Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Two Huge Month Long Giveaway Events For Booklovers!

Prepare to Sizzle!

 Over $5,000 prizes up for grabs!

Total of 8 pairs of tickets to RomCon 2011 to be won!!!
(each pair worth $490)
Sizzling Summer Reads (Romance)
From June 1 to 28, 2011
(Look for the Sizzling Summer Reads event button)
Play the games. Explore new books.
Chat with authors. Rack up your points!
Visit everyday to increase your chances to win awesome prizes!
Weekly Prizes
2 tickets to RomCon 2011 worth $490
$10 Gift Cards – 4 winners
Over 100 Book Giveaways in total
(paperback, ebook)
Main Sponsors
RomCon 2011
eTreasures Publishing
Astraea Press
The Q & A To Win A Copy of A Very Merry Chase Plus a $10.00 Gift Card
Will Be Featured on Saturday June 4, 2011.
I'll be doing a chat at
featuring A Very Merry Chase on
Wednesday June 8th, 2011 beginning at 8:00 AM Est.
There will be a prize package drawing for one lucky participant that day featuring
A Very Merry Chase
The Widow's Tale
In PDF Format With Personalized Dedications For The Winner...
Plus a $5.00 gift card!
Or For The Kindle or Nook...Winners Choice!

Summer Treasure Hunt 

Click on the treasure chest to go to the Summer Treasure Hunt: Dig for Clues and Win! Contest

Also Going On This June!

3rd Annual “Summer Treasure Hunt: 

Dig for Clues and Win Contest!

30 Days of Prizes, Fun and Adventure!  This is becoming an exciting tradition, both for our sponsors and hopefully for all of you! Medieval Romance Author, Joyce DiPastena has gathered 29 writer friends  together to present a month-long contest where we will give away a prize a day for the entire month of June.

That’s right! 30 awesome prizes, running the gamut from books books books! (romances, fantasies, mystery/thrillers, inspirationals, children’s books, and various non-fiction), as well as Amazon gift cards, a Mary Kay gift set, a vinyl lettering gift certificate, a hand-sewn weekly planner with ribbon bookmark, a crocheted book tote with matching cell phone case, and again for you aspiring authors, TWO free edit/critiques of a partial manuscript. Many of the giveaways are open to International entries, though always check to be sure before you enter for a particular prize.

Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Woman’s Work Is Never Done - Surviving in Poverty - The Tale of a Barrow


If the West End knows not the East End, save as philanthropy and Mr. Walter Besant have compelled it, much less does it know Leather Lane, a remnant of old London, now given over chiefly to Italians, and thus a little more picturesquely dirty than in its primal state of pure English grime. The eager business man hurrying down “that part of Holborn christened High,” is as little aware of the neighborhood of Leather Lane and what it stands for, as the New Yorker on Broadway is of Mulberry Street and the Great Bend. For either or both, entrance is entrance into a world quite unknown to decorous respectability, and, if one looks aright, as full of wonders and discoveries as other unknown countries under our feet. Out of Leather Lane, with its ancient houses swarming with inhabitants and in all stages of decay and foulness, open other lanes as unsavory, through which the costers drive their barrows, chaffering with dishevelled women, who bear a black eye or other token that the British husband has been exercising his rights, and who find bargaining for a bunch of turnips or a head of cabbage an exhilarating change.

 There were many costers and many barrows, but among them all hardly one so popular as “old Widgeon,” who had been in the business forty years; and as he had chosen to remain a bachelor, an absolutely unheard-of state of things, he was an object of deepest interest to every woman in Leather Lane and its purlieus. It was always possible that he might change his mind; and from the oldest inhabitant down to the child just beginning to ask questions, there was always a sense of expectation where Widgeon was concerned. He, in the meantime, did his day’s work contentedly, had a quick eye for all trouble, and in such cases was sure to give overweight, or even to let the heavy penny or two fall accidentally into the purchase. His donkey had something the same expression of patient good-humored receptivity. The children climbed over the barrow and even on the donkey’s back, and though Widgeon made great feint of driving them off with a very stubby whip, they knew well that it would always just miss them, and returned day after day undismayed. He “did for himself” in a garret in a dark little house, up a darker court; and here it was popularly supposed he had hidden the gains of all these forty years. They might be there or in the donkey’s stable, but they were somewhere, and then came the question, who would have them when he died?

To these speculations Nan listened silently, in the pauses of the machines on which her mother and three other women stitched trousers. Nothing was expected of her but to mind the baby, to see that the fire kept in, just smouldering, and that there was always hot water enough for the tea. On the days when they all stitched she fared well enough; but when she had carried home the work, and received the money, there was a day, sometimes two or three, in which gin ruled, and the women first shouted and sang songs, and at last lay about the floor in every stage of drunkenness. Gradually chances for work slipped away; the machines were given up, and the partnership of workers dissolved, and at twelve, Nan and the baby were beggars and the mother in prison for aggravated assault on a neighbor. She died there, and thus settled one problem, and now came the other, how was Nan to live?

 Old Widgeon answered this question. They had always been good friends from the day he had seen her standing, holding the baby, crippled and hopelessly deformed from its birth. His barrow was almost empty, and the donkey pointing his long ears toward the stable.

 ”Get in,” he said, “an’ I’ll give you a bit of a ride,” and Nan, speechless with joy, climbed in and was driven to the stable, and once there, watched the unharnessing and received some stray oranges as she finally turned away. From that day old Widgeon became her patron saint. She had shot up into a tall girl, shrinking from those about her, and absorbed chiefly in the crooked little figure, still “the baby;” but tall as she might be, she was barely twelve, and how should she hire a machine and pay room rent and live?

 Widgeon settled all that.

 You know how to stitch away at them trousers?” he had said, and Nan nodded.

 ”Then I’ll see you through the first week or two,” he said; “but, mind! don’t you whisper it, or I’ll ‘ave hevery distressed female in the court down on me, and there’s enough hof ‘em now.”

 Nan nodded again, but he saw the tears in her eyes, and regarded words as quite unnecessary. The sweater asked no questions when she came for a bundle of work, nor did she tell him that she alone was now responsible. She had learned to stitch. Skill came with practice, and she might as well have such slight advantage as arose from being her mother’s messenger.

 So Nan’s independent life began, and so it went on. She grew no taller, but did grow older, her silent gravity making her seem older still. It was hard work. She had never liked tea, and she loathed the sight and smell of either beer or spirits, old experience having made them hateful. Thus she had none of the nervous stimulant which keeps up the ordinary worker, and with small knowledge of any cookery but boiling potatoes and turnips, and frying bacon or sprats, fared worse than her companions. But she had learned to live on very little. She stitched steadily all day and every day, gaining more and more skill, but never able to earn more than fourteen shillings a week. Prices went down steadily. At fourteen shillings she could live, and had managed even not only to pay Widgeon but to pick up some “bits of things.” She was like her father, the old people in the alley said. He had been a silent, decent, hard-working man, who died broken-hearted at the turn his wife took for drink. Nan had his patience and his faithfulness; and Johnny, who crawled about the room, and could light a fire and do some odds and ends of house-keeping, was like her, and saved her much time as he grew older, but hardly any bigger. He had even learned to fry sprats, and to sing, in a high, cracked, little voice, a song known throughout the alley:–

 ”Oh, ’tis my delight of a Friday night, When sprats they isn’t dear, To fry a couple o’ dozen or so Upon a fire clear.”

 There are many verses of this ditty, all ending with the chorus:– ”Oh, ’tis my delight of a Friday night!” and Johnny varied the facts ingeniously, and shouted “bacon,” or anything else that would fry, well pleased at his own ingenuity.

 He was ‘wanting.’ Nan might better put him away in some asylum,” the neighbors said; but Nan paid no attention. He was all she had, and he was much better worth working for than herself, and so she went on.

