President Guggenheimer on Homeless Children 1900

 
 
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President Guggenheimer of the Council addressed the members of the league for Political Education this morning at the Berkeley Lyceum. The subject of the address was "A Municipal Problem." The League for Political Education is made up of women interested in the solution of national and civic problems.

Mr. Guggenheimer said, in part:

"It is my purpose in this lecture to speak of those conditions in the midst of which thousands of boys find themselves in this great City of New York. A large majority of the wealthy people of this city, although in their home relations they are full of love, sympathy and friendship, live in a criminal ignorance of the hideous truth that, in this city at the present moment, there are above three thousand homeless boys. These children represent the social problem of the future.

The larger number of these three thousand homeless boys are homeless because they have lost their natural protectors. They cannot be touched by charitable organizations and by the churches. They are simply the flotsam and jetsam of the municipal sea. They earn a precarious living by "pan-handling" and by stealing. Many of them are truants not only from school but from their homes. A great number live by selling newspapers, and many of them, even in that calling, lay a sound foundation for future prosperity in business and the professions. The newspaper boy at 10 years of age has acquired more keenness of judgment and decision of character than the average college student at 23. Though a child he is a man of the world.

"I believe that society should help all homeless boys. I am glad that there are cheap lodging houses for men, such as the Mills Hotel, and I think it is our duty to establish, as we have done, some kind of lodging houses for homeless boys. I am convinced, however, that the influence of such lodging houses is deleterious instead of beneficial.

"Of these lodging houses for homeless boys there are six or eight in the City of new York on Duane street, Avenue A, Thirty-second street and Second avenue, Eighth Street and Avenue B and at Forty-fourth street and Second avenue. Any boy can enter these homes. They accomplish in my opinion more evil than good. A boy brought up in an institution or practically supported in a lodging house lacks the power of striking out independently for himself. Such conditions are inimical to future welfare. They take away from boys all power of independent action.

"I have spoken first of homeless boys simply because their necessities are obvious and insistent. They force themselves upon the attention of all thinking men and women. But of course I recognize the fact that their lot is not as pathetic as that of little girls who have lost their natural protectors, or indeed as that of the daughters of the tenement who are forced, by their parents' narrowness of means, to earn their own livelihood. For the former, during their immature years, there is only one refuge and that is to be found under the auspices of a love-less and cheerless institution. Sooner or later, however, they are obliged to enter the arena in which is enacted through all the generations the pitiless struggle for existence. I have, for many years, as a result of careful observation of the subject, been a believer in the theory that women were not, as has been the barbaric ideal of the past. Inferior to men except in physical strength and endurance.

I have always protested against the establishment of a double standard of human opportunity. I may be classified, therefore, as a social dreamer when I assert that employers who fail to give a living rate of wages to girl employees are guilty of a crime against humanity. Just before the dawn of the twentieth century Americans at least have arrived at the conviction that feminine cheap labor is just as abhorrent to the spirit of American Institutions as Chinese cheap labor. The social system which will permit a manufacturer, in any branch of business activity, to engage the services of a girl, at the rate of two dollars a week, strikes a blow at human happiness and human virtue. I have no doubt that many such men who have amassed a large fortune from the blood and honor of such employees are foremost in the outcry for the city's purification. They are amenable to no statute. They offend the provisions of no written law. But, in my opinion, they are guilty, in the purview of humanity, of an unpardonable crime against the welfare of the girls whom they employ.

"You may ask me whether I can suggest a remedy for such existing evils. it is very hard to do so. It has been truly said that the laws of employment are controlled by the inexorable law of demand and supply and that, within the limits of the Constitution of the United States, any man can employ labor at the lowest market rate. That is one of the half truths which are always the blackest of lies. The regulation of wages, especially in the case of girls, is justly subject to the exercise of the police power of the state, because it concerns the physical and moral welfare of a large proportion of our people. It may be said that a measure which would prohibit the engagement of employees at the lowest market rate of wages would be an infringement of the personal liberty of the citizen. Such an infringement would constitute only a glittering and useless generality. In my op9nion, a law should be adopted by the legislature and approved by the Governor of the State of new York, fixing for girls and children a minimum rate of wages, below which an employer cannot go without being guilty of a misdemeanor."

 

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Paying Social Debts 1893
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

 The Brooklyn Eagle December 16, 1900
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