Godey's Lady's Book
Vol XLV Page 125
EMPLOYMENT OF WOMEN IN CITIES.
No. 1.— THE MINT COIN ADJUSTERS.
BY ALICE B. NEAL.
PUBLIC opinion would seem to have decided that but two classes of employment are legitimate to our sex— teaching and the needle.
"In the first place," says that excellent authority, "women are not intended to be occupied out of the domestic circle. The cares of the household are her proper sphere, while man bears abroad 'the burden and heat of the day.' Our mothers, our sisters, our wives, how much we owe to them! We love them all the more for their beautiful dependence. We pity those who have been deprived of their natural protectors, and are obliged to labor for themselves. How fortunate that to them two such avenues are open! Teaching is at once so respectable and proper; the needle, to those who are not qualified for the school-room, is a certain and never-failing support." And so public opinion turns to the discussion of some new theme, with folded hands and a satisfied conscience.
Visit our public schools, and you will see hundreds of bright childish faces, who will soon take the place of older sisters, now toiling in part, perhaps, for their support. Go through our crowded courts and swarming alleys, and you find as many more, who have never been gathered into the fold of this instruction. All these human souls are to have some aim in life, some provision for the natural wants of their existence. They must be clothed and fed; they crave their small share of comforts, and luxury even. It is rare that you find among them a strong, well-trained spirit, that is self-reliant and self-denying thus early in life. They must have occupation as the means to an end, as well as to prevent the rust of natural abilities. Life-long labor for a scanty fee is not in itself attractive, and therefore marriage is set before them as the end and object of their existence. Even when the higher nature has been developed by partial mental training, this one false motive is suffered to take root.
The woman of the world, surrounded by all of wealth and elegance, educates her beautiful daughters to the one end of marrying for an establishment. It is for this that every natural grace is heightened, every warm heart-impulse subdued, every accomplishment is sought. The simple strength of love, the union of reciprocal tastes and excellent qualities, the "divine self-abnegation" to the will and comfort of those around them, the training for the new position, and the thousand responsibilities of wife and mother, the mistress of a household, the leader of society, have no part nor lot in the matter. And, if this is undeniably so in the light of high intellectual cultivation, what wonder that the daughters of the poor man look upon marriage, from earliest girlhood, as the goal of all hopes and aims, the emancipation from the restraints of the pinched and meagre household arrangements, a cessation from the wearying routine of the needle, their sole dependence? Thus marriages of convenience are not confined alone to those homes where human hearts are sacrificed that their elegance need not be diminished. The apple of discord is sometimes other than golden fruit; and the home that should have been so bright, a haven of rest and contentment, is darkened with contention and angry reproach: whence come the sins of neglect, intemperance, and perhaps abandonment.
How different would all home influence be, if young girls were taught to reverence, rather than make a jest of this holiest emotion of the heart, and to wait, in quiet and serene contentment, until such a time as they should meet and recognize such qualities of mind and soul as would insure sympathy, strength, and forbearance in the nearest and dearest association of life?
The restless mind, so busy with idle and fanciful dreams, would be trained by active employment; the self-respect of independence would forbid any sacrifice of truth or honest feeling.
But others remain to be provided for. The daughters of those who have been affluent, but are suddenly reduced to the necessity of labor; the young widow, reared in comfort, who finds herself alone in the world, with her children to be reared and educated. This is no small class of community to be provided for, and one whose wants are most difficult to meet. "Work they cannot, to beg they are ashamed," and may live on, eating the bitter bread of dependence; for they had wasted the instructions of the school-room, save in those accomplishments that fitted them to shine in society, but are useless now, and their physical strength, as well as manual skill, will avail very little in the contest with daily want. All these must be cared for, or their sufferings, it may be said, rest upon the very public opinion which washes its righteous hands so innocently of the matter. And why? Because it has guarded so many avenues of employment; because it has shut out all choice and variety: "so far shalt thou come, and no farther," in the broad world of human effort and ingenuity, is the voice that has condemned every effort to a wider range of thought and action.
Not that we would enter into the contest of the present, and soil our lips with the war-cry for "female emancipation;" we claim for our sisters only liberty to use the proportion of strength, both of body and mind, with which Heaven has seen fit to endow them. Every woman who comes before the world as a public teacher or leader seems to us to lose a part of her birthright of purity and delicacy. The pen can send forth its gentle influence from the retirement of the home circle; but we ask no place in the lecture-room or the arena of political strife— nothing that could disturb
"That stillness which best becomes a woman—.
Calm and holy."
We are, in a measure, dealing with past traditions; very recently, the aspect of society in this respect is somewhat changed, perhaps in no city more successfully than our own; and we have thought a glance at some of these sources of industry and content might not be uninteresting to the readers of a publication devoted to the interests of our sex, while resulting perhaps in still further progress. And, first of all, we select, for its novelty, unparalleled success, and general interest, the weighing or adjusting of the United States Mint.
You are fond of crocheting, fair ladies; you like the grace of the silken purse, the shining glitter of its well-filled compartments. The golden dollars slip softly through your pretty hands; you admire the purity of the silver coin; nay, are not ashamed to confess to the early childish gratification of a bright new "copper," with the smiling head of Liberty, and the distinct "ONE CENT" on the reverse, one of the first spelling lessons to which you gave earnest heed. But have you any more idea of the manufacture of this ringing coin than you have of the weaving of the delicate lace or the rich silks for which it is given in exchange? Not unless you have visited our city and gone through with its lions, for prominent among them stands the pure marble edifice known as the Mint. But, if you have never: accomplished the established routine of sight-seeing, allow us to be your chaperone for the morning, and we shall find what part our sex plays in the production of our country's coinage.
We need not be daunted by the card that confronts us at the portal, "No admittance after twelve o'clock;" we have a friend at court, whose name is a talisman to the porter, and we are ushered through the paved hall into his neat office, little differing from an ordinary counting-room; here we await the arrival of our guide, no other than the director of the department in which is situated the "Mint cage of Canaries," as some one has pleasantly entitled the apartment which is the principal object of our visit.
They are opening small packages of the raw material in the room opposite the sub-treasurer's office, as we leave it. These brown-paper parcels, so carefully tied, and sealed, and directed, arrived in yesterday's steamer from the Garden Gate. We saw it announced in huge capitals, included in that indefinite quantity, "$300,000 IN THE HANDS OF THE PASSENGERS!" They are so suggestive, these small leathern bags, scarcely larger than the longest finger of a gentleman's glove, filled with the fine shining dust and flakes, that are now lying upon the scale that will soon mark their actual value. It tells of "perils by flood and field," separation from home and friends, days of weary toil, and nights of restless anxiety. It may be a "widow's mite," all that has returned to her for the love and protection that were given up for the fatal search; it may be an orphan's only portion; or perhaps the welcome remittance, come in the hour of need, to avert threatened want or beggary.
However this may stand, it will soon be fused in the glowing mass that prepares the labor of the coiner.
We are too late for the melting; but that we have little to do with. We know that the assayed and refined gold is at length cast into bars, of perhaps half a yard in length— we will take the largest gold coin, the double eagle, at which they work to-day— and from this the bright circle, with its clear impressions, is to be formed.
Now we are in a room filled with swarthy men and clanking machinery. It is lighted by the red glow of the annealing furnace, and the hiss of steam mingles with the confused chorus of sounds. The iron chain, closed against all intruders, is thrown down at our appearance, and, as we enter the central door, we find near us one of those iron frames that minister to the discord. Beside it is a wooden table or tray, holding a bundle of long thin strips of gold; the bar has already been subjected to various processes, and has gained several inches in length for the lost thickness. See, in the press before us, as it passes through the process, which must still be repeated, the pressure bearing greater until the requisite thickness is attained. When thus drawn, the strip is passed beneath yonder die, striking with the utmost precision and regularity, as the grave-faced workman draws it outward with a slightly oscillating motion, the round counters of gold falling into a receptacle beneath; and the thin bar of metal, remaining penetrated at equal distances, is laid aside to be remelted and recast, for nothing is wasted here.