Old Widgeon had been spending the evening with them. Nan had stitched on as she must; for prices had gone down again, and she was earning but nine shillings a week. Widgeon seldom said much. He held Johnny on his knee, and now and then looked at Nan.

 ”It’s a dog’s life,” he said at last. “It’s far worse than a dog’s. You’d be better off going with a barrow, Nan. I’m a good mind to leave you mine, Nan. You’d get a bit of air, then, and you’d make–well, a good bit more than you do now.”

 Widgeon had checked himself suddenly. Nobody knew what the weekly gain might be, but people put it as high as three pounds; and this was fabulous wealth.

 ”I’ve thought of it,” Nan said. “I’ve thought of it ever since that day you rode me and Johnny in the barrow. Do you mind? The donkey knows me now, I think. He’s a wise one.”

 ”Ay, he’s a wise one,” the old man said. “Donkeys is wiser than folks think.” He put Johnny down suddenly, and sat looking at him strangely; but Nan did not see. The machine whirred on, but it stopped suddenly as Johnny cried out. Widgeon had slipped silently from his chair; his eyes were open, but he did not seem to see her, and he was breathing heavily. Nan ran into the passage and called an old neighbor, and the two together, using all their strength, managed to get him to the bed.

 ”It’s a stroke,” the woman said. “Lord love you, what’ll you do? He can’t stay here. He’d better be sent to ‘ospital.”

 ”I’ll be ‘anged first,” said old Widgeon, who had opened his eyes suddenly and looked at them both. “I was a bit queer, but I’m right enough now. Who talks about ‘ospitals?”

 He tried to move and his face changed.

 ”I’m a bit queer yet,” he said, “but it’ll pass; it’ll pass. Nan, you’ll not mind my being in your way for a night. There’s money in me pocket. Maybe there’s another room to be ‘ad.”

 ”There’s a bit of a one off me own that was me John’s, an’ him only gone yesterday,” said the woman eagerly; “an’ a bed an’ all, an’ openin’ right off of this. The door’s behind that press. It’s one with this, an’ the two belongs together, an’ for two an’ six a week without, an’ three an’ six with all that’s in it, it’s for anybody that wants it.”

 ”I’ll take it a week,” said old Widgeon, “but I’ll not want the use of it more than this night. I’m a bit queer now, but it’ll pass; it’ll pass.”

 The week went, but old Widgeon was still “a bit queer;” and the doctor, who was at last called in, said that he was likely to remain so. One side was paralyzed. It might lessen, but would never recover entirely. He would have to be looked out for. This was his daughter? She must understand that he needed care, and would not be able to work any more.

 Old Widgeon heard him in silence, and then turned his face to the wall, and for hours made no sign. When he spoke at last, it was in his usual tone.

 ”I thought to end my days in the free air,” he said, “but that ain’t to be. And I’m thinking the stroke’s come to do you a good turn, Nan. There’s the donkey and the barrow, and everybody knowing it as well as they know me. I’ll send you to my man in Covent Garden. He’s a fair ‘un. He don’t cheat. He’ll do well by you, an’ you shall drive the barrow and see what you make of it. We’ll be partners, Nan. You look out for me a bit, an’ I’ll teach you the business and ‘ave an heye to Johnny. What do you say? Will you try it? It’ll break me ‘art if that donkey and barrow goes to hanybody that’ll make light of ‘em hand habuse ‘em. There hain’t such another donkey and barrow in all London, and you’re one that knows it, Nan.”

 ”Yes, I know it,” Nan said. “You ought to know, if you think I could do it.”

 ”There’s nought that can’t be done if you sets your mind well to it,” said old Widgeon. “And now, Nan, ‘ere’s the key, and you get Billy just by the stable there to move my bits o’ things over here. That court’s no place for you, an’ there’s more light here. Billy’s a good ‘un. He’ll ‘elp you when you need it.”

 This is the story of the fresh-faced, serious young woman who drives a donkey-barrow through certain quiet streets in northwest London, and has a regular line of customers, who find her wares, straight from Covent Garden, exactly what she represents. Health and strength have come with the new work, and though it has its hardships, they are as nothing compared with the deadly, monotonous labor at the machine. Johnny, too, shares the benefit, and holds the reins or makes change, at least once or twice a week, while old Widgeon, a little more helpless, but otherwise the same, regards his “stroke” as a providential interposition on Nan’s behalf, and Nan herself as better than any daughter.

 ”I’ve all the good of a child, and none o’ the hups hand downs o’ the married state,” he chuckles; “hand so, whathever you think, I’m lucky to the hend.”

Prisoners of Poverty
Helen Campbell, 1889
I have a graduate degree in history and I love history in all it’s forms–especially women’s history. A graduate degree in women’s studies was not an option at the university where I received my MA in History so I had to make do with a more generalized degree. However, in every class I made up for the lack by researching the condition of women in each age that I studied. I have always been fascinated by women’s history, so I thought I would start sharing some of the lost treasures that I uncover. I believe that most people have curious minds and like glimpses of how the world was, and how things were perceived in the past. I firmly believe in the idea that we must remember history in order to learn from it, grow and hopefully cut down on the number of stupid mistakes that random impulse and intellectual curiosity and greed and a thousand other human motivators lead us to make.
Smiles and Good Fortune,
Teresa Thomas Bohannon

It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent.
– W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Woman’s Work Is Never Done - Surviving in Poverty - Street Trades


“With hall the click there is to a woman’s tongue you’d think she could ‘patter’ with the best of the men, but, Lor’ bless you! a woman can’t ‘patter’ any more’n she can make a coat, or sweep a chimley. And why she can’t beats me, and neither I nor nobody knows.”

“To patter” is a verb conjugated daily by the street seller of any pretensions. The coster needs less of it than most vendors, his wares speaking for themselves; but the general seller of small-wares, bootlaces, toys, children’s books, and what not, must have a natural gift, or acquire it as fast as possible. To patter is to rattle off with incredible swiftness and fluency, not only recommendations of the goods themselves, but any side thoughts that occur; and often a street-seller is practically a humorous lecturer, a student of men and morals, and gives the result in shrewd sentences well worth listening to. Half a dozen derivations are assigned to the word, one being that it comes from the rattled off paternosters of the devout but hasty Catholic, who says as many as possible in a given space of time. Be this as it may, it is quite true that pattering is an essential feature of any specially successful street-calling, and equally true that no woman has yet appeared who possesses the gift.

In spite of this nearly fatal deficiency, innumerable women pursue street trades, and, notwithstanding exposure and privation and the scantiest of earnings, have every advantage over their sisters of the needle. Rheumatism, born of bad diet and the penetrating rawness and fogs of eight months of the English year, is their chief enemy; but as a whole they are a strong, hardy, and healthy set of workers, who shudder at the thought of bending all day over machine or needle, and thank the fate that first turned them toward a street-calling. So conservative, however, is working England, that the needlewoman, even at starvation point, feels herself superior to a street-seller; and the latter is quite conscious of this feeling, and resents it accordingly. With many the adoption of such employment is the result of accident, and the women in it divide naturally into four classes: (1) The wives of street-sellers; (2) Mechanics, or laborers’ wives who go out street-selling while their husbands are at work, in order to swell the family income; (3) The widows of former street-sellers; (4) Single women.

Trades that necessitate pushing a heavy barrow, and, indeed, most of those involving the carrying of heavy weights, are in the hands of men, and also the more skilled trades, such as the selling of books or stationery,–in short, the business in which patter is demanded. Occasionally there is a partnership, and man and wife carry on the same trade, she aiding him with his barrow, but for the most part they choose different occupations. In the case of one man in Whitechapel who worked for a sweater; the wife sold water-cresses morning and evening, while the wife of a bobbin turner had taken to small-wares, shoe-laces, etc. as a help. Both tailor and turner declared that, if things went on as they were at present, they should take to the streets also; for earnings were less and less, and they were “treated like dirt, and worse.”

