificates satisfactory to the coroner.
We will presently consider the working of this Act.
Although the Report of this Committee contains the largest collected body of facts, a good deal of information, very much indeed to the point, may be found in the Reports of the Medical Officer to the Privy Council. It is needless for me to say how replete all these Reports are with sanitary researches of the highest importance; but the document most to our purpose is a report, kindly pointed out to me by Dr. Mouat, made by the late Dr. Henry J. Hunter on the excessive mortality of infants in some rural districts of England.∗ As, indeed, this report treats of agricultural districts, it might seem to have little bearing on our subject. But the parts of the country examined by Dr. Hunter afforded an experiment of a most significant and conclusive character. A serious increase of infant mortality had been observed in certain marshy agricultural districts, and the only apparent antecedent was the bringing of the land under cultivation. As this change, however, might be expected to banish the malaria of the fens, it seemed, at first sight, unaccountable that the infants died off the more rapidly as the climate became more healthy. A little inquiry, however, showed that an influence far more fatal than malaria had come into operation. The mothers had gained employment in the field-gangs, and had left their infants to the care of the old women. That this was really the cause was established by the concurrent evidence of all witnesses examined by the reporter. The peculiar importance of this result is, that we here have the influence of married women's employment freed from the circumstances of town life.
The excessive mortality of Salford or Nottingham, we see, is not due alone to the bad sanitary condition of the courts and streets, for like infant mortality makes its appearance in the most rural parts. We have, in fact, a true and complete induction, pointing to the employment of women away from their homes as the efficient cause of their children's decadence.
Dr. Hunter's Report is crammed with other information, more instructive than pleasant. It is unfortunate that such valuable inquiries should be buried in scarce Blue Books, which are hardly accessible, except in the British Museum or a few other public libraries. After describing in a few touching sentences the history of many a young woman who finds herself a mother while she is yet really a child herself, he proceeds (p. 458):
“A worse degree of criminality is found in older mothers. After losing a child or two, they begin to view the subject as one for ingenuity and speculation. It is related that on the birth of a second or third bastard the neighbours will say: ‘So-and-so has another baby; you'll see it won't live.’ And this becomes a sort of joke, in which the mother will join; public opinion expressing no condemnation of her cruelty. A medical man is called to the wasting infant, because there is so much bother with registering. The mother says the child is dying, and won't touch food. When he offers food the child is ravenous, and fit to tear the spoon to pieces. On some of the few occasions on which the surgeon, in his disgust, has insisted on opening the body, the stomach and bowels have been found quite empty.”
Dr. Hunter enters pretty fully into the natural history of “Godfrey,” the compound of opium, treacle, and infusion of sassafras, to which many thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of infants have succumbed. This is so commonly demanded in many districts that it becomes the “leading article” at the shops. The shopkeepers, in the zeal of competition, sell “Godfrey” at cost price, as the best means of inveigling improvident mothers. One inconvenience of this excessive competition is, that different specimens of “Godfrey” vary much in strength, and a nurse who incautiously administers a new brand of the cordial is sometimes alarmed at the result. Thus, says Dr. Hunter (p. 459): “It has not unfrequently happened that a nurse has substituted her own ‘Godfrey’ for her client's” [query? her client's “Godfrey” for her own] “and, frightened at its effects, has summoned the surgeon, who finds half-a-dozen babies—some snoring, some squinting, all pallid and eye-sunken—lying about the room, all poisoned.”
There are peculiar technical means, it seems, which surgeons use in such emergencies to bring the babies round, but I need not describe them. Suffice it for our purpose that Hunter asserts it to be the general opinion of medical practitioners that “ablactation and narcotism” would be the true description of the cause of more than half the infantile deaths recorded, whatever may be the “advanced symptoms” returned to the registrar.