"As the trimmings of puff paste are kneaded again," says our guide, by way of illustration to our feminine ears, which suggests to us a comparison for the strips themselves: a thin layer of cake or biscuit dough, when the circular cutter has passed over it, etching out the cakes at regular intervals.
And this is all it is necessary for us to see just now; so we leave the jar and confusion, following our cicerone up an outer staircase, of the hollowsquare or parallelogram, which the buildings form; and, entering a small passage, are ushered at once into the room appropriated to those who adjust the coin to its exact standard weight before it can be finished. What a change! The only sound is the chattering of merry voices, or bursts of girlish laughter, subdued a little, but by no means hushed, at the approach of visitors. The apartment is large and airy, long ranges of windows on each side, and a skylight in the centre, securing ample ventilation. Through its width extend three long tables, and on each side are placed the young girls, busy with this monotonous, but agreeable employment. Not all young girls; for here and there we meet a more careworn face, acting as a balance, perhaps, to the light spirits of those around. It reminded us at first of the large drawing-hall of the ----- Seminary: there were the same gayety and cheerfulness, and the scales before each workwoman filled the place of our easels. Walking about from group to group, with a sweet and serious mien, was a lady in deep mourning, not unlike our favorite teacher, as she would come, with some word of encouragement or advice, to watch the progress of the drawing; but her presence was no arbitrary restraint, and the work went on as rapidly, for all the jest and laughter. Some were standing, the height of the tables making it convenient for them to do so; others had made themselves comfortable with foot-stools, or were leaning over their work. Hands and arms were in constant motion; indeed, the whole upper part of the figure is exercised much more than in sewing, or even drawing, by the reaching and filing.
The neat scales are placed directly before them, at just a convenient distance apart; a file and a round brush, like that of a house painter, are their only implements. A pile of the unfinished coin is placed before each, which is to be balanced by the exact standard weight. The coin is placed in the opposite scale, and is required to be precisely the same; if it varies ever so little, the index in the centre is true to the fault. It moves like the hand of a clock, but with a pendulum motion, upon a tiny white dial-plate, and the practised eye can discover the instant, and to us almost imperceptible movement. If too heavy, the file separates a few tiny particles from the rough edge; or, if too light, the piece is rejected altogether. A round and square can of tin stands before each, for the different pieces. Those that are of just weight are now ready to be milled, the others are reweighed, and, if found to vary more than the eighth of a grain, are considered altogether too light, and are melted and cast again. All this is done with astonishing rapidity and precision. The eye is fixed upon the register, and the busy hands move almost mechanically from pile to file, and to the open-mouthed receptacle. The particles are suffered to fall upon the sheets of stiff brown paper that cover the tables; but think not their escape is permitted. It is for this reason that no current of air is admitted, the room being ventilated by lowering the upper sash.
But how are they gathered?
We shall see, as soon as this present weight of coin is finished; they are already near its completion. One by one they cease from the quick routine, and watch their less industrious neighbors, or chat among themselves; as school-girls anticipate an approaching recess. "But why are they not supplied with work at once?" we ask, to be told that each parcel is weighed in the office of the chief coiner before it is brought to the room, and must be weighed again by itself. Now the tin cans are beginning to gather on one of the smaller tables, where a workman from below is preparing their contents for removal.
This is an animated scene; every workwoman has risen, and is busily plying her brush. Her own dress, apron, and sleeves are dusted, then the table before her, the scales, and all the particles brushed down together. We essay to lift the can of filings thus gathered from the morning's employment; it is about half full of the dull yellow and brown particles; but, as if they concealed a magic weight, our wrists are so strained that we are fain to replace it upon the table of the lady directress. We are told, to our amazement, that the value of the very sweepings alone will average from twelve to fourteen hundred dollars!
But still more, the water in which their hands are now washed has also its precious deposit. More than two hundred dollars was saved in this way in ten months.
"Is it possible?" we say. "Then the very dust of the floor must be valuable?" And we are told, with a quiet smile, that no sweeping from the whole building is thrown away. It is first "purified by fire," and its yearly yield is almost equal to a California claim!
"That is the dressing-room," says our guide, pointing to a large screen, cutting off about one-sixth of the room. "The screen opposite shields the kitchen and dining-room."
"A kitchen in the Mint!" This was certainly an unexpected novelty; and we are told that the employees do not leave the building through the ten hours, which is their daily limit. Very different from the twelve and fourteen of the seamstress; for every one knows that the last two or four hours drag heavily enough, when the mind and body are exhausted. The girls themselves prefer the regulation, work commencing at six during the summer season, and seven in the winter, which gives them a long evening; time enough, after four, for sewing, walking, or study. They are certainly the gainers by the noon hour thus being saved; whence the necessity for the kitchen and dining-room. With kind permission, we venture to intrude behind the screen. We have startled a dinner-party of six or seven, who are taking advantage of the recess. Two more are employed with basin and towel in washing the delf from which they have just finished their meal.
They smile very good-naturedly at the interruption— we blushing a little, it may be, at our own curious inspection of the domestic arrangements of ladies every whit as well bred as ourselves— and point out the recess with its fitting of stove and culinary utensils, where one of their number is just now brewing a most inviting cup of tea. The dining-room has a goodly row of shelves, with canisters, china, etc. etc., like any other store-room; and, as each person or party play cook and waiter for themselves, all is neatness and order.
Ten minutes have passed, and the recess is not yet over. The pretty faces are gathered in groups around the room and dressing-room. Some in the window-seats are watching us curiously, as we linger by the raised table of the directress, which commands a view of the room; others are in knots of threes and fives, discussing the fashion of a sleeve or the bright spring dresses displayed in the shop-windows. A few, more studiously inclined, have drawn forth a fascinating volume, and are dispatching page after page; even an industrious needle or two have made their appearance, and a few busy stitches are set. How little there is here to mark discontent or suffering, overwork or overtaxed strength! The employment, though monotonous, requires constant thought and attention, so that the mind is not wearied by habitual reverie, and the cheerful hum of voices, or music of laughter, would satisfy the most exacting philanthropist. They are paid: on an average, and not for the exact amount each person executes: active or indolent, they receive four dollars and a half per week; but, in justice, we must say that each seemed striving to do her best.
We are struck with the ease and propriety of the employment, the neat and cheerful aspect of the room; so much pleasanter than if the same number of men and boys had been at work; and are reminded to inquire whether this employment of women is unprecedented. Entirely so: the philanthropy and good taste of the suggestion are entirely due to the chief coiner, our attentive guide, Franklin Peale, Esq. It is nearly two years since the experiment was commenced, and is found to answer admirably. "Women are at once more easily taught, and quicker in movement; and," adds Mr. Peale, "we find them more conscientious," which truly noble compliment to our sex we could but acknowledge by a most respectful bow.
In making selections from the crowd of applicants, the most intelligent and well-educated have been chosen, and we doubt if fifty pleasanter-looking faces could be gathered together. The manners of many mark them as educated and refined, which must, of course, give a tone to the whole circle. We could but fancy the intimacies and agreeable acquaintances which are no doubt frequently formed among them.