The women whose trades have been noted are dealers in fish, shrimps, and winkles, and sometimes oysters, fruit, and vegetables,–fruit predominating, orange-women and girls being as much a feature of London street life as in the days of pretty Nelly Gwynne. Sheep-trotters, too, are given over to women, with rice-milk, which is a favorite street-dainty, requiring a good deal of preparation; they sell curds and whey, and now and then, though very seldom, they have a coffee or elder-wine stand, the latter being sold hot and spiced, as a preventive of rheumatism and chill. To these sales they add fire-screens and ornaments (the English grate in summer being filled with every order of paper ornamentation), laces, millinery, cut flowers, boot and corset laces, and small-wares of every description, including wash-leathers, dressed and undressed dolls, and every variety of knitted articles, mittens, cuffs, socks, etc.

It will be seen that the range in street trades is far wider for the English than for the American woman, to whom it would almost never occur as a possible means of livelihood. But London holds several thousands of these women, a large proportion Irish, it is true, with a mixture of other nationalities, but English still predominating. The Irishwoman is more fluent, and can even patter in slight degree, but has less intelligence, and confines herself to the lower order of trades. For both Irish and English there is the same deep-seated horror of the workhouse. All winter a young Irishwoman has sat at the corner of a little street opening from the Commercial Road, a basket of apples at her side, and her thin garments no protection against the fearful chill of fog and mist. She had come to London, hoping to find a brother and go over with him to America; but no trace of him could be discovered, and so she borrowed a shilling and became an apple-seller.

“God knows,” she said, “I’d be betther off in the house [workhouse], for it’s half dead I am entirely; but I’d rather live on twopence a day than come to that.”

Practically she was living on very little more. An aunt, also a street-seller, had taken her in. She rented a small room near by, for which they paid two shillings a week, their whole expenses averaging sixpence each a day. Naturally they were half starved; but they preferred this to “the house,” and no one who has examined these retreats can blame them.

It is the poor who chiefly patronize these street-sellers, and they swarm where the poor are massed. The “Borough,” on the Surrey side of the river, with its innumerable little streets and lanes, each more wretched than the last, has hundreds of them, no less than the better-known East End. Leather Lane, one of the most crowded and distinctive of the quarters of the poor, though comparatively little known, has also its network of alleys and courts opening from it, and is one of the most crowded markets in the city, rivalling even Petticoat Lane. The latter, whose time-honored name has foolishly been changed to Middlesex Street, is an old-clothes market, and presents one of the most extraordinary sights in London; but the trade is chiefly in the hands of men, though their wives usually act as assistants and determine the quality of a garment till the masculine sense has been educated up to the proper point. Any very small, very old, and very dirty street at any point has its proportion of street-sellers, whose dark, grimy, comfortless rooms are their refuge at night. Other rooms of a better order are occupied, it may be, by some relative or child to be supported; and higher still rank those that are counted homes, where husband and wife meet when the day’s work is done.

Like the needlewomen, the diet of the majority is meagre and poor to a degree. The Irishwoman is much more ready to try to make the meal hot and relishable than the Englishwoman, though even she confines herself to cheap fish and potatoes, herring or plaice at two a penny.

A quiet, very respectable looking woman, the widow of a coster, sold cakes of blacking and small-wares, and gave her view of this phase of the question.

“It’s cheaper, their way of doing. Oh, yes, but not so livening. I could live cheaper on fish and potatoes than tea and bread and butter; but that ain’t it. They’re more trouble, an’ when you’ve been on your legs all day, an’ get to your bit of a home for a cup of tea, you want a bit of rest, and you can’t be cooking and fussing with fish. There’s always a neighbor to give you a jug of boiling water, if you’ve no time for fire, or it’s summer, and tea livens you up a bit where a herring won’t. I take mine without milk, and like it better without, and often I don’t have butter on me bread. But I get along, and, please God, I’ll be able to keep out of the ‘house’ to the end.”

The married women fare better. The men decline to be put off with bread and tea, and the cook-shops and cheap markets help them to what they call good living. They buy “good block ornaments,” that is, small pieces of meat, discolored but not dirty nor tainted, which are set out for sale on the butcher’s block. Tripe and cowheel are regarded as dainties, and there is the whole range of mysterious English preparations of questionable meat, from sausage and polonies to saveloys and cheap pies. Soup can be had, pea or eel, at two or three pence a pint, and beer, an essential to most of them, is “threepence a pot [quart] in your own jugs.” A savory dinner or supper is, therefore, an easy matter, and the English worker fares better in this respect than the American, for whom there is much less provision in the way of cheap food and cook-shops. In fact the last are almost unknown with us, the cheap restaurant by no means taking their place. Even with bread and tea alone, there is a good deal more nourishment, since English bread is never allowed to rise to the over-lightness which appears an essential to the American buyer. The law with English breads and cakes of whatever nature appears to be to work in all the flour the dough can hold, and pudding must be a slab, and bread compact and dense to satisfy the English palate. Dripping is the substitute for butter, and the children eat the slice of bread and dripping contentedly. Fat of any sort is in demand, the piercing rawness of an English winter seeming to call for heating food no less than that of the Esquimaux for its rations of blubber and tallow. But the majority of the women leave dripping for the children, and if a scrap of butter cannot be had, rest contented with bread and tea, and an occasional pint of beer. For workingwomen as a class, however, there is much less indulgence in this than is supposed. To the men it is as essential as the daily meals, and the women regard it in the same way. “We do well enough with our tea, but a man must have his pint,” they say; and this principle is applied to the children, the girls standing by while the boys take their turn at the “pot of mild.”

This for the best order of workers. Below this line are all grades of indulgence ending with the woman who earns just enough for the measure of gin that will give her a day or an hour of unconsciousness and freedom from any human claim. But the pressure of numbers and of competing workers compels soberness, the steadiest and most capable being barely able to secure subsistence, while below them is every conceivable phase of want and struggle, more sharply defined and with less possibility of remedy than anything found in the approximate conditions on American soil.
Prisoners of Poverty
Helen Campbell, 1889
I have a graduate degree in history and I love history in all it’s forms–especially women’s history. A graduate degree in women’s studies was not an option at the university where I received my MA in History so I had to make do with a more generalized degree. However, in every class I made up for the lack by researching the condition of women in each age that I studied. I have always been fascinated by women’s history, so I thought I would start sharing some of the lost treasures that I uncover. I believe that most people have curious minds and like glimpses of how the world was, and how things were perceived in the past. I firmly believe in the idea that we must remember history in order to learn from it, grow and hopefully cut down on the number of stupid mistakes that random impulse and intellectual curiosity and greed and a thousand other human motivators lead us to make.
Smiles and Good Fortune,
Teresa Thomas Bohannon

It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent.
– W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Woman’s Work Is Never Done - Surviving in Poverty - Shop Girls

“It’s the ladies that’s in the way, mum. Once get a lady to think that a girl isn’t idling because she’s sitting down, and the battle’s won. But a lady comes into a shop blacker ‘n midnight if every soul in it isn’t on their feet and springing to serve her. I’ve got seats, but, bless you! my trade ‘d be ruined if the girls used them much. ‘Tisn’t that I’m not willing, and me brother as well. It’s the customers, the lady customers, that wouldn’t stand it. Its them that you’ve got to talk to.”