Hardly less instructive is the previous Report of Dr. Greenhow on the infant mortality of certain manufacturing districts.∗ It was elicited from a man working in a factory at Birmingham, where many married women were employed, that ten out of every twelve children born to them died within a few months after birth. The man had been accustomed to collect the money for the funeral expenses, and he ought to know. In the course of Dr. Greenhow's further inquiries it was frequently found that two-thirds or three-fourths of the children born to the women had died in infancy; and, “on the other hand, it was remarkable how, in other instances, the majority of the children were reared when the mothers did not work in factories, or discontinued doing so whilst nursing” (p. 196).
The following passage (p. 192) is also very much to the point, explaining how the system works:
“Women, being obliged to attend at the factory at an early hour, are always hurried in the morning, and may be seen on their way to the mills, hastening along the streets with their children only half-dressed, carrying the remainder of their clothes and their food for the day, to be left with the person who has charge of the child during the mother's absence; and this ofttimes on a cold winter's morning, in the midst of sleet or snow. . . . Parents who thus intrust the management of their infants so largely to strangers become more or less careless and indifferent about them; and, as many of the children die, the mothers become familiarised with the fact, and speak of the deaths of their children with a degree of nonchalance rarely met with amongst women who devote themselves mainly to the care of their offspring.”
The complete concurrence of opinion as to the influence of the mother's absence on the health of the infant is thus explicitly summed up (p. 192):
“All the medical men who gave evidence on the subject of the present inquiry, besides several clergymen, ladies who are accustomed to visit the poorer classes at their dwellings, Scripture-readers, relieving officers and other persons who have paid attention to the subject, unhesitatingly expressed an opinion that the system under which the mothers of young children are employed at factories and workshops, away from home, is a fruitful cause of infantile sickness and mortality.”
Such, then, is the progress of civilisation produced by the advancing powers of science and machinery; two-thirds to three-fourths, or even as much as five-sixths, of the infants dying of neglect. On this point all the Official Reports concur so unanimously that they may well be described as “damnable iteration.”∗
It seems necessary, indeed, to mention that, according to the last issued Annual Report of the Registrar General for England (Forty-second Report, containing the abstracts for 1879), there has been a decrease of infant mortality in recent years, especially during the years 1876–79 when the rate per 1000 males, which had been 73 or 74, fell to an average of 67·0. This low rate, however, may be partly due to the unusual healthiness of the year 1879, when the rate was no more than 64. It is worthy of notice, too, that mortality was nearly as low in the years 1841–45, namely, 68·8, and then it rose rapidly to 77·4. There is some ground for suspecting that want of active employment in the mills may actually lead to saving of life in the aggregate. In any case, while the mortality of infants under one year of age continues to be as much as 50 or 60 per cent. higher in some towns than in others, we cannot possibly deny that there exists an immense amount of preventible evil.
Let us consider now the results which have flowed from the legislation promoted by the Committee on the Protection of Infant Life. With the kind assistance of Mr. Edward Herford† , who has so long and so ably filled the office of Her Majesty's Coroner for Manchester, I have been able to acquire sufficient information.∗
Mr. Herford himself believes that the Act is a dead letter. This opinion is entirely borne out by the statement of Mr. Malcolm Wood, the Chief Constable of Manchester, to the effect that there are actually no houses at all in that city registered under the Act. Mr. Michael Browne, the Coroner of Nottingham, has never heard of any application for a license under the Act in Nottingham or its neighbourhood. The Coroner of Birmingham believes that the same is the case in that great and model town, and he is of opinion that infantile mortality is enormously increased by bad nursing, feeding, and want of care on the part of the mother. The Chief Constable of one very large town, being asked for information touching Charley's Act, rather naively replied that he could not recollect having ever received any application for information about it before. On the other hand, from the Medical Officer of Health of Liverpool, I learn that there actually have been ten applications for registration, but only one of these was found to come under the clauses of the Act; and at present there are no houses at all on the register. At Bolton, also, the Act is a dead letter, though the Coroner, Mr. Rowland Taylor, says that he has never had a case before him of malpractices by nurses.