A situation in the adjusting-room being, for these various reasons, so eligible, it is no wonder that constant applications are made; but we were not prepared to hear that the number of disappointed applicants could not fall far short of six hundred, a fact of the greatest weight in proving our proposition with regard to the necessity for female employment.
As we bid adieu to the cheerful room and its amiable directress, we will linger for a moment in a division of the apartment below, in which we saw the pieces prepared, where they are now undergoing the last process before the certain touch of the die stamps them the current coin of our country. It is not strictly german to the plan of our sketches; but our own curiosity was gratified in following the tempting pieces to their final embellishment, and we fancy, dear ladies, that this you share with us.
Here we are, then, in range with the glowing furnaces, in one of which we catch a glimpse of apparent short, thick bars of iron, red with the fervent heat. They are, in reality, iron boxes, containing a portion of the unfinished coin, which, after the adjusting, has been milled, or passed through a simple machine, where, by systematic pressure between two grooves of steel, the narrow rim or edge has been made to encircle it. Formerly, it also included the fine ridges, or border, which counterfeiters have found so hard to imitate; but this is now accomplished by the one stroke of the die. In these iron boxes, then, the golden circles are placed, still with the red and green stains upon them, which you may have noticed, caused by the action of the external air in some former annealing process. This is now to be cleansed; therefore the lid of the box is luted fast with wet clay, and the whole subjected to heat, until it has attained what the workmen call "cherry red." Here it comes sliding down the iron bars, supported by the pincers of the workman on either side, to its bath, a weak infusion of sulphuric acid. A huge sieve is suspended by a crane above it, the cover is removed, and the glowing metal thus retained is plunged into the vat beneath. Now it appears once more changed in color, but the same in form. Another bath, more cooling, of clear Schuylkill; and still a third, warmer in temperature, for it must be dried in haste, lest it should tarnish. Once more the huge sieve swings round, and now its contents, bright and burnished as we see the beautiful coin before it is dimmed by the touch of traffic, is emptied into the long sawdust-filled trough that occupies the centre of the room; and here the drying process is completed by the quick manipulation of the workmen.
There is so much to see! There is a fascination in the noiseless, regular working of the steam-engine in the next apartment. It is an apt illustration of those quiet, forcible characters who accomplish so much without jar or tumult. But we must not linger; the opening door displays the rapid machinery for which it supplies the motive power; and here again we find piles of the burnished golden circles. They are receiving the final mark of their perfection: the quick, sure stroke of the die conveys the rapid impression, and fast as the workmen can feed the insatiate engine, the pieces, one by one, are passed beneath the powerful force, and fall, in all their glowing and finished beauty, into the receptacle beneath.
Did you ever wonder how all this coin is to be counted?— the dull, tiresome process of telling the half million adjusted in a day? For the larger gold pieces the original process is still retained, separating the pile by fives, and gathering them into rouleaux of ten each. Or there is the cutting, a wooden bar, at right angles, like a wide and thick carpenter's rule, notched at regular intervals; the piles are placed within the angle, as you sometimes
gather the counters of a backgammon board, and, when thus evenly adjusted, they are much sooner told. But for those bright coppers, silver, and smaller gold pieces, there is a triumph of mechanical ingenuity, and yet so simple in its application you wonder it was not thought of long ago. The workman sits, with a wooden frame before him, lined with copper, however, to save the constant attrition that would soon wear away the wood. This frame is divided into compartments the width of the pieces, and is carelessly heaped with bright new coppers. A few slow movements backwards and forwards, and the coins have arranged themselves between the grooves. The practised eye scans the board to see that the layers are not double; a hinged section falling, precipitates all over the sum required into a trough below, and the board has measured its five hundred pieces in much less time than the description has been written.
Thus ends our morning's investigations, with grateful acknowledgments to our courteous guide.
Godey's Lady's Book
Vol XLV Page 275
EMPLOYMENT OF WOMEN IN CITIES.
No. II.— THE PHILADELPHIA SCHOOL OF DESIGN.
BY ALICE B. NEAL
DID it ever occur to any of you, ladies, of the many pretty things you use daily— enjoying, with a refined taste and artistic eye, the beauty of shape and coloring— that the first process in the manufacture of each was to design the grace and loveliness afterwards brought to such perfection?
Take the journal of a summer's day, for instance. You are a thrifty housewife, perhaps, and adhere to the good old custom of washing the china and silver yourself. You like the light task; for unconsciously, perhaps, you are never weary of admiring the delicate tracery of the wrought silver, or the graceful shape and coloring of the porcelain. Then the drawing-room is to be reviewed, to see that no dust remains upon the carpet, where fruit and flowers lie crushed and tangled in wild, though graceful confusion, in colors that vie with nature's own bright tints. There are orders to be given concerning the new chintz curtains of your own room, the prettiest pattern imported this year; all your lady friends are asking that satisfactory and complimentary question, "Where did you find it?"
Now for shopping. A new wall paper for the dining-room is to be selected, and you pass a pleasant half hour in admiring the endless variety and grace which the new patterns display. An oil-cloth for the hall— here, too, variety and beauty; and then, as you are passing the upholsterer's, you cannot resist indulging yourself with another longing glance at the lace curtains you wish, but know you ought not to afford just now. "There is no harm in looking at them!" you say at least, and perhaps there is not, for the exquisite wreaths of embroidery are so beautiful in themselves. Even had you resolved to purchase, you could scarcely decide between so many attractions.
But you have only time for Levy's, and here you sit comfortably at the counter, and turn over chintzes, ginghams, mousselines, ribbons, lawns, and laces. It is not the difference in quality so much as the pattern, that keeps you hesitating so long between spots and bouquets, or perhaps the delicate shades of color are to be graduated to suit another part of your costume. But every tint, and every form is before you; there can be no complaint of a lack in variety.
On your way home, you think of the new book you have promised the children; and, as you rest from the heat and fatigue of your walk, you hear them exclaiming over the pictures, just as you did at their age, save that picture-books then bore little comparison to the beautifully illustrated volumes enjoyed by the juveniles of the present day. Yet, in all these purchases, it has not crossed your mind to wonder how the designs of the silver, the china, the carpets, curtains, oil-cloths, paper-hangings, lawns, chintzes, laces, and wood-cuts are produced; or, if the vague thought flitted past, you knew nothing at all of the matter.
We are very apt to judge of others by ourselves— it is an all-the-world custom— and such at least was our ignorance, or thoughtlessness, until we chanced to be turning over the pattern-books of a celebrated importing house, the spring patterns alone heaping a long counter, in neatly-arranged volumes that would have made any patchwork-lover wild with delight.
"These are French lawns," said our gentlemanly informant. "These are English, but stolen from French designs; you can see that by the grace of the pattern. The French people have an unapproachable genius for these things; besides, their facilities for study are greater, and they are better encouraged to produce and invent. Their Schools of Design have made a great difference of late in our patterns. English manufacturers do not hesitate to appropriate them, however."
We had heard of "Schools of Design," it is true; but, up till that time, had never connected the name with any definite understanding of their use and intent.
"There are none in this country," we were told, in answer to our inquiries. "Those established in France and England are under government patronage. So few delicate or tasteful fabrics are manufactured in this country that patterns here are often supplied by men who have happened to fall upon that method of earning a livelihood, without previous instruction or study, and perhaps with very little, if any, artistic knowledge."
"But is it a regular business, then?"
"Yes, and a very profitable one abroad. You would scarcely believe the prices French manufacturers are ready to pay for a single successful design. It is a little fortune sometimes; and thus, you see, they can afford to make beautiful patterns in France."