Once more it is a woman who is apparently woman’s worst enemy, and London sins far more heavily in this respect than New York, and for a very obvious reason, that of sharply defined lines of caste, and the necessity of emphasizing them felt by all whose position does not speak for itself. A “born lady” on entering a shop where women clerks were sitting, might realize that from eleven to fourteen hours’ service daily might well be punctuated by a few moments on the bits of board pushed in between boxes, which do duty for seats, and be glad that an opportunity had been improved. Not so the wife of the prosperous butcher or baker or candlestick maker, rejoicing, it may be, in the first appearance in plush and silk, and bent upon making it as impressive as possible. To her, obsequiousness is the first essential of any dealing with the order from which she is emerging; and her custom will go to the shop where its outward tokens are most profuse. A clerk found sitting is simply embodied impertinence, and the floor manager who allows it an offender against every law of propriety; and thus it happens that seats are slipped out of sight, and exhausted women smile and ask, as the purchase is made, “And what is the next pleasure?” in a tone that makes the American hearer cringe for the abject humility that is the first condition of success as seller.

Even the best shops are not exempt from this, and as one passes from west to east the ratio increases, culminating in the oily glibness of the bargain-loving Jew, and his no less bargain-loving London brother of Whitechapel, or any other district unknown to fashion.

This, however, is a merely outward phase. The actual wrongs of the system lie deeper, but are soon as apparent. For the shop-girl, as for the needlewoman or general worker of any description whatsoever, over-time is the standing difficulty, and a grievance almost impossible to redress. That an act of parliament forbids the employment of any young person under eighteen more than eleven hours a day, makes small difference. Inspectors cannot be everywhere at once, and violations are the rule. In fact, the law is a dead letter, and the employer who finds himself suddenly arraigned for violation is as indignant as if no responsibility rested upon him. A committee has for many months been doing self-elected work in this direction, registering the names of shops where over-hours are demanded, informing the clerks of the law and its bearings, and urging them to make formal complaint. The same difficulty confronts them here as in the attempts to reduce over-time for tailoresses and general needlewomen–the fear of the workers themselves that any complaint will involve the losing of the situation; and thus silent submission is the rule for all, any revolt bringing upon them instant discharge.

In a prolonged inquiry into the condition of shop-girls in both the West and East End, the needs to be met first of all summed themselves up in four: (1) more seats and far more liberty in the use of them; (2) better arrangements for midday dinner–on the premises if possible, the girls now losing much of the hour in a hurried rush to the nearest eatinghouse; (3) with this, some regularity as to time for dinner, this being left at present to the caprice of the manager, who both delays and shortens time; (4) much greater care in the selection of managers. A fifth point might well be added, that of a free afternoon each week. This has been given by a few London firms, and has worked well in the added efficiency and interest of the girls, but by the majority, is regarded as a wild and very useless innovation.

The first point is often considered as settled, yet for both sides of the sea is actually in much the same case. Seats are kept out of sight, and for the majority of both sellers and buyers, there is the smallest comprehension of the strain of continuous standing, or its final effect. It is the popular conviction that women “get used to it,” and to a certain extent this is true, the strong and robust adjusting themselves to the conditions required. But the majority must spend the larger portion of the week’s earnings on the neat clothing required by the position, and to accomplish this they go underfed to a degree that is half starvation. It is this latter division of shop girls who suffer, not only from varicose veins brought on by long standing, but from many other diseases, the result of the same cause; yet, till women, who come as purchasers to the shops where women are employed, realize and remember this, reform under this head is practically impossible. The employer knows that, even if a few protest against the custom, his trade would suffer were it done away with; and thus buyer and seller form a combination against which revolt is impossible.

The inquiry brought one fact to light, which, so far as I know, has as yet no counterpart in the United States, and this is, that in certain West End shops every girl must conform to a uniform size of waist, this varying from eighteen to twenty inches, but never above twenty. Tall or short, fat or lean, Nature must stand aside, and the hour-glass serve as model, the results simply adding one more factor of destruction to the number already ranged against the girl.

The matter of regular meals has also far less attention than is necessary. Dinner is a “movable feast.” The girls are allowed to go out only two or three at once, and often it is three o’clock or even later before some have broken the fast. Though there is often ample room for tea and coffee urns, the suggestion seems to be regarded as a dangerous innovation, holding under the innocent seeming, a possible social revolution. The thing that hath been shall be, and the obstinate hide-bound conservatism of the English shop-keeper is beyond belief till experience has made it certain. A few employers consider this matter. The majority ignore it as beneath consideration.

The question of suitable floor managers is really the comprehensive one, including almost every evil and every good that can come to the shop girl, whether in the East or West End. Here, as with us, the girl is absolutely in his power. He governs the whole system of fines, one uncomfortable but necessary feature of any large establishment, and injustice in these can have fullest possible play.

“The fines are an awful nuisance, that they are,” said a bright-faced girl in one of the best-known shops of London–a great bazar, much like Macy’s. “But then it all depends on the manager. Some of them are real nasty, you know, and if they happen not to like a girl, they stick on fines just to spite her. You see we’re in their power, and some of them just love to show it and bully the girls no end. And worse than that, they’re impudent too if a girl is pretty, and often she doesn’t dare complain, for fear of losing the place, and he has it all his own way. This department’s got a very fair manager, and we all like him. He’s careful about fines, and plans about our dinners and all that, so we’re better off than most. The manager does what he pleases everywhere.”

These facts are for the West End, where dealings are nominally fair, and where wages may, in some exceptional case, run as high as eighteen shillings or even a pound a week. But the average falls far below this, from ten to fourteen being the usual figures, while seven and eight may be the sum. This, for the girl who lives at home, represents dress and pocket-money, but the great majority must support themselves entirely. We have already seen what this sum can do for the shirt-maker and general needlewoman, and it is easy to judge how the girl fares for whom the weekly wage is less. In the East End it falls sometimes as low as three shillings and sixpence (84c.). The girls club together, huddling in small back rooms, and spending all that can be saved on dress. Naturally, unless with exceptionally keen consciences, they find what is called “sin” an easier fact than starvation; and so the story goes on, and out of greed is born the misery, which, at last, compels greed to heavier poor rates, and thus an approximation to the distribution of the profit which should have been the worker’s.

Here, as in all cities, the place seems to beckon every girl ambitious of something beyond domestic service. There are cheap amusements, “penny-gaffs” and the like, the “penny-gaff” being the equivalent of our dime museum. There is the companionship of the fellow-worker; the late going home through brightly-lighted streets, and the crowding throng of people,–all that makes the alleviation of the East End life; and there is, too, the chance, always possible, of a lover and a husband, perhaps a grade above, or many grades above, their beginning or their present lives. This alone is impulse and hope. It is much the same story for both sides of the sea; and here, as in most cases where woman’s work is involved, it is with women that any change lies, and from their efforts that something better must come.
Prisoners of Poverty
Helen Campbell, 1889
I have a graduate degree in history and I love history in all it’s forms–especially women’s history. A graduate degree in women’s studies was not an option at the university where I received my MA in History so I had to make do with a more generalized degree. However, in every class I made up for the lack by researching the condition of women in each age that I studied. I have always been fascinated by women’s history, so I thought I would start sharing some of the lost treasures that I uncover. I believe that most people have curious minds and like glimpses of how the world was, and how things were perceived in the past. I firmly believe in the idea that we must remember history in order to learn from it, grow and hopefully cut down on the number of stupid mistakes that random impulse and intellectual curiosity and greed and a thousand other human motivators lead us to make.
Smiles and Good Fortune,
Teresa Thomas Bohannon
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent.
– W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Woman’s Work Is Never Done - Surviving in Poverty - Covent Garden Flowers


Now and then, in the long search into the underlying causes of effects which are plain to all men’s eyes, one pauses till the rush of impressions has ceased, and it is possible again to ignore this many-sided, demanding London, which makes a claim unknown to any other city of the earth save Rome. But there is a certain justification in lingering at points where women and children congregate, since their life also is part of the quest, and nowhere can it better be seen than in and about Covent Garden Market,–a thousand thoughts arising as the old square is entered from whatever point.