Some statements which Mr. Browne, of Nottingham, has added to his letter, are, however, so startling that I must quote them in extenso.† He says:
“You know we stand notoriously high as to infant mortality, and I attribute that in a great measure to the young women being employed in warehouses, factories, etc., and knowing little or nothing of the duties of wives and mothers, so that infants suffer sadly from neglect of every kind, and great numbers die from improper feeding. It is a very common practice for young mothers (married as well as single) to place their infants in the care of other women for the day, and I am constantly lecturing them on gross improprieties I find prevailing in such cases . . . Some years ago I held an inquest on a very young child, whose parents were earning from 50s. to 60s. a week, but who put out their infant to nurse, because, as the mother told me, she could not attend to it herself, having to be at work at the warehouse. The nurse very coolly admitted that she had (had) the care of eighteen children (five of them her own) and only one was living!”
I have not the least doubt that facts of this kind might be multiplied to almost any extent by adequate inquiry. In fact, inquiry is hardly needed; the state of the case is patent and admitted in the districts in question. The evidence taken before the Infant Life Protection Committee in all probability applies as strongly now, or nearly so, as it did ten years ago. In any case, it is a fact that the infants are “killed off” almost as fast now as they were ten or twelve years ago. As the last bit of iteration, I will give the following extract, culled from a Manchester newspaper,∗ purporting to come from a recent Report of Mr. Leigh, the Medical Officer of Health for Manchester. After informing us that in 1878–9 the deaths of children under five years of age in Manchester formed about 44 per cent. of the whole, while in other places the rate does not exceed 33 per cent., he goes on to say:
“The chief cause of a heavy infant mortality is the neglect which young children meet with in the lower stratum of society. In some cases the mother is employed in out-door labour, and the child receives no proper sustenance. It is left to the care of a girl too young even to take care of herself, and is exposed, with very scanty clothing, to the inclemency of the weather; or it is left in the care of some old woman, who quietens its cries for warmth and nourishment with repeated doses of laudanum, in the form of ‘Godfrey's Cordial,’ or some similar farrago; and at an early age dies from convulsions in one case, and from bronchitis or other lung affection in the other.”
As a remedy for this sad state of affairs, Dr. Ransome, Mr. T. C. Horsfall, and various members of the Manchester and Salford Sanitary Association, advocate the establishment of day nurseries, where the mothers, while going to the mills, may deposit their young children under good supervision. If nothing else be done to mitigate the fate of infants, such nurseries are simply indispensable; but surely they form a mere palliative, and if they came into general use would tend to increase the evil they are intended to mitigate. While such institutions remained few in number, and were personally inspected by members of the Sanitary Association, all would no doubt be done which care and medical science could suggest. Even under the most painstaking inspection, much is to be feared from the assembling of many infants daily in the same room, owing to the extraordinary facility with which infectious diseases are spread among the very young. The evidence given before the Committee above referred to seems to be conclusive on this point, and the following are the remarks of the Committee in their Report (p. vi.):
“As regards children in charitable institutions, it is clearly ascertained that the aggregation of them in crowded rooms is so fatal to infant life that it has become necessary to remove them into various Homes. It was so with the Foundling Hospital nearly a century ago. The same has been observed in the Home in Great Coram Street; so that now they are put out by twos and threes in other places. A similar system exists in France; for while the children were aggregated in foundling hospitals, it was found that from 70 to 80 per cent. died; and now that they are placed out singly with nurses, and properly inspected, the mortality has been reduced from 20 to 30 per cent.”
It would appear, then, that frequently the only chance of saving infant life is the reverse of that intended by the Sanitary Association—namely, to isolate the children. But if such nurseries are to be of much good they must be hundreds in number, and they would then inevitably become the scenes of fearful abuses. The law provides no inspection or regulation for them of any kind, and institutions established for the protection and care of infants are, curiously enough, expressly exempted from the provisions of the Protection of Infant Life Act. Inspection by volunteer members of committees may of course maintain good management in a few nurseries; but we learn, from plenty of cases, how little such management is to be depended upon where the patients are incapable of complaining.