We did not think to inquire if females were engaged in this graceful and essentially feminine employment, so suited to their taste, strength, and delicate skill, and the subject passed from our thoughts at the time. It was subsequently recalled by a portfolio of drawings shown us accidentally at the house of the British Consul. They were the work of a class of young girls taught at the expense of the lady of the house, whose energetic benevolence is well known in our city. It was something of an experiment. Mrs. Peter had selected her class from young girls of limited education and ordinary capabilities, such as usually have no resource but the needle. They commenced, with no knowledge of the art, at the simplest principles of drawing, and yet, interested in the novel pursuit, many of them had already made great progress, evincing even decided taste and spirit in their sketches. At first, Mrs. Peter gave up a room in her own house; but, the class increasing, a neighboring apartment was taken, where it could still be under her immediate supervision. At this time, one or two of the pupils had commenced wood engraving, a business entirely monopolized by men in this city, and, we believe, through the country, although, since it demands little physical strength, but the most delicate manipulation, it would seem better fitted for our own sex.
Such was the unostentatious commencement of the "Philadelphia School of Design for Women," an institution that is now attracting much public attention, and has been followed by the establishment of one in Boston, while in New York large subscriptions are already made for a similar purpose. Satisfied with the success of her experiment, having demonstrated that her sex had taste and industry sufficient to surmount the mechanical difficulties presenting themselves, Mrs. Peter relinquished the superintendence of her class to the Board of the Franklin Institute, some two years ago, under whose patronage it has since been conducted. Unfortunately, however, this arrangement did not include pecuniary assistance, and for this it has been dependent upon donations and annual subscriptions— at best a precarious trust; but, as the real importance of the school becomes known, a more permanent basis of endowment is hoped for by all connected with its management.
An hour's visit to the rooms which it now occupies will awaken more interest than the most eloquent appeal in its behalf, and therefore we shall be most happy to introduce you to the novel scene.
We are ushered into a small, but comfortably furnished apartment, the manager's room, where visitors are received, the business of the school transacted, and which is occupied principally by Mrs. Hill, the principal drawing teacher, and the efficient directress of the whole establishment. It in she who decides on the reception of a pupil, makes contracts for work, enforces discipline, guiding her pupils, however, by love rather than law, and is in all things devoted to the prosperity and advancement of her charge. With so much devolving upon her, she has nevertheless a kindly welcome for all interested visitors, and takes the time to explain anything that may be asked. The room is decorated with a few casts from celebrated statuary, which serve also as models. An Apollo, a Clyte, and Canova's Graces are among them; while on the walls we have framed drawings, in water colors, of the celebrated Royal Lily, the Victoria Regia, exhibited by Mr. Cope the past year, in various stages of its development. From the next room comes the low hum of the drawing class, the first department of the School of Design, and here we see the animated face of the lady we are in quest of, bending over a drawing whose towers have a Pisalike inclination, for it is the first attempt of the young girl to whom it belongs. The room is large and cool; and, through a half-open door, we have a glimpse of the dressing-closet, where the bonnets and shawls ranged in order show that a large class is in attendance. The seventy pupils, which the school now numbers, are divided into classes that have alternate days, so that all may be under the immediate supervision of the teachers. The drawing-desks are full of industrious and attentive students, though there is a playful war among a group of the younger pupils, mere school girls, in the furthest window, and one or two are leaning by the mantle, or examining a model, as they wait the instructions of their teacher. Good prints are suspended on the wall, which some are patiently copying; before others are placed models in plaster, which they study. Now a bright young face looks up with a smile from a flower-piece, her first attempt perhaps at water colors; and on the desk stands a single rosebud in a wineglass, which her neighbor is transferring to the paper before her. Here a landscape in pencil, there a single figure, or beyond, placed by the window, so that it may catch the sunshine and the sweet morning air, the golden blossoms of a healthy plant are nodding, conscious, it would almost seem, of the attempt to imitate its beauty. It is a new seedling, and the drawing will be engraved for the next number of a horticultural magazine. How lifelike the shape and colors seem! The most graceful position of stem and blossoms has been seized, and transferred with a boldness, yet a correctness that would do credit to a more accomplished artist. The scarlet bells of a fuchsia are drooping near it, also a "living model" for the pencil, and others have arranged cut blossoms into groups, placed in simple vases before them.
It is here that the mechanical skill and correctness are acquired, which must, of course, form the basis of all design.
Many of the pupils in this department are, therefore, young girls, with bright, animated faces, and an exuberance of spirits that needs the watchful eye and gentle firmness of their instructress to control. Some of them are a study in themselves, as they bend over their pleasant tasks, or lean, in thoughtful mood, upon their hands, surveying critically what they have already accomplished; the graceful turn of the head, with a wealth of curls, or smoothly banded hair, or a coil of heavy braids suiting a profile as classic as the model before them.
Others have more thoughtful faces; life's struggle, perhaps with care and want, from which this will win a release, has already commenced. Study is with them an earnest purpose, and every moment golden; for others will be dependent upon the labors of their hands. And here, sadder still, the bowed figure, and the gentle smile of pain and patience, mark a sufferer, it may be, for life, to whom this knowledge will be not only an occupation, but one full of the holiest ministry, by bringing constant and unwearied interest, and pleasant thoughts to beguile the monotonous round of the invalid's lonely hours.
The pattern-room has a more novel aspect, though here are not so many at the desks, and there is a more methodical and business-like air about those who occupy them. The walls are filled with strips of paper hangings, or gay flowers, on dark backgrounds, less pleasing in their first aspect than the engravings and prints of the outer room; but here we have also the application of those studies. It does not seem particularly interesting, at first, to watch the flowers, leaves, and tendrils which the young lady we approach is sketching roughly in charcoal upon a white ground. She does not know that we are observing her, and goes on, apparently without an object, until her paper is filled with these fragmentary studies. But here is a leaf that she seems to like; it is transferred to a more open space, a spray from another corner is added, rubbed out, drawn again, but with a different inclination. Now an open blossom, apparently a rude imitation of a rose, then a spray of bells, with the stem entwining the heavier stalk of the rose, the blossom of a sweet pea, with its curling tendrils; and the half-satisfied artist holds up the rough sketch to catch the effect, for the first time noticing that she is observed. But it does not confuse her, visitors are often admitted, and she goes on with a quiet and ladylike self-possession. She is designing a mousseline-de-laine pattern, that you may possibly chance to wear this winter, or at least see at your dressmaker's, the property of some lady who has a fancy for those bright styles that would not suit your figure or complexion.
Now she has an idea of what she intends the figure shall be. A smaller square of paper is produced, and she proceeds to cover it with a dark chocolate ground, in tempera, or water colors, thickened with a size or glue, which gives something the effect of those on wall-paper. On this the tiny bouquet she has designed is placed, every touch being in full relief; now a stem, now a petal is added, until the whole shall receive her own approbation or that of her teacher, who is busy, with a large drawing-board before him, in a distant part of the room. The combination and execution are not so speedily finished as described; but this is the process, the result of previous study, both in taste and skill.
There is a pile of finished patterns submitted to our inspection; those which even your inexperienced eye selects as superior to the rest are already ordered for a manufactory; the others are merely studies, or are still for sale. You can see also the great improvement effected in this year's patterns over the last, both in grace and ease of design, and smoothness of execution. Here are some intended for lawns or fine chintzes, in contrast to the warm coloring of the mousselines, a white or pale tinted ground, with a delicate spot, star, leaf, or lozenge, in some contrasting tint. What infinite variety and changeful fancy! And this is a business increasing yearly in importance; for the present season, the richest Organdies have been produced by the French manufacturers, so beautiful in design that they have taken the place of silk fabrics in demi-toilets. They are printed a disposition, as it is called, as brocades are now woven; that is, one pattern for the skirt, another corresponding, but still different, for the waist and sleeves, and a running border for the five flounces which fashion at present dictates. Exquisite cashmeres and tissues are also printed in this style, plain colors being voted out of date, so richly ornamented are the designs and colors in use. This branch of the school will therefore be one of the most lucrative connected with it, as well as one of the lightest and most truly feminine employments that can be chosen.