It is not alone the first days of the pilgrim’s wanderings in London that are filled with the curious sense of home coming that makes up the consciousness of many an American. It is as if an old story were told again, and the heir, stolen in childhood, returned, unrecognized by those about him, but recalling with more and more freshness and certainty the scenes of which he was once a part. The years slip away. Two hundred and more of them lie between, it is true; but not two hundred nor ten times two hundred can blot out the lines of a record in which the struggle and the hope of all English-speaking people was one. For past or present alike, London stands as the fountain-head; and thus, whatever pain may come from the oppressive sense of crowded, swarming life pent up in these dull gray walls, whatever conviction that such a monster mass of human energy and human pain needs diffusion and not concentration, London holds and will hold a fascination that is quite apart from any outward aspect.

To go to a point determined upon beforehand is good. To lose oneself in the labyrinth of lanes and alleys and come suddenly upon something quite as desirable, is even better; and this losing is as inevitable as the finding also becomes. The first perplexity arises from the fact that a London street is “everything by turns and nothing long,” and that a solitary block of buildings owns often a name as long as itself. The line of street which, on the map, appears continuous, gives a dozen changes to the mile, and the pilgrim discovers quickly that he is always somewhere else than at or on the point determined upon. Then the temptation to add to this complication by sudden excursions into shadowy courts and dark little passages is irresistible, not to mention the desire, equally pressing, of discovering at once if Violet Lane and Hop Vine Alley and Myrtle Court have really any relation to their names, or are simply the reaching out of their inhabitants for some touch of Nature’s benefactions. Violet Lane may have had its hedgerows and violets in a day long dead, precisely as hop vines may have flung their pale green bells over cottage paling, for both are far outside the old city limits; but to-day they are simply the narrowest of passages between the grimiest of buildings, given over to trade in its most sordid form, with never a green leaf even to recall the country hedgerows long since only memory.

It is a matter of no surprise, then, to find that Covent Garden holds no hint of its past save in name, though from the noisy Strand one has passed into so many sheltered, quiet nooks unknown to nine tenths of the hurrying throng in that great artery of London, that one half expects to see the green trees and the box-bordered alleys of the old garden where the monks once walked. Far back in the very beginning of the thirteenth century it was the convent garden of Westminster, and its choice fruits and flowers rejoiced the soul of the growers, who planted and pruned with small thought of what the centuries were to bring. Through all chances and changes it remained a garden up to 1621, when much of the original ground had been swallowed up by royal grants, and one duke and another had built his town-house amid the spreading trees; for this “amorous and herbivorous parish,” as Sidney Smith calls it, was one of the most fashionable quarters of London. The Stuart kings and their courts delighted in it, and the square was filled with houses designed by Inigo Jones, the north and east side of the market having an arcade called the “Portico Walk,” but soon changed to the name which it has long borne,–the “Piazza.” The market went on behind these pillars, but year by year, as London grew, pushed itself toward the centre of the square, till now not a foot of vacant space remains. At one of its stalls may still be found an ancient marketman, whose name, Anthony Piazza, is a memory of a parish custom which named after this favorite walk many of the foundling children born in the parish.

There is nothing more curious in all London than the transformations known to this once quiet spot. Drury Lane is close at hand, and Covent Garden Theatre is as well known as the market itself. The convent has become a play-house. “Monks and nuns turn actors and actresses. The garden, formal and quiet, where a salad was cut for a lady abbess, and flowers were gathered to adorn images, becomes a market, noisy and full of life, distributing its thousands of fruits and flowers to a vicious metropolis.” Two quaint old inns are still here; two great national theatres, and a churchyard full of mouldy but still famous celebrities,–the church itself, bare and big, rising above them. In the days of the Stuarts, people prayed to be buried here hardly less than in Westminster Abbey, and the lover of epitaph and monument will find occupation for many an hour. This strange, squat old building, under the shadow of the church, is the market, its hundred columns and chapel-looking fronts always knee-deep and more in baskets and fruits and vegetables, while its air still seems to breathe of old books, old painters, and old authors.

“Night and morning are at meeting,” for Covent Garden makes small distinction between the two, and whether it is a late supper or an early breakfast that the coffee-rooms and stalls are furnishing, can hardly be determined by one who has elected to know how the market receives and how it distributes its supplies. In November fog and mist, or the blackness of early winter, with snow on the ground, or cold rain falling, resolution is needed for such an expedition, and still more, if one would see all that the deep night hides, and that comes to light as the dawn struggles through. This business of feeding a city of four million people seems the simplest and most natural of occupations; but the facts involved are staggering, not alone in the mere matter of quantities and the amazement at the first sight of them, but in the thousands of lives tangled with them. Quantity is the first impression. Every cellar runs over with green stuff, mountains of which come in on enormous wagons and fill up all spaces left vacant, heaving masses of basket stumbling from other wagons and filling with instant celerity. In the great vans pour, from every market garden and outlying district of London, from all England, from the United Kingdom, from all the world, literally; for it is soon discovered that these enormous vehicles on high springs and with immense wheels, drawn by Normandy horses of size and strength to match, are chiefly from the railway stations, and that the drivers, who seem to be built on the same plan as the horses and vans, have big limbs and big voices and a high color, and that the bulging pockets of their velveteen suits show invoices and receipt books.

Not alone from railway stations and trains, from which tons of cabbages, carrots, onions, and all the vegetable tribe issue, but from the docks where steamers from Rotterdam and Antwerp and India and America, and all that lie between, come the contributions, ranged presently in due order in stall and arcade. There is no hint of anything grosser than the great cabbages, which appear to be London’s favorite vegetable. Meat has its place at Smithfield, and fish at Billingsgate, but the old garden is, in one sense, true to its name, and gives us only the kindly fruits of the earth, with their transformations into butter and cheese.

In the central arcade fruit has the honors, and no prettier picture can well be imagined. For once under these gray skies there is a sense of color and light, and there is no surprise in hearing that Turner came here to study both, and that even the artist of to-day does not disdain the same method.

It is the flower-market, however, to which one turns with a certainty gained at once that no disappointment follows intimate acquaintance with English flowers. There are exotics for those who will, but it is not with them that one lingers. It is to the hundreds upon hundreds of flower-pots, in which grow roses and geraniums and mignonette and a score with old-fashioned but forever beloved names. There are great bunches of mignonette for a penny, and lesser bunches of sweet odors for the same coin, while the violets have rows of baskets to themselves, as indeed they need, for scores of buyers flock about them,–little buyers chiefly, with tangled hair and bare feet and the purchase-money tied in some corner of their rags; for they buy to sell again, and having tramped miles it may be to this fountain-head, will tramp other miles before night comes, making their way into court and alley and under sunless doorways, crying “Violets! sweet violets!” as they were cried in Herrick’s time. A ha’penny will buy one of the tiny bunches which they have made up with swift fingers, and they are bought even by the poorest; how, heaven only knows. But, in cracked jug or battered tin, the bunch of violets sweetens the foul air, or the bit of mignonette grows and even thrives, where human kind cannot.

So, though Covent Garden has in winter “flowers at guineas apiece, pineapples at guineas a pound, and peas at guineas a quart,”–these for the rich only,–it has also its possibilities for the poor. They throng about it at all times, for there is always a chance of some stray orange or apple or rejected vegetable that will help out a meal. They throng above all in these terrible days when the “unemployed” are huddling under arches and in dark places where they lay their homeless heads, and where, in the hours between night and morning, the cocoa-rooms open for the hungry drivers of the big vans, who pour down great mugs of coffee and cocoa, and make away with mountains of bread and butter. A penny gives a small mug of cocoa and a slice of bread and butter, and the owner of a penny is rich. Often it is shared, and the sharer, half drunk still, it may be, and foul with the mud and refuse into which he crawled, can hardly be known as human, save for this one gleam of something beyond the human. Gaunt forms barely covered with rags, hollow eyes fierce with hunger, meet one at every turn in this early morning; and for many there is not even the penny, and they wait, sometimes with appeal, but as often silently, the chance gift of the buyer. Food for all the world, it would seem, and yet London is not fed; and having once looked upon these waifs that are floated against the pillars of the old market, one fancies almost a curse on the piles of food that is not for them save as charity gives it, and the flowers that even on graves will never be theirs.