Although the Infant Life Protection Act is clearly a dead letter, there is no evidence to show exactly how it has failed. It may, of course, be possible that the care-takers of infants, knowing that it is a penal offence to take charge of more than one infants, or in the case of twins two infants, at the same time, have discontinued the practice. In that case the Act has succeeded better than any other law I can think of, in entirely suppressing the evil against which it was directed. But it is much more likely that the women in question do not so much as know of the existence of the law in question. Whether we look to the number of married women employed in factories, or the excessive infant mortality as already estimated, there can be no doubt that the Act in question has not in the least touched the real evils under which infants fade away. Let it be clearly understood, too, that the Act referred to does not really apply to the question before us, because its clauses do not extend to persons who take infants under their care for a part of the twenty-four hours only. An old woman might have a score or two of infants, and dose them at her discretion; but providing that they were carried to their homes at night, there would be no infringement of the law. Both the Act and the inquiries of the Committee were directed against the evils of “baby-farming;” but whether baby-farming be suppressed or not, there remains the vastly more extensive evils connected with baby-nursing while the mother has gone to the mills. The Act, in short, though founded on the best possible intentions, has served as a mere cover for the apathy of the governing classes.
But we are on the horns of a dilemma; the infants die as it is, and they will probably die if nurseries are established. We want some more radical remedy, and the best remedy would perhaps be found in some law which would practically oblige the mother to remain at home as long as she has children below the school age. It is very desirable that women who have no such domestic duties should have the freest possible access to employment; but where infants and very young children are in the case, the salus populi leads to a totally different view. There are no duties which are more important in every respect than those which a mother is bound by with regard to her young children. The very beasts of the field tend and guard their whelps with instinctive affection. It is only human mothers which shut their infants up alone, or systematically neglect to give them nourishment.
It must be evident, too, that the facility with which a young married woman can now set her children aside, and go to earn good wages in the mills, forms the strongest possible incentive to improvident and wrongful marriages. There are many statements in the Reports of the factory inspectors to the effect that dissolute men allure capable young women into marriage with the idea that the wives can earn wages, and enable their husbands to idle away their time. Taking into account the practical infanticide which follows, it would be impossible to imagine a more unsound, or, it may be said, a more atrocious, state of affairs.
It seems impossible, then, not to concede that the employment of child-bearing women leads to great abuses; and when these abuses reach a certain point, they may become all that is needed to warrant legislation. As to the exact form which such legislation should take, inquiry, if not experiment, must guide us. The law of Switzerland and some foreign countries, even if it could be carried out in our populous towns, seems to be inadequate. Probably it would be well to impose restrictions and penalties upon the negligent treatment of infants, without waiting until the case ripens for the coroner's court. It ought to be a punishable offence to shut very young children up in a house alone, or otherwise to abandon them for any considerable length of time, except, of course, under the pressure of emergency. But I go so far as to advocate the ultimate complete exclusion of mothers of children under the age of three years from factories and workshops.
The objection which will naturally be made to this proposal is, that there are no means of carrying the law into effect. It is granted that any law which, like the Infant Life Protection Act, becomes entirely ineffective, is a reproach to legislation, and by first quieting agitation, and then discouraging further efforts, does far more harm than good. Some effective machinery, or attempt to devise such machinery, must be provided in any law on the subject. As in the case of all the other factory legislation, trial and experience must show how that machinery can be improved and rendered adequate to its purpose. The history of such legislation, in fact, already affords important hints. The failure of the Workshops Acts of 1867 shows that nothing can be trusted to local or municipal action in these matters. The powers of the law must be exercised, as in the case of the present Factories and Workshops Act, from Whitehall. Again, it is generally conceded by all who have paid the least attention to this matter, that the employers cannot be burdened with the duty of inquiring into the nature of a woman's home duties. The penalties must fall therefore directly upon the persons most immediately implicated.