But here we have scrolls and arabesques on a larger scale, and recognize something very like a fine wall-paper, in the corner, already finished. This also is an order; and those three patterns near you have been printed from the designs of the same young lady, one of the original pupils, who displays unusual promise in her profession. The richest of these is more commonly called "gilt paper," being in white, two shades of stone color and gold. It was printed at the large manufactory of Howell & Brothers, in this city, where it is already a favorite pattern. In these there is also great variety, both in design and coloring; they compare with the chintzes in popularity, and the price they will readily command from the manufacturers. The rich bordering gives more scope for tasteful fancy, as you will see by the specimens exhibited.
A third is occupied with the neutral tints in squares and diamonds, which mark the present favorite styles of oil-cloths for entrance halls, and near her, in more glowing colors and larger proportions, an order for a carpet manufactory is being executed. In all of these, nearly the same method is pursued as that at first described, the pattern, of course, being correspondingly proportioned.
Now we find something quite as novel to unpractised eyes. This window is occupied by a small table, where one of the pupils is busily employed in drawing; but neither on Bristol board nor drawing-paper of any description. A heavy block of smooth gray stone, smoother than the paper itself, receives the fine touches of her crayon. She is lithographing; and these prints lying beside her are proof impressions of a drawing just completed, spirited, clear, far better than many lithographs exhibited for sale in the windows of the print-seller, or bound up in the cheap literature of the day; yet, until very lately, no woman has ever thought or attempting it.
But this reminds us of a not less important, or, in the end, less profitable employment— the wood-cutting department. It is a smaller room, and under the charge of a distinct teacher. But perhaps you, ladies, know as little as we ourselves did a few years since, of this process. A hard block of pear-tree wood is carefully prepared, almost as smooth as the stone, on which a drawing is made. The lights of the picture are then carefully cut out, leaving raised lines or ridges in the wood, which correspond to the raised letter on a common type, from which it is printed. Turn to any wood-cut in the magazine, and you will see what care and delicacy this requires; or hold— some of the very prints they are now cutting will be found in our fashion department the present number, the caps, which will challenge comparison with any others in the "Book," the work of far more practised hands. In no department of the school has more rapid advancement been made; and, as the present demand for illustrated books, magazines, and newspapers is still increasing, its value and importance become obvious.
Still another department claims our notice, if you have patience or time remaining, the last now in operation. Did it occur to you to wonder how the design for the wall-paper was to be transferred to the endless strips displayed in the warehouse of the manufacturer? These, too, are printed from wooden blocks, on which the pattern has to be first traced in pencil, and then cut like a coarse wood engraving. They are perhaps half a yard square, and the wood is to be cut away much more from the design; consequently, larger tools and more manual labor are needed. The operator stands at her work with chisel and mallet, patiently and carefully bringing out the complicated design. It seems the hardest work of any, yet those who have chosen it prefer it to any other department in the school. There must be a, separate block for every color introduced, so here also is an ample field of employment.
"Is it not hard work?" we say to a young girl almost too busy to notice our approach.
"Not very, except all work is hard, you know," she answers, shaking back the long curls that have fallen over her shoulder.
No doubt she finds all work hard, for she is very young, not more than fifteen; but how much better this than the close workshop, or the constrained position of the needlewoman! here also we find a competent teacher, interested in the success of his pupils.
And now we return to the board-room, to discuss the management of the school, full of wonder at its rapid advance and active results.
We find the terms of instruction merely nominal, when we consider the great expense by which such an institution is conducted. Four dollars a quarter for the drawing-class, or, if circumstances seem to require it, only an entrance fee of half that sum, is required. No pupil can pass from this to the industrial department without a careful examination of progress, and even then is required to spend a part of every day in drawing. The principal has knowledge of the character and pursuits of every pupil, and thus there is a great moral influence excited, as well as in the study itself; for, "by infusing a love of the beautiful, the fine arts have a tendency to disgust the mind with the deformity of vice, and, though not always leading to the practice of virtue, they at least tend to the admiration of it."
Yet, strange as it may seem, both at home and abroad, there has been, and still continues to be, opposition to the employment of women in a business evidently so well suited to them, on the plea that it is going out of their sphere, and taking work from those to whom it rightfully belongs.
The importance of Schools of Design to manufacturers no one now attempts to dispute. In looking over the official reports made to the Board of Trade of the English Government Schools, we everywhere find this acknowledged. Speaking of the branch school, Coventry, they say, "Previously to the establishment of the school the manufacturers were dependent upon French designs, which are, indeed, still forced upon them by the influence of fashion; their present obligations, and their hopes of the future, are effectually acknowledged by their support of it."
And at Nottingham, so celebrated for its lace manufactories, the hope is expressed that, in their lace curtains, they "shall soon be able to compete with France and Belgium in what has hitherto been the stronghold of the foreign market— beauty of design."
At Stoke and Hanly, where the great porcelain manufactories are situated, the official report speaks more plainly of the discouragement attending the female schools:— "There is the usual difficulty to be reported in the maintenance of the female classes. Whatever reason may be put forward for their failure, the real and efficient cause is the envy and jealousy of the male artisans, and the offensive regulations with regard to the employment of women in manufactories. In offering prizes for competition, the manufacturers hope to see this done away with, and to extend so congenial an employment as executing designs for porcelain to women, for which the school must qualify them rapidly."
But we have a still more unprejudiced testimony to adduce, which we noted some two years since, in an able article upon the rise and fortunes of the Peel family, in the "Manchester (England) Examiner and Times." In speaking of the chintz manufactories of Peel and Yates, the writer pauses to say, "It has often been a matter of surprise to me that women are never educated as pattern designers. Surely, in the present very great dearth of profitable female employment, some good father or brother might have thought of this; for it seems one especially suited to a woman's nature, and its object is the garments she herself exclusively wears. Perhaps man will some time resign to the more graceful and gentle sex an occupation so delicate and fanciful, and one every way befitting them as an employment; for, by a quick and vivid fancy, joined to a delicate and sensitive touch, woman appears formed, with proper education, to excel in this art. And I believe, generally speaking, with the same instruction, a young woman, from her greater quickness of perception and innate love and aspirations for the beautiful, will in five years arrive at a higher degree of excellence than a youth in the same time."
An unbiassed opinion, so gracefully expressed, must "carry weight;" and we have introduced it as summing up the principal reasons in support of our proposition, that all branches of design are essentially suited to the feminine employments. With every necessary natural and artistic qualification, the graceful pursuit can be conducted in the quiet of home, with surroundings that must of themselves bring pure and beautiful thoughts. When novelty and jealousy shall have ceased to excite envy and suspicion among those who would keep our sex from honest independence, a wide sphere of employment will be opened by this and similar institutions to educated, intelligent women; for surely, if English manufacturers are not content to be under the control of foreign influence, our own countrymen can never be.
Godey's Lady's Book
Vol XLV Page 369
EMPLOYMENT OF WOMEN IN CITIES.
No. III.— SHOPKEEPING.
BY ALICE B. NEAL.
WE are apt to consider it something of an affectation, when we hear a lady denounce shopping as "a bore."