Men and women huddle here, and under the arches, children skulk away like young rats, feeding on offal, lying close in dark corners for warmth, and hunted about also like rats. It is a poverty desperate and horrible beyond that that any other civilized city can show; and who shall say who is responsible, or what the end will be?

So the question lingers with one, as the market is left, and one passes on and out to the Strand and its motley stream of life, lingering through Fleet Street and the winding ways into the City, past St. Paul’s, and still on till London Bridge is reached and the Borough is near. Fare as one may, north or south, west or east, there is no escape from the sullen roar of the great city, a roar like the beat of a stormy sea against cliffs. An hour and more ago, that perplexed and baffled luminary the sun has struggled up through strange shapes and hues of morning cloud, and for a few minutes asserted his right to rule. But the gleam of gold and crimson brought with him has given way to the grays and black which make up chiefly what the Londoners call sky, and over London Bridge one passes on into the dim grayness merging into something darker and more cheerless. On the Borough Road there should be some escape,–that Borough Road on which the Canterbury Pilgrims rode out on a morning less complicated, it is certain, by fog and mist and smoke and soot than mornings that dawn for this generation. Every foot of the way is history; the old Tower at one’s back, and the past as alive as the present. “Merrie England” was at its best, they say, when the pages we know were making; but here as elsewhere, the name is a tradition, belied by every fact of the present.

The old inns along the way still hold their promise of good cheer, and the great kitchens and tap-rooms have seen wild revelry enough; but even for them has been the sight of political or other martyr done to death in their court-yards, while no foot of playground, no matter how much the people’s own, but has been steeped in blood and watered with tears of English matron and maid. If “Merrie England” deserved its name, it must have come from a determination as fixed as Mark Tapley’s, to be jolly under any and all circumstances, and certainly circumstances have done their best to favor such resolution. The peasant of the past, usually represented as dancing heavily about a Maypole, or gazing contentedly at some procession of his lords and masters as it swept by, has no counterpart to-day, nor will his like come again. For here about the old Borough, where every stone means history and the “making of the English people,” there are faces of all types that England holds, but no face yet seen carries any sense of merriment, or any good thing that might bear its name. It is the burden of living that looks from dull eyes and stolid faces, and a hopelessness, unconscious it may be but always apparent, that better things may come. The typical Englishman, as we know him, has but occasional place, and the mass, hurrying to and fro in the midst of this roar of traffic, are thin and eager and restless of countenance as any crowd of Americans in the same type of surroundings. Innumerable little streets, each dingier and more sordid than the last, open on either side. Hot coffee and cocoa cans are at every corner, their shining brass presided over by men chiefly. Here, as throughout East London, sellers of every sort of eatable and drinkable thing wander up and down.

Paris is credited with living most of its life under all men’s eyes, and London certainly may share this reputation as far as eating goes. In fact, working London, taking the poorest class both in pay and rank, has small space at home for much cookery, and finds more satisfaction in the flavor of food prepared outside. The throats, tanned and parched by much beer, are sensitive only to something with the most distinct and defined taste of its own; and so it is that whelks and winkles and mussels and all forms of fish and flesh, that are to the American uneatably strong and unpleasant, make the luxuries of the English poor. They are conservative, also, like all the poor, and prefer old acquaintances to new; and the costers and sellers of all sorts realize this, and seldom go beyond an established list.

It is always “somethin’ ‘ot” that the workman craves; and small wonder, when one has once tested London climate, and found that, nine months out of twelve, fog and mist creep chill into bones and marrow, and that a fire is comfortable even in July. November accents this fact sharply, and by November the pea-soup and eel-soup men are at their posts, and about market and dock, and in lane and alley, the trade is brisk. Near Petticoat Lane, one of the oddest of London’s odd corners, small newsboys rush up and take a cupful as critically as I have seen them take waffles from the old women purveyors of these delicacies about City Hall Park and Park Row, while hungry costers and workmen appear to find it the most satisfactory of meals.

One must have watched the eel baskets at Billingsgate, and then read the annual consumption, before it is possible to understand how street after street has its eel-pie house, and how the stacks of small pies in the windows are always disappearing and always being renewed. It would seem with eel pies as with oysters, of which Sam Weller stated his conviction that the surprising number of shops and stalls came from the fact that the moment a man found himself in difficulties he “rushed out and ate oysters in reg’lar desperation.” It is certain that some of the eaters look desperate enough; but the seller is a middle-aged, quiet-looking man, who eyes his customers sharply, but serves them with generous cupfuls. The sharpness is evidently acquired, and not native, and he has need of it, the London newsboys, who are his best patrons, being ready to drive a bargain as keen as their fellows on the other side of the sea. His stand is opposite a cat’s-meat market, a sausage shop in significant proximity, and he endures much chaffing as to the make-up of his pea soup, which he sells in its season. But it is eels for which the demand is heaviest and always certain, and the eel-soup man’s day begins early and ends late, on Saturdays lasting well into Sunday morning. He is prosperous as such business goes, and buys four “draughts” of eels on a Friday for the Saturday’s work, a “draught” being twenty pounds, while now and then he has been known to get rid of a hundred pounds.

This stall, to which the newsboys flock as being more “stylish” than most of its kind, is fitted with a cast-iron fireplace holding two large kettles of four or five gallon capacity. A dozen pint bowls, or basins as the Englishman prefers to call them, and an equal number of half-pint cups, with spoons for all, constitute the outfit; and even for the poorest establishment of the sort, a capital of not less than a pound is required. This stall has four lamps with “Hot Eels” painted on them, and one side of it is given to whelks, which are boiled at home and always eaten cold with abundance of vinegar, of which the newsboy is prodigal. At times fried fish are added to the stock, but eels lead, and mean the largest profit on the amount invested.

Dutch eels are preferred, and the large buyer likes to go directly to the eel boats at the Billingsgate Wharf and buy the squirming draughts, fresh from the tanks in which they have been brought. To dress and prepare a draught takes about three hours, and the daughter of the stall-owner stands at one side engaged in this operation, cleaning, washing, and cutting up the eels into small pieces from half an inch to an inch long. These are boiled, the liquor being made smooth and thick with flour, and flavored with chopped parsley and mixed spices, principally allspice. For half a penny, from five to seven pieces may be had, the cup being then filled up with the liquor, to which the buyer is allowed to add vinegar at discretion. There is a tradition of one customer so partial to hot eels that he used to come twice a day and take eight cupfuls a day, four at noon and four as a night-cap.

The hot-eel season ends with early autumn, and pea soup takes its place, though a small proportion of eels is always to be had. Split peas, celery, and beef bones are needed for this, and it is here that the cat’s-meat man is supposed to be an active partner. In any case the smell is savory, and the hot steam a constant invitation to the shivering passers-by. This man has no cry of “Hot Eels!” like many of the sellers.

“I touches up people’s noses; ‘t ain’t their heyes or their hears I’m hafter,” he says, though the neat stall makes its own claim on the “heyes.”

In another alley is another pea-soup man, one-legged, but not at all depressed by this or any other circumstance of fate. He makes, or his wife makes, the pea soup at home, and he keeps it hot by means of a charcoal fire in two old tin saucepans.