Fully conscious how impossible it is to foresee difficulties or even absurdities in making suggestions of the sort, I nevertheless venture to suggest that a moderate pecuniary penalty should be imposed upon every able-bodied husband, or reputed husband, whose wife, having the charge of any child under three years of age, shall be found to be employed regularly in any factory or workshop under the Act.
Moreover, any person who systematically takes charge of the infants of any man, thus liable to penalty, should be liable to a like penalty, without respect to the question whether it appears to be done for profit or not. Of course, no penalty would be inflicted where the caretaking was only occasional, as when a wife is going to bring or take back work to be done at home. Only where factory books prove that a woman was regularly employed under the Factory Act, would it be desirable to prosecute. The employers, however, might be obliged to furnish evidence of the woman's attendance at the factory. Moreover, lists of the women fined, or otherwise known to have broken the law, might be sent to the employers of each town or district, by the factory inspectors, the employer being then finable if he engages a woman whose name appears in the list. A woman giving a false name or address should be more severely punished.
The conduct of the requisite inspection and prosecution cannot possibly be left to the ordinary police. All experience seems to show that, in our modern complicated society, there must be differentiation of functions—that is to say, a special duty must be performed by a special officer. As, however, the present factory inspectors and sub-inspectors are heavily weighted as it is, they cannot possibly undertake the proposed new duties, nor would the appointment of a large number of assistant inspectors of any kind or rank be readily acquiesced in. The disconnection which now exists between the Central Government in Whitehall and the several police authorities, renders any direct prosecution difficult or impossible. But I venture to suggest that it would not be unreasonable to require by law that every borough or district having its own police should be required to assign one, two, or even three police officers, as might be required, to carry out the provisions of the proposed law, acting under the directions of the factory inspectors. Already the police perform a good many special services, as in the inspection of weights and measures, sanitary inspection, supervision of ticket-of-leave men, and so forth. Now, I fancy that an active police officer would soon discover infractions in the law; for the carrying of infants along the public street to a nursing-house is a thing evident to anybody, and the officer would only need to follow the woman to the factory, and he would have at once all the evidence needed. Probably there would be little difficulty in obtaining evidence; for the operative classes would receive the law with gratitude rather than aversion, partly perhaps misled by fallacies already referred to, and partly convinced by the evil results which are now before their eyes. If so, their concurrence and assistance in carrying out the law might be looked for. As regards the interests of employers it must be obvious that whatever they might suffer from the lessened supply of labour during the first ten years would be amply repaid by the abundant supply of vigorous young mill-hands which would then begin to be available.
Although the complete exclusion of child-bearing women from factory employments is the object to be aimed at, the violence of the change might be mitigated for a time. Licenses might be given to particular large factories to employ such women on the condition that they establish on or close to their premises crèches under constant medical supervision, where the mothers might visit their infants at intervals during the day. This plan has been adopted by some of the wealthy and benevolent manufacturing firms in France, and is said to have produced most beneficial results.∗ But no such crèche should be allowed to exist except under direct Government inspection, and, in any case its existence should be regarded as a transitional measure.
Widows and deserted wives would need to be gently dealt with: if, having a numerous family, they ought to have poor-law relief, to be added to the small earnings which they can make by home employment. In the long-run it would pay for the State to employ them as nurses of their own children. Where there are only one or two infants, the mother might be allowed to deposit them for the day at a crèche, established for and restricted solely to such cases, or at employers' crèches, just mentioned.