One may dislike trouble of any kind, but, when the exertion is made, and the keen pursuit commences, the patterns begin to gather in the hand, and the parcels to accumulate on the counter, it is not in the feminine heart to say that "this is a disagreeable occupation." Like any other talent, and like all accomplishments, "shopping" is to be cultivated; nay, the whole thing has been reduced to a science, and we have ladies on our list of acquaintances that might readily become professors, enlivening their lectures by many choice bits of experience, and the result of long and careful observation.
And so we will imagine, by way of passing a pleasant morning, that one of these indefatigable ladies has invited us to accompany her on a shopping expedition; for you, dear ladies, are strangers in Philadelphia, and as for us, we are supposed, by virtue of our habitual pen and ink pursuits, to know very little of "the pomps and vanities." Therefore we place ourselves, in all humility, under the conduct of the brisk little lady, who, armed by parasol, purse, and a list of corresponding length, is about to commence her "fall shopping."
I always commence in good season," Mrs. Jenkins prattles forth; "for the people have more time to attend to you; and when I shop, I shop."
Emphatic Mrs. Jenkins! you are certain that she speaks "words of truth and soberness," by the way she goes over her list, arranging the miscellaneous items under their proper heads, as the carriage drives down towards the business part of the town. Her own wardrobe and the nursery come under one item; the store and linen closets form another; a seamstress is to be looked up; an opening of millinery to be attended. You look on in dismay, wondering how all this is to be accomplished: it might prove more than a day's work to one less experienced than our guide. Now her hand is on the check-string, her list and pencil in the other; she has arranged the, "line of march."
"John, you may drive to Tyndale's first, then to Levy's. From Levy's we will go to Second Street," she says, turning to us with the same business-like air; "from there to Eighth; then up to Tenth, for some plain work; and, by that time, you will want a luncheon."
We think we shall. The prospect is fatiguing enough to make the conclusion a pleasant anticipation.
You have just paid your first visit to New York, coming from there to our quieter city, and have been introduced to the wonders of Stewart's marble palace, and the elegances of Beck's; you remember the smiles, and bows, and politeness of the perfumed and bewhiskered young gentlemen who unfolded the muslins, and rolled up the ribbons, and sorted the gloves for you. Did it not strike you as an exceedingly noble and manly employment, so befitting masculine strength and energy?— one that a woman could never have the quickness, or grace, or taste to fill?— that it was therefore given up to the sterner sex, who had adapted themselves so harmoniously to what was evidently intended by Providence as their sphere? We are sure it must have forced itself upon your consideration.
But we are at Tyndale's. You have heard of the establishment before; for it has even a European reputation for the exquisite taste in the selection and arrangement of the glass and china with which it is filled. And yet a woman founded this reputation by her energy, her tact, and industry; a woman planned the elegant hall, with its artistic arrangements, and gathered together the large capital necessary to its construction, and the scale of the business conducted here; where, instead of being received by a careless or obsequious clerk, a young girl comes forward, as a lady would receive in her own parlor, to know our commands. There are others behind the long counters arranging the vases that have just arrived in the steamer, or comparing the patterns of glass, or showing a new dinner-set to some favorite customer. It is a novelty to you, and you look to see how a woman in so exposed a position bears herself. With the strictest propriety and grace; for she has been here a long time, and knows exactly what will suit her customers: that one must be talked into purchasing, and another sale might be spoiled by a word of comment. She has grown to be a physiognomist, and can tell in a moment that the lady in the flounced barege wishes some pattern for her dinner-table that will attract notice by the variety and brilliancy of the coloring. That exquisite Sevres set, with a different mythological design on each of the three hundred pieces, would be entirely lost on her; although that plainly dressed woman who came in last understands the value of every plate, the classical beauty of even the sauce-boats in shape and ornament. Our lady of the flounces chooses the heaviest glass, of the most elaborate pattern; the face of the other lights up with admiration at the pure crystal water-goblet, so thin that a touch would almost shiver it, the graceful stem rising as if to hold the cup of a flower. And the attendant knows this at once, and thus saves herself and her customer time and patience. Yet this tact is essentially a feminine quality, cultivated by patient observation and a long experience.
"Save the bookkeepers, perched upon their high stools, and the proprietors of the establishment, there seem to be only women in attendance," you say, as we resume our seats in the carriage, while Mrs. Jenkins "hands in" the tumblers she has matched, the fruit-dish she has coveted so long for her dessert-service, and a tea-set in miniature for the nursery doll-house.
"Oh no," she returns. "I suppose it seemed strange to you; but I never think of it, except to say how nice it is. I am always in a fever when I see a man handling china; men are so awkward! A waiter man will break twice as much in a year as a girl, if you ever noticed it.— (No, not there, boy; put those plates on to the front seat— here, by me. Now hand up the rest.)— As I was saying, girls handle things so much more carefully— (Levy's, John)— and then I hate to have a man following me about the store, as if I didn't know what I wanted to see. A woman knows when to hold her tongue sometimes; but, if a man talks at all, he talks you to death, and, if not, he's so sulky that you hate to ask him to show you anything."
"That's just what I should feel in being waited on by women," you modestly suggest. "I don't like to have one of my own sex feel as if they were inferior to me, especially such ladylike-looking girls. I never saw women who seemed better bred, not even in visiting."
"And so it is"— for our active little lady seems to have had a large share of good sense and right feeling— "they are well bred; and so you see none of that cringing servility I so hate in a shopman, or the rudeness that is equally disagreeable. Such a woman never could feel herself your inferior, when she is quietly attending to her business to the best of her capacity; nor is she, my dear madam."
"I grant the latter, and own it troubled me to see such ladylike-looking girls exposed to such public observation, and perhaps impertinence. It does not seem to me a woman's place to come so in open contact with all kinds of people"— for you have been brought up carefully in the seclusion of home yourself, and are thoroughly opposed to female president-making, or having ships of the line called "Women-of-war," as some of your sex will doubtless soon petition.
"It would seem so, perhaps," Mrs. Jenkins answers, thoughtfully, consulting her list to see what comes next in order. "But think of it for a moment. What woman ever trifles with a shopman, or allows him to bandy words with her? The same dignity of character can be, and is preserved by our shopwomen; for, in Philadelphia, more than half our stores are managed by them. Some are very beautiful, too, and as well dressed as you or I. Wait till we get to Levy's, and all along from there up to Tenth and Chestnut, in every fashionable shop. They have an opportunity to purchase their dress cheaply, and time and good taste to make it up. Besides, they are in the very centre of fashion, and it would be strange if they did not avail themselves of it."
And this reminds us of a Southern gentleman introduced to us in travelling last summer. "Madam," he said, "Philadelphia is a beautiful place. You have some of the prettiest women there I ever saw. In your shops, I mean. I went into one, as I came on, to buy a pair of gloves; there was a splendid creature behind the counter, a perfect Juno! Such teeth! such eyes! such a figure! I'd give anything to see her on my horse Archer! She wouldn't be afraid of anything, I venture to say. I felt as if I was insulting her when I asked the price of these gloves. I felt much more like offering her my hand and heart than the gold piece I gave for them. I did not wait for change: the idea of four-pences counted out by such a creature!"
"Your friend was an enthusiast," Mrs. Jenkins says, smiling. "There is a great deal of the romance of shopkeeping, no doubt, if we only knew it, enough for a two-volume novel. It was only last winter that the head of one of our best firms married one of the young ladies who had been in the store several years. She was of a very good family, reduced in circumstances, and thus restored to comfort and affluence again; nor is this a solitary instance. But here is Levy's."