“Hard work?” he says. “You wouldn’t think so if you’d been on your back seven months and four days in Middlesex Orspital. I was a coal heaver, and going along easy and natural over the plank from one barge to another, and there come the swell from some steamers and throwed up the plank and chucked me off, and I broke my knee against the barge. It’s bad now. I’d ought to ‘ad it hoff, an’ so the surgeons said; but I wouldn’t, an’ me wife wouldn’t, and the bone keeps workin’ out, and I’ve ‘ad nineteen months all told in the ‘orspital, and Lord knows how me wife and the young uns got on. I was bad enough off, I was, till a neighbor o’ mine, a master butcher, told me there was a man up in Clare Market, makin’ a fortune at hot eels and pea soup, and he lent me ten shillings to start in that line. He and me wife’s the best friends I’ve ever had in the world; for I’ve no memory of a mother, and me father died at sea. My oldest daughter, she’s a good un, goes for the eels and cuts ‘em up, and she an’ me wife does all the hard work. I’ve only to sit at the stall and sell, and they do make ‘em tasty. There’s no better. But we’re hard up. I’d do better if I’d a little more money to buy with. I can’t get a draught like some of the men, and them that gets by the quantity can give more. The boys tells me there’s one man gives ‘em as much as eight pieces; that’s what they calls a lumping ha’p'worth. And the liquor’s richer when you boils up so many eels. What’s my tin pot ag’in’ his five-gallon one? There’s even some that boils the ‘eads, and sells ‘em for a farthing a cupful; but I’ve not come to that. But we’re badly off. The missus has a pair o’ shoes, and she offs with ‘em when my daughter goes to market, and my boy the youngest ’s got no shoes; but we do very well, and would do better, only the cheap pie shop takes off a lot o’ trade. I wouldn’t eat them pies. It’s the dead eels that goes into ‘em, and we that handles eels knows well enough that they’re rank poison if they ain’t cut up alive, and the flesh of ‘em squirming still when they goes into the boiling water. Them pies is uncertain, anyway, whatever kind you buy. I’ve seen a man get off a lot a week old, just with the dodge of hot spiced gravy poured out of an oil can into a hole in the lid, and that gravy no more’n a little brown flour and water; but the spice did it. The cat’s-meat men knows; oh, yes! they knows what becomes of what’s left when Saturday night comes, though I’ve naught to say ag’in’ the cat’s-meat men, for it’s a respectable business enough.

“I’ve thought of other ways. There’s the baked-potato men, but the ‘ansome can and fixin’s for keeping ‘em ‘ot is what costs, you see. Trotters is profitable, too, if you’ve a start, that is, though it’s women mostly that ‘andles trotters, blest if I know why! I’ve a cousin in the boiled pudding business–meat puddings and fruit, too;–but it’s all going out, along of the bakers that don’t give poor folks a chance. They has their big coppers, and boils up their puddings by the ‘undred; but I dare say there’s no more need o’ street-sellers, for folks go to shops for most things now. She’s in Leather Lane, this cousin o’ mine, and makes plum-duff as isn’t to be beat; but she sells Saturday nights mostly, and for Sunday dinners. Ginger nuts goes off well, but there again the shops ‘as you, and unless you can make a great show, with brass things shining to put your eyes out, and a stall that looks as well as a shop, you’re nowhere. There’s no chance for the poor anyhow, it seems to me; for even if you get a start, there’s always some one with more money to do the thing better, and so take the bread out of your mouth. But ‘better’ ’s only more show often, and me wife can’t be beat for tastiness, whether it’s hot eels or pea soup, and I’ll say that long as I stand.”

So many small trades have been ruined by the larger shops taking them up, that the street-seller’s case becomes daily a more complicated one, and the making a living by old-fashioned and time-honored methods almost impossible. It is all part of the general problem of the day, and the street-sellers, whether costers or those of lower degree, look forward apprehensively to changes which seem on the way, and puzzle their untaught minds as to why each avenue of livelihood seems more and more barred against them. For the poorest there seems only a helpless, dumb acquiescence in the order of things which they are powerless to change; but the looker-on, who watches the mass of misery crowding London streets or hiding away in attic and cellar, knows that out of such conditions sudden fury and revolt is born, and that, if the prosperous will not heed and help while they may, the time comes when help will be with no choice of theirs. It is plain that even the most conservative begin to feel this, and effort constantly takes more practical form; but this is but the beginning of what must be,–the inauguration of a social revolution in ideas, and one to which all civilization must come.
Prisoners of Poverty
Helen Campbell, 1889
I have a graduate degree in history and I love history in all it’s forms–especially women’s history. A graduate degree in women’s studies was not an option at the university where I received my MA in History so I had to make do with a more generalized degree. However, in every class I made up for the lack by researching the condition of women in each age that I studied. I have always been fascinated by women’s history, so I thought I would start sharing some of the lost treasures that I uncover. I believe that most people have curious minds and like glimpses of how the world was, and how things were perceived in the past. I firmly believe in the idea that we must remember history in order to learn from it, grow and hopefully cut down on the number of stupid mistakes that random impulse and intellectual curiosity and greed and a thousand other human motivators lead us to make.
Smiles and Good Fortune,
Teresa Thomas Bohannon

It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent.
– W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Woman’s Work Is Never Done - Surviving in Poverty - France and England


It is but a narrow streak of silver main that separates the two countries, whose story has been that of constant mutual distrust, varied by intervals of armed truce, in which each nation elected to believe that it understood the other. Not only the nation as a whole, however, but the worker in each, is far from any such possibility; and the methods of one are likely to remain, for a long time to come, a source of bewilderment to the other. That conditions on both sides of the Channel are in many points at their worst, and that the labor problem is still unsolved for both England and the Continent, remains a truth, though it is at once evident to the student of this problem that France has solved one or two phases of the equation over which England is still quite helpless.

There is a famous chapter in the history of Ireland, entitled “Snakes in Ireland,” the contents of which are as follows:–

“There are no snakes in Ireland.”

On the same principle it becomes at once necessary in writing on the slums of Paris, to arrange the summary of the situation: “There are no slums in Paris.”

In the English sense there certainly are none; and for the difference in visible conditions, several causes are responsible. The searcher for such regions discovers before the first day ends that there are none practically; and though now and then, as all byways are visited, one finds remnants of old Paris, and a court or narrow lane in which crime might lurk or poverty hide itself, as a whole there is hardly a spot where sunshine cannot come, and the hideous squalor of London is absolutely unknown. One quarter alone is to be excepted in this statement, and with that we are to deal farther on. The seamstress in a London garret or the shop-worker in the narrow rooms of the East End lives in a gloom for which there is neither outward nor inward alleviation. Soot is king of the great city, and his prime ministers, Smoke and Fog, work together to darken every haunt of man, and to shut out every glimpse of sun or moon. The flying flakes are in the air. Every breath draws them in; every moment leaves its deposit on wall and floor and person. The neatest and most determined fighter of dirt must still be bond slave to its power; and eating and drinking and breathing soot all day and every day, there comes at last an acquiescence in the consequences, and only an instinctive battle with the outward effects.

For the average worker, at the needle at least, wages are too low to admit of much soap; hot water is equally a luxury, and time if taken means just so much less of the scanty pay; and thus it happens that London poverty takes on a hopelessly grimy character, and that the visitor in the house of the workers learns to wear a uniform which shows as little as possible of the results of rising up and sitting down in the soot, which, if less evident in the home of the millionnaire, works its will no less surely.

