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WOMEN AND SOCIAL LEGISLATION IN THE UNITED
BY FLORENCE KELLEY,
New York City.
It was the intention of the writer to outline briefly the contribution to social legislation made by women in our country during the past three-quarters of a century. Instead of this, however, the tragedy of the continent of Europe bids us pause and review, under its shadow, all our social activities. It warns us to test them, to weigh them soberly and, perhaps, to change wholly their direction.
For forty years the rulers of Europe have been steadily preparing this catastrophe. Money needed for bread and for schools has been, decade after decade, spent for guns and ammunition, for barracks, and for maintaining in them millions of young men forced to be idle in their best working years. Today in Europe the social gains of all the weary years since the wars of Napoleon are in peril. Whoever wins in the end, every warring nation will be the poorer in men, in homes, in health, and in hope.
With the honorable exception of the Socialist party, the voters in England, France, Germany and Austria elected to office throughout those forty years the candidates of the militarist parties. The voters thus consciously shared the fatal responsibility. Under the shadow of this world tragedy who stands, today, in Europe with clean hands? Only the women who have no vote, no share in the government-and the children. But when their sons lie buried in foreign soil, and the babes in their arms wilt and starve, what avails it for the mothers in the warring nations that their own personal consciences are clear of all share in preparing these horrors?
Against the gruesome background of the European war stands forth the social fact that, since our own Civil War, followed by the emancipation of four million slaves a half century ago, the most important social legislation achieved in our country has been the enfranchisement of three million women in ten states and Alaska. For the first time in human history three million women can, within their own nation, act with the power of full citizens in relation to
peace and war. They can help to decide that never again shall the fruits of social legislation be swept away by men in arms.
Seen in the glare of the events of our time, by far the most vital social reform now pending is, accordingly, the Bristow-Mondell resolution, which, after receiving a majority vote in the Senate of the United States, is before the House Committee on Rules. For when this resolution receives the two-thirds vote in both Houses prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, it will go for ratification to the legislatures; and when thirty-six legislatures ratify it, all the women of the nation will become full voting citizens. 1 The Bristow-Mondell Amendment. Senate Resolution 130, and House Resolution 1.
Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States extending the right of suffrage to women.
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress Assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), that the following article be proposed to the legislatures of the several states as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which, when ratified by three-fourths of the said legislatures, shall be valid as part of said Constitution, namely:
"Article.-Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
"Sec. 2. Congress shall have power, by appropriate legislation, to enforce the provisions of this article."
2 Of the required thirty-six legislatures, twenty-one are probably now ready to ratify. That is certainly the position of the legislatures in the ten states in which women now vote. Nine more legislatures are presumably ready, inasmuch as they have voted to submit to a referendum the amendments to state constitutions which are now pending. These are Nevada, Montana, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. The legislatures of Wisconsin and Michigan also within recent years referred to the voters amendments to their state constitutions, Michigan doing so twice in two consecutive years. (The governor of the state vetoed the second bill.)
Fifteen states will have to ratify the Bristow-Mondell amendment besides the twenty-one here specified. It is reasonable to suppose that these will be Nebraska, Missouri and Ohio, whose citizens have filed initiative petitions to be followed by popular vote in November, 1914; the five New England states which border Massachusetts; Delaware, West Virginia and Maryland, which form the southern boundaries of Pennsylvania; Indiana and Kentucky, contact states of Illinois; Minnesota between Wisconsin and the Dakotas; and Oklahoma, neighboring state of Colorado.
This calculation rests upon the observed fact that the enfranchisement
Cumbersome as is this procedure, it is by no means an impossible undertaking as has been shown by the recent ratification of two amendments in a single year.3
A characteristic change in the legislative activities of women in the present century is their tendency to work with men rather than in associations exclusively their own. The Women's Christian Temperance Union, the National Council of Women, the Federation of Women's Clubs, with its many valuable committees promoting legislation, date back into the nineteenth century. But the many newer national organizations for promoting long life, good health and improved morals comprise both men and women. This tendency to work together makes it increasingly difficult to discriminate the share of women in the accomplished legislation. Even where women vote, their ballots are not usually distinguishable from those of men.