As you are well aware, this is our Stewart's, save that there is less display. The habitual customers are, as at Tyndale's, among our most fashionable people, and, of course, those who desire to be so considered are always to be seen thronging the counters. Many a woman has helped herself into Uppertendom through her purchases, and the accidental associations of Levy's and Miss Wharton's; and many another of greater pretensions has only confirmed her vulgarity by her lavish and ill-judged expenditure. It is here she has received the keenest slights from persons she would give her last new bracelet to bow to; here she has incurred the never-ending displeasure of the fashionable Mrs. Jones or Thompson, by ordering a dress from the same piece, and having it made from the same pattern, while Mrs. Jones is tall and thin, and her copyist is short and rosy. But it was the demure-looking girl behind the counter who told her of Mrs. Jones's purchase, to confirm her wavering fancy; for she, shrewd looker-on in Vienna, knew the instant effect such information would produce.
She and her friend at the next counter are well aware of the unsuccessful struggles Mrs. McAdo persists in. She saw Mrs. Jones turn her back upon the approach, and the chillingly-distant stare with which Mrs. Thompson resigned to her the silk on which her ill-breeding laid violent hands. She knows that the Thompsons are living beyond their means, and that a crash is inevitable; but that is not her affair, so long as Mrs. Thompson trims her caps-with Honiton lace at five dollars a yard, and she is instructed to trust her. But think you that, for all their fine dresses and fine furniture, she would change places with either of them? No; she has taken far-reaching views into the social world from her station at Levy's counter. She knows the real value of the costly goods passing through her hands, and that she folds the rich cashmere shawl for her customers over many an aching heart, and tempts in vain a drooping spirit with those rich laces. Care, and passion, and sorrow visit the proudest homes, and hers is bright and happy, and she feels that her own industry and self-denial have helped to make it so, and that love and contentment are not to be purchased with "gold that perisheth." Ah no, the cringing, fawning neophyte, the careworn woman of fashion, might well envy her womanly independence of spirit, and the strength of her character.
Hers is a pleasant and varied employment. There is no stagnation of thought or compression of the frame. All occupations have their disadvantages, and their own share of weariness; but hers has constantly changing interest, new faces, new traits of character, never-ending incident. And here, more especially, the departments are so divided that the actual labor is very light. The book of patterns retained on the counter saves many a wearisome folding and unfolding; and, being appointed to one style of goods, she necessarily understands exactly what is required of her. In the dull season, there is plenty of time for chat; and vacations of a day, or a week, are at her own discretion. There is many a bright and agreeable face in the twenty or thirty girls who line the long counters, aided, as Mrs. Jenkins had before suggested, by neat and tasteful dress.
"And what is the salary?" you inquire, as we leave the store, partially converted to the new "nation of shopkeepers." "Can they afford to look as nicely as they do? or are they obliged to spend all their earnings in keeping up appearances?"
"I asked once myself," replies our friend, busily bestowing packages, so that they may not be polking backwards and forwards with the motion of the carriage. "None of them receive under four dollars a week, and some have seven or eight, according to their experience or real usefulness. I can remember some of the faces at Levy's for years, and, of course, they must be well paid. Now confess that you don't see anything in the least unwomanly in the occupation; though I don't go quite so far as Mr. -----, who dined with us last Thursday. He has looked into these matters considerably, and proposes a petition for a law to send all men who are found behind a counter of dry-goods to the penitentiary! Though I declare it would be a good thing to go in force all over the country, until they bestirred themselves to find other things for women to do. There wouldn't be half the want, or sin either, in the world, if there was a wider scope for the employment of active, intelligent females.
"For," she continues, quite entering into the spirit of the subject, "just see how many young girls are growing up dependent on their brothers or fathers, and wasting their own time, or making foolish, unhappy matches, when they might much better be usefully employed. And look at the widows, worn down by dependence and grudging charity, seeing their children neglected or ill used, when their hearts are aching to do something for themselves, and to make a home for these helpless little ones. If I was a widow, I'd soon find something to do, you may depend."
"But you could teach."
"Not in Philadelphia, where there are more boarding-schools now than can get supported. Many a poor soul is struggling on in difficulties and embarrassments who would be glad to work with her hands, if she could only find something to do, and I guess it's so all over."
"But there is always plain sewing," you suggest, readily.
"Do you know what women get for plain sewing?" Mrs. Jenkins abruptly asks; "because I have had occasion to know something about that, too. I can give you, almost word for word, the answer of a dealer in wholesale clothing, who had been twenty years in the business. I went accidentally to his shop to make an inquiry, and it occurred to me to ask if he could give employment to some poor woman I was just then interested in.
"'We give the highest prices, ma'am, and calculate to have all our work well done. Now we have given as high as eighty-seven cents a piece for fine shirts.'
"Eighty-seven cents! Why, I always pay a dollar and a quarter.'
"Oh, we couldn't stand that no way, ma'am. It wouldn't pay at all. Why, in these cheap clothing stores, none of 'em give over a levy and three fips, and ten cents for Canton flannel. We don't pay a great deal on that; but these are mostly made by old women, who can't see so very well, and don't depend on it for a living, so they can afford to work cheap.'
"But a woman who does depend on her needle, how much can she make?'
"'Why, a right steady hand can earn as high as two, and two and a half, and three dollars, by sitting to it all the time. A vest-maker can do that, if she's good at button-holes. You see, I just cut out half a dozen satin vests at once, and give them. A pantaloons-maker can't do so well, unless she has customer-work, or is uncommonly smart. Some don't make over a dollar, or a dollar and a half, if they don't bring in good work. You see, they don't stay long enough at their trade to learn. They can't afford to pay their board, and so they don't stay more than three months before they must begin to earn for themselves. That makes a great many bad hands. I pity the poor things, and get along with them the best I can. Sometimes I try to show them myself; but I have to turn them off at last; though, I must say, it goes rather hard,' said the worthy man, 'because I know half the time they haven't got money to pay their board, and dear knows what becomes of them! And those that do well, you see, they have to sit so steady to make their three dollars, and then their board has to come out of that, and they don't have much light or good air, and they mostly get sick, and just live along.'
"That's almost word for word what he told me, and, I declare, it gave me such a heartache I could not enjoy my own comforts. He was, no doubt, a liberal and humane employer. Think how many are a great deal worse off. I've no patience with people who are everlastingly preaching up the needle. If the sword has its thousand victims, the needle has its ten thousands, small and inoffensives as it seems, because we women know how intolerably irksome the unvaried labor must be. I like sewing, and should not know what to do with myself often without it; but to sew only one morning without stopping always gives me a pain in my side."
We all can certainly testify to the truth of this.
"Some of my Sunday-school girls," continues the good woman, whom we have never before suspected of knowing anything more of social economy than appertained to the management of her own household, "when I used to teach— that was the first I ever thought about the matter: they were quite large girls: I had a kind of Bible class; and nearly all earned their own living. It was very easy for me to go round in my silk dress and white kid gloves, and preach up self-denial and industry to them, out of our Sunday's lesson, and they practising it all the time, in those little dark filthy alleys, swarming with pigs and children. One of them sewed straw bonnets;— no wonder they can sell them so cheap, when they only give ten cents apiece for them!- others worked in crowded milliner shops from Monday morning till Saturday night, for a dollar and a half, mixing with good and bad— the Monday's talk with their comrades undoing all the good of Sunday's lessons. I soon found that out. A young girl could hardly have a worse moral atmosphere than one of those work-rooms; they themselves, and their mothers, have told me so many a time. I always had a heart-ache while I taught those girls: it was the first thing that made me think of what a woman ought to be, or might be, in the way of influencing society— her own sex in particular— without any public gatherings, or speech-makings either."