Fresh from such experience, and with the memory of home and work room, manufactory or great shop, all alike sombre and depressing, the cleanliness of Paris, enforced by countless municipal regulations, is at first a constant surprise. The French workwoman, even of the lowest order, shares in the national characteristic which demands a fair exterior whatever may be the interior condition, and she shares also in the thrift which is equally a national possession, and the exercise of which has freed France from the largest portion of her enormous debt. The English workwoman of the lowest order, the trouser-stitcher or bag-maker, is not only worn and haggard to the eye, but wears a uniform of ancient bonnet and shawl, both of which represent the extremity of dejection. She clings to this bonnet as the type and suggestion of respectability and to the shawl no less; but the first has reached a point wherein it is not only grotesque but pitiful, the remnants of flowers and ribbons and any shadowy hint of ornamentation having long ago yielded to weather and age and other agents of destruction. The shawl or cloak is no less abject and forlorn, both being the badge of a condition from which emergence has become practically impossible. These lank figures carry no charm of womanhood,–nothing that can draw from sweater or general employer more than a sneer at the quality of the labor of those waiting always in numbers far beyond any real demand, until for both the adjective comes to be “superfluous,” and employer and employed alike wonder why the earth holds them, and what good there is in an existence made up simply of want and struggle.

Precisely the opposite condition holds for the French worker, who, in the midst of problems as grave, faces them with the light-heartedness of her nation. She has learned to the minutest fraction what can be extracted from every centime, and though she too must shiver with cold, and go half-fed and half-clothed, every to-morrow holds the promise of something better, and to-day is thus made more bearable. She shares too the conviction, which has come to be part of the general faith concerning Paris, which seems always an embodied assurance, that sadness and want are impossible. Even her beggars, a good proportion of them laboriously made up for the parts they are to fill, find repression of cheerfulness their most difficult task, and smile confidingly on the sceptical observer of their methods, as if to make him a partner in the encouraging and satisfactory nature of things in general. The little seamstress who descends from her attic for the bread with its possible salad or bit of cheese which will form her day’s ration, smiles also as she pauses to feel the thrill of life in the thronging boulevards and beautiful avenues, the long sweeps of which have wiped out for Paris as a whole everything that could by any chance be called slum.

Even in the narrowest street this stir of eager life penetrates, and every Parisian shares it and counts it as a necessity of daily existence. If shoes are too great a luxury, the workwoman clatters along in sabots, congratulating herself that they are cheap and that they never wear out. Custom, long-established and imperative, orders that she shall wear no head-covering, and thus she escapes the revelation bound up in the London worker’s bonnet. Inherited instinct and training from birth have taught her hands the utmost skill with the needle. She makes her own dress, and wears it with an air which may in time transfer itself to something choicer; and this quality is in no whit affected by the the cheapness of the material. It may be only a print or some woollen stuff of the poorest order; but it and every detail of her dress represent something to which the English woman has not attained, and which temperament and every fact of life will hinder her attaining.

As I write, the charcoal-woman has climbed the long flights to the fifth floor, bending under the burden of an enormous sack of charbon à terre, but smiling as she puts it down. She is mistress of a little shop just round the corner, and she keeps the accounts of the wood and coal bought by her patrons by a system best known to herself, her earnings hardly going beyond three francs a day. Even she, black with the coal-dust which she wastes no time in scrubbing off save on Sundays when she too makes one of the throng in the boulevards, faces the hard labor with light-hearted confidence, and plans to save a sou here and there for the dot of the baby who shares in the distribution of coal-dust, and will presently trot by her side as assistant.

In the laundry just beyond, the women are singing or chattering, the voices rising in that sudden fury of words which comes upon this people, and makes the foreigner certain that bloodshed is near, but which ebbs instantly and peacefully, to rise again on due occasion. Long hours, exhausting labor, small wages, make no difference. The best worker counts from three to four francs daily as prosperity, and the rate has even fallen below this; yet they make no complaint, quite content with the sense of companionship, and with the satisfaction of making each article as perfect a specimen of skill as can be produced.

Here lies a difference deeper than that of temperament,–the fact that the French worker finds pleasure in the work itself, and counts its satisfactory appearance as a portion of the reward. Slop work, with its demand for speedy turning out of as many specimens of the poorest order per day as the hours will allow, is repugnant to every instinct of the French workwoman; and thus it happens that even slop work on this side of the Channel holds some hint of ornamentation and the desire to lift it out of the depth to which it has fallen. But it is gaining ground, fierce competition producing this effect everywhere; and the always lessening ratio of wages which attends its production, must in time bring about the same disastrous results here as elsewhere, unless the tide is arrested, and some form of co-operative production takes its place. With the French worker in the higher forms of needle industry we shall deal in the next chapter, finding what differences are to be met here also between French and English methods.
Prisoners of Poverty
Helen Campbell, 1889
I have a graduate degree in history and I love history in all it’s forms–especially women’s history. A graduate degree in women’s studies was not an option at the university where I received my MA in History so I had to make do with a more generalized degree. However, in every class I made up for the lack by researching the condition of women in each age that I studied. I have always been fascinated by women’s history, so I thought I would start sharing some of the lost treasures that I uncover. I believe that most people have curious minds and like glimpses of how the world was, and how things were perceived in the past. I firmly believe in the idea that we must remember history in order to learn from it, grow and hopefully cut down on the number of stupid mistakes that random impulse and intellectual curiosity and greed and a thousand other human motivators lead us to make.
Smiles and Good Fortune,
Teresa Thomas Bohannon

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Woman’s Work Is Never Done - Surviving in Poverty - French Bargain Counters


“Yes, it is the great shops that have done that, madame. Once, you saw what was only well finished and a credit to the worker, and, even if the reward was small, she had pride in the work and her own skill, and did always her best. But now, what will you? The thing must be cheap, cheapest. The machine to sew hurries everything, and you find the workwoman sans ambition and busy only to hurry and be one with the machine. It is wrong, all wrong, but that is progress, and one must submit. When the small shops had place to live, and the great magasins were not for ladies or any who wished the best, then it was different, but now all is changed, and work has no character. It is all the same; always the machine.”

More than once this plaint has been made, and the sewing-machine accused as the cause of depression in wages, of deterioration of all hand needlework, and of the originality that once distinguished French productions; and there is some truth in the charge, not only for Paris, but for all cities to which needlewomen throng. Machinery has gradually revolutionized all feminine industries in Paris, and its effect is not only on the general system of wages, but upon the moral condition of the worker, and family life as a whole has become to the student of social questions one of gravest importance. On the one hand is the conviction, already quoted, that it has brought with it deterioration in every phase of the work; on the other, that it is an educating and beneficent agent, raising the general standard of wages, and putting three garments where once but one could be owned. It is an old story, and will give food for speculation in the future, quite as much as in the past. But in talking with skilled workers, from dressmakers to the needlewomen employed on trousseaux and the most delicate forms of this industry, each has expressed the same conviction, and this quite apart from the political economist’s view that there must be a return to hand production, if the standard is not to remain hopelessly below its old place. Such return would not necessarily exclude machinery, which must be regarded as an indispensable adjunct to the worker’s life. It would simply put it in its proper place,–that of aid, but never master. It is the spirit of competition which is motive power to-day, and which drives the whirring wheels and crowds the counters of every shop with productions which have no merit but that of cheapness, and the price of which means no return to the worker beyond the barest subsistence.

Subsistence in Paris has come to mean something far different from the facts of a generation ago. Wages have always been fixed at a standard barely above subsistence; but, even under these conditions, French frugality has succeeded not only in living, but in putting by a trifle month by month. As the great manufactories have sprung up, possibilities have lessened and altered, till the workwoman, however cheerfully she may face conditions, knows that saving has become impossible. If, in some cases, wages have risen, prices have advanced with them till only necessities are possible, the useful having dropped away from the plan, and the agreeable ceased to have place even in thought. Even before the long siege, and the semi-starvation that came to all within the walls of Paris, prices had been rising, and no reduction has come which even approximates to the old figures. Every article of daily need is at the highest point, sugar alone being an illustration of what the determination to protect an industry has brought about. The London workwoman buys a pound for one penny, or at the most