The permanent social and industrial interests of modern women are, however, well illustrated by four bills pending before Congress, as to each one of which the Consumers' League, for instance, wields a laboring oar. These are the Booher bill, dealing with the labor of prisoners, the bill for safety at sea, the Palmer child labor bill, and the resolution for an appropriation to enable the Bureau of Labor to investigate the cost of living in the District of Columbia. The proposed beneficiaries of these four bills are all working people, each group peculiarly helpless after its own kind. They are wage-earning women in the District of Columbia where neither they nor the men of their families can defend their interests with ballots; second, children anywhere employed in mines, quarries, factories and workrooms; third, seamen who are, as their name suggests, usually afloat and unable to make themselves heard from as constituents during campaigns for electing senators and representatives; and, finally, prisoners who, of all the working class, are the most indescribably defenseless.
The proposed federal official enquiry into the cost of living in of women has, with the exception of Illinois, spread from one state where women vote to its next neighbor. A state, moreover, in which a campaign preceding a referendum is in process, arouses the greatest interest of all in its adjoining neighbors.
3 Authorizing Congress to establish an income tax, and providing for the direct election of United States senators by popular vote in the states.
the District of Columbia is meant to prepare the way for a minimum wage commission for the District, kindred to the commissions already at work fixing minimum wages for women and girls in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington. It is particularly timely because of the 8-hours law for women in the District enacted last winter and already in effect. This federal bill is one link in the long chain of increasingly successful efforts to standardize the wages and working hours of women and girls. In this nation-wide struggle, the supreme courts of New York and Illinois have reversed themselves and held, in the end, that the working hours of women may be limited by statute, the Supreme Court of the United States having previously so decided. The number of persons affected by the proposed federal investigation is obviously small. The importance of the enquiry must not, however, be gauged by its size, but rather by its position as a link in the chain. For, whenever the federal government, acting upon the facts elicited, establishes, as it sooner or later must do, a minimum wage commission for the District, a most valuable impetus will be given to the movement for such commissions in all the states. No legislation can be more thoroughly social in its character than this. For disease and vice are forever rooted in the cruel injustice that leaves to blind competition the determination of the recompense of labor.
The Federal Child Labor Bill
The Palmer federal child labor bill is proposed in the interest of the children, and of all enlightened and humane employers and communities who suffer the competition of the mean or of the benighted. It is, finally, meant to satisfy the consciences of enlightened women who are dependent upon the federal government for that which they cannot do for themselves and their individual states cannot do for them.
Intelligent mothers prefer not to buy the products of the labor of children. But after fifteen years of effort by the Consumers' League, and ten years' work of the National Child Labor Committee, it is still impossible to learn whether a supply of cotton goods comes from a mill in Massachusetts working under the children's 8-hours law, or from the southern branch of the same mill working under the odious, new, sham law of Georgia. Women are still unable to keep
their consciences clear of sharing indirectly as consumers in the employment of young boys at night in the Pennsylvania glasshouses and steel mills, and of children in the cotton mills of North and South Carolina, or under the cruel conditions of cannery work in Maryland or on the Gulf Coast. They are, therefore, in no faltering terms asking Uncle Sam to safeguard by the Palmer bill all his children precisely as he safeguards, once for all, through his patent office and his federal courts, those patents under which the cotton manufacturers and the canners have alike grown rich and powerful.
Under the Palmer child labor bill, factories, workshops, mines, quarries and dealers are all alike forbidden to ship, in interstate commerce, goods in producing which children have been employed before the fourteenth birthday, or during the night, or more than eight hours in twenty-four, or at risk of life, limb or health.
A generous share of the work and money needed to promote this eminently social federal statute comes from women who both serve as trustees of the National Child Labor Committee and are among its most eager, faithful members in the several states. Women have always been a majority in the Consumers' League membership, its principal financial supporters, and most active in its legislative efforts.
Prison Contract Labor
As purchasers, as spenders of the family income responsible for the moral, physical and social consequences of their disbursements, women have no means of learning which goods are made in prisons and which by free labor. Except in the narrow range of stitched goods that carry the Consumers' League label, or the trade union label, this statement is sweepingly true.
The Booher convict contract labor bill is, therefore, intended to place prison products, whenever they may be shipped into a state, under the laws of that state, whatever those laws may be. For want of this federal law, garments may be sold, for instance, in New York City, which are made in another state by prisoners suffering from loathesome diseases communicable in clothing. The characteristic prison maladies are tuberculosis and syphilis. Yet New York state, which forbids such traffic within its own borders, cannot guard its citizens against this risk of disease coming from without, cannot enable them to be warned of the source of these