Mrs. Jenkins has certainly spoken very energetically in all those intervals of our shopping in Second street, where we have still been waited upon by our own sex as well as though the hands that displayed the ribbons and muslins had been twice as large and coarse; and now we are driven to Eighth Street, to be fitted for a pair of gaiters— still by a woman— and here the comfort and propriety are self-evident; there is no need of soiling your own gloves, or ruffling your temper in bending over a refractory lacing.
Eighth Street is the paradise of cheap shopping, as we all know; but it is remarkable for one other feature: so many of these little stores are not only kept, but owned by women, many of whom have accumulated a sufficient sum to retire upon comfortably, when they shall choose. This we are told from the lips of one of them, a bright, tidy little body, who shakes back her black curls, and snips a little bit of paper with her scissors as she talks.
"You have been here some time, Mrs. White," says Mrs. Jenkins, choosing a sacque for her youngest boy.
"Yes, ma'am; eight years now. I came when there were very few stores along in this square, and I have made my own business, as you may say, and a great deal for other people. I've been a widow now fifteen years," (she scarcely looks old enough for this, so round, so comely are her face and figure,) "and I was left without anything; and now I've got enough to live on the rest of my days, if I choose; but I know I couldn't be satisfied to sit still, after such an active life. I bought my goods myself, and sewed, and 'tended the shop, and saved, and I knew all I was making was for myself. My rent was always ready when rent-day came, and I never had to ask the favor of security from anybody, though this house and store is seven hundred a year. Please God, I'm quite independent now." And yet withal she is as womanly a little body as one could wish to see.
But we must not neglect to sketch the three sisters that we find next door, dispensing their pins and tapes, and polite sayings over their little counter. Mrs. Jenkins commends them to our especial notice; but this is not necessary, we have made their acquaintance before. They are always dressed precisely alike, it seems to us, in subdued half mourning black dresses and lead-colored ribbons, and each with a mourning brooch, their only ornament. We cannot tell them apart yet, although it is three years since we first chanced to notice the neat shop windows, with their collars and cuffs, and ribbons, and such beautifully shaped combs and brushes. They are all tall, with full fine figures, appear to be the same age, or certainly very near it. They have kindly dark eyes, and black hair neatly arranged, and speak in a soft, measured voice; they seem to have one voice as well as one mind. Many an errand we have made there, for a moment's glance at so much quiet goodness and content.
"Pins, Miss?" Perhaps our feminine vanity is conciliated by this, for they have never recognized our claim to the dignity of madamship. "Which sort, if you please? Oh, English pins; quite small, I recollect; they do not tear one's collars so, and though they cost a little more, are better in the end. Lovely day, Miss; quite cool after the shower yesterday. Yes, ten cents for those; this size are a levy. Was there anything else? Combs? I suppose you would like them well finished. Sister, will you be so good as to show this young lady some tucking combs? At the other counter, Miss;"- and we turn to the other counter to find the ditto of the first speaker, in appearance, voice, and manner.
"Wore your last comb two years? That's the fault of our goods, though," (with a low mellow laugh;) "all our customers say so; they last too long for our profit. But then we always have the best, as you say the best is the cheapest in the end. Yes, Miss, that's a beautiful pattern; we had a great deal of trouble to get it again. The street is quite lively this morning. A great many people are out of town though. This one, did you say? Eighty-seven cents, if you please. We would just as soon change a five dollar piece as not. Thank you, Miss; sometimes we have a heavy payment to make, and it is all the better. This is the change, I believe; all but five cents. I'm sorry to keep you waiting. Sister, could you give this, young lady five cents? Good morning; good morning, Miss." And both sisters bow and smile as pleasantly as if we had expended ten dollars instead of one.
We have often longed to know something of their history, there is such an air of placid content and innate refinement about them and their little shop; their very ribbons rustle, with an old-style gentility, as they are folded and unfolded in their soft white bands.
And now the carriage rolls beyond what we have always considered the business part of the town, down Tenth Street, to a range of low frame houses, each with its narrow window of cheap muslins, and tawdry ornaments; shops, as the author of the "Charcoal Sketches" has said, "which bring a sensation of dreariness over the mind, and which cause a sinking of the heart, before you have time to ask why you are saddened; frail and feeble barriers they seem against penury and famine, to yield at the first approach of the gaunt enemy. Look at one of them closely. There is no aspect of business about it; it compels you to think of distraining for rent, of broken hearts, of sickness, suffering, and death.
"It is a shop, moreover, we have all seen the like, with a bell to it, which rings out an announcement as we open the door, that few and far between there has been an arrival in the way of a customer, though it may be that the bell, with all its untuned sharpness, fails to triumph over the din of domestic affairs in the little dark room, that serves for parlor, and kitchen, and hall, and proves unavailing to spread the news against the turbulent clamor of noisy children. The owner is one of those women you may recognize in the street by their look of premature age, anxious, hollow-eyed, and worn to shadows. There is a whole history in every line of their faces, which tells of unceasing trouble; and their hard quick movement, as they press onward, regardless of all that begirts their way, indicates those who have no thoughts to spare, from their own immediate necessities, for comment on the gay flaunting world. Little does ostentation know, as it flashes by in satined arrogance and jeweled pride, of the sorrow it may jostle from its path; and perhaps it is happy for us, as we move along in smiles and pleasantries, not to comprehend that the glance which meets our own comes from the bleakness of a withered heart, withered by penury's unceasing presence."
Ay, it is too true a picture to spare one tint, one shade of the sombre coloring, for such is the worn face that tries to smile— such a wintry gleam!— as we are welcomed, though there is scarcely room to stand, outside the narrow empty counter. And why has industry failed in its reward? "It is those fairs," the woman tells us— speaking bitterly, poor soul! and what wonder?— "that kills all our business. Some ladies won't pay a fair price when they can get things there so much less, and even think they are giving to charity besides. It's poor charity, to my thinking, ma'am, that takes the bread out of our mouths, and works our hands to the bone. And then they come here, and bring their work, and we must do it for next to nothing; because we can't starve, and they know it. Some ladies don't seem to have no conscience, ma'am."
But Mrs. Jenkins is not of these; she has come far out of her way to give out this bundle of plain sewing, and she will pay a fair price for it, too. "I know it won't be done quite so well," she says to us confidentially, "but it will wear quite as long, and nobody will look at the stitches. That poor soul used to sew beautifully when she was first a widow, but she set up a little shop for muslins and trimmings, as you see, and sunk all she had, because ladies will buy where they can get things under price, without looking at the justice of the thing. Now she has to slight her work; but I never say a word. I see just how things go."
Reader, thus far we have spoken under the guise a pleasant morning's talk; but we have given you no fancy sketches. What we have related are studies in a life school, vouched for by our own actual experience and observation; and yet the task we have set for ourselves seems so feebly executed that we could almost lay down our pen despairingly, when we think of the hundreds of our own sex, everywhere around us, wasting life and energy in idleness, or ill-paid and wasting labor. And we have our own share in the wrong— those of us, at least, who allow the weakness or poverty of our sisters to minister to our own luxury and selfishness. "The laborer is not unworthy of her hire;" and when, by trifling self-denial of ostentatious luxuries, the needlewoman has her just and equitable recompense, hers will cease to be the wearisome and dreaded task it has now become. But this cannot be, so long as it is the only avenue open to our sex. It is a principle of our social economy that the price shall be equal to the demand; and where so many are forced into competition, justice cannot be rendered. But we have said what we could, with deep and earnest feeling, and must leave, for a time, a subject so full of interest to us all, believing, with Frederika Bremer, that—
"He who points out a new field for the employment of female industry ought to be regarded as a public benefactor; and any means by which such a field becomes accessible to woman recommends itself to society as an important agent in the civilization of the future."
Tuesday, August 07, 2007