It is impossible not to see that there are difficulties in the matter which can be resolved only by trial. How, for instance, would such prohibitive legislation act in the case of reputed married couples? But it cannot, of course, be expected that the necessary details of legislation can be foreseen by any single writer. Before anything is done in so formidable a matter, there must be a minute inquiry into the treatment of young children by a Royal Commission. It is strange that such a formal inquiry has never yet been made, except with regard to the very restricted scope of Charley's Act. Older children have over and over again been taken under the view and care of the State. As a consequence, we have the Elementary Education Act, and the Factory and Workshop Act, by which ample care is taken of young persons from the age of five years upwards. Those who survive infancy are now pretty safe; they will have healthy schoolrooms and healthy workshops. But below the age of five years they are still, with slight exception, abandoned to the tender mercy of their mothers—or, rather, the old women armed with “Godfrey.” The Factory Act Commissioners of 1876 dismissed this subject briefly, and declined to advocate any restrictive measures because they might in their opinion tend to promote infanticide. But I venture to think that the fearful rate of infanticile mortality now existing in parts of the manufacturing districts, sufficiently approximates to infanticide to overbalance any evils to be expected from restrictive legislation.
The objection may no doubt be made, that the exclusion of child-bearing women from works in public factories would be a new and extreme case of interference with the natural liberty of the individual. Philosophers will urge that we are invading abstract rights, and breaking through the teachings of theory. Political economists might, no doubt, be found to protest likewise that the principles of political economy are dead against such interference with the freedom of contract. But I venture to maintain that all these supposed natural entities, principles, rules, theories, axioms, and the like, are at the best but presumptions or probabilities of good. There is, on the whole, a certain considerable probability that individuals will find out for themselves the best paths in life, and will be eventually the best citizens when left at liberty to choose their own course. But surely probability is rebutted or destroyed by contrary certainty. If we find that freedom to work in factories means the destruction of a comfortable home, and the death of ten out of twelve of the offspring, here is palpable evil which no theory can mitigate. What can be more against all principle, all right, nature, duty, law, or whatever else is thought to be most immutable and sacred, than that a mother should learn to hear “with nonchalance” that her infant had died at the nursing-house, while she herself was at the factory? The social system, like the human frame, may become so far diseased that the intervention of the physician is imperative.
Speaking of liberty and rights, it must be apparent, too, that the parties most seriously concerned in the matter are the infants. They have no means of raising a public agitation, or, if they venture to protest in their own manner, are soon stilled with “Godfrey.” But surely if there is any right which is clearly founded in the natural fitness of things, it is the right of the infant to the mother's breast. She alone can save from virtual starvation and death. She alone can add inches to the stature, fulness to the muscles, and vigour to the mind. It is in the present state of things that rights and principles are most flagrantly cast aside. And the origin of all this evil is often some idle and dissolute young man, who marries or seduces a young girl, knowing that he can afterwards live upon her wages.
All sorts of objections were made, time after time, to the Factory Laws as they gradually rose, step by step, from their first small beginning in 1802. Now all classes recognise that these laws were absolutely necessary to guard the population against the dangers of a novel state of things, as to which evolution had not had time to work out its spontaneous cure. No doubt, in the course of generations, the manufacturing population would become fitted to its environment, but only through suffering and death illimitable. We can help evolution by the aid of its own highest and latest product—science. When all the teachings of medical and social science lead us to look upon the absence of the mother from home as the cause of the gravest possible evils, can we be warranted in standing passively by, allowing this evil to work itself out to the bitter end, by the process of natural selection? Something might perhaps be said in favour of the present apathetic mode of viewing this question if natural selection were really securing the survival of the fittest, so that only the weakly babes were killed off, and the strong ones well brought up. But it is much to be feared that no infants ever really recover from the test of virtual starvation to which they are so ruthlessly exposed. The vital powers are irreparably crippled, and the infant grows up a stunted, miserable specimen of humanity, the prey to every physical and moral evil.
When looked at from the right point of view, factory legislation confers or maintains, rather than destroys, rights and liberties. The Factory and Workshop Act of 1878 seems to be a mass of vexatious restrictions: in reality it is the Great Charter of the working-classes. It is one of the noblest products of legislative skill and patience. It sums up the experience and the positive experiments of eighty years in the alleviation of factory life; but there is no reason to look upon it as the ultimatum of such alleviative legislation. It affords, no doubt, a resting-place; but it affords also the best encouragement to proceed with several other measures of like nature. Of all these, I venture to hold that the question of married women's employment, in spite of its extent and its difficulties, should take precedence. The growing wealth of the kingdom, and the ever-advancing powers of machinery, allow that to be done now which might not have been done before. Nor could any years be more propitious for the purpose than the next five or six, which will in all probability comprise the prosperous part of the commercial cycle. The achievement of a well-designed Act upon the subject, though causing, no doubt, some trouble and distress for a few years, would be followed, a few years later, by almost incredible blessings to the people, and blessings to the realm. Many a home would be a home which cannot now be called by that sweet name. The wife, no longer a mere slattern factory hand, would become a true mother and a housekeeper; and round many a Christmas table troops of happy, chubby children would replace the “wizened little monkeys” of girls, and the “little old men” boys, who now form the miserable remnants of families.
Note.—During the last few weeks of his life my husband was much occupied with the question of infant mortality, as he had undertaken to prepare a paper on that subject for the meeting of the Social Science Association, held at Nottingham last September. That paper was never to be written, and the results of his many hours of labour were therefore lost. I can only say here that he had most carefully examined into the statistics of infant mortality in every town of every county throughout England and Wales, and that he told me that he thought from this exhaustive inquiry he should be able to give most convincing proof of the influence which the absence of the mother at work has upon the death-rate of the children, and of the urgent need which exists for legislation upon the subject.
H. A. J.
[∗]I prefer to adopt this explanation of the public apathy about this subject; but a correspondent maintains that “it is simply one of the phases of middle-class selfishness.”
[∗]On this subject see the paper on “The Destruction of Infants,” by Mr. F. W. Lowndes, M.R.C.S.: Social Science Association, 1876, Report, p. 586.
[∗]“Journal of the Statistical Society,” September, 1870, vol. xxxiii. pp. 323—326. Also reprinted in this volume as Appendix B to Opening Address as President of the Section of Economic Science and Statistics, British Association, 1870. See, however, the opposite opinion of Mr. T. R. Wilkinson, as expressed in his paper, “Observations on Infant Mortality and the Death-rate in Large Towns.” Manchester Statistical Society, 1870–71, pp. 49–55.
[∗]Mr. Baker, Report, October, 1873, pp. 122–8.
[∗]Parliamentary Paper, No. 372, 20th July, 1871. Collected Series vol. vii. p. 607.
[∗]Sixth Report of the Medical Officer of the Privy Council, 1863, pp. 454–62 (Parl. Paper, 1864, No. [3,416], vol. xxviii).
[∗]Fourth Report of the Medical Officer of the Privy Council, 1861, pp. 187–196. Parl. Papers, 1862, No. 179, vol. xxii.
[∗]Mr. Newmarch said at the British Association in 1861 (Report, p.202): “The rate of infant mortality was almost the best test of civilisation.”
[†]Important evidence on the subject of Infant Mortality was given by Mr. Herford before the Committee. See the Questions, 1907 to 2155. See also the Report, p. iii.
[∗]It must be understood that no systematic or extensive inquiry has been made. I have no information for London or any other towns not mentioned above; but the answers obtained sufficiently inform us as to the state of the case.
[†]That Mr. Browne's opinions are far from being hastily formed is apparent from the fact that like opinions are expressed in his letter and tabular statement of the results of inquests on children found dead, as printed in the Fourth Report of the Privy Council, p. 192: Parl. Paper, p. 176, 1862, vol. xxii.
[∗]They appear to print so few copies of reports in Manchester, that I have been unable to procure a copy of the Report in question.
[∗]Transactions of the Manchester Statistical Society, 1868–9, p. 10.
[∗]Read November 10th, 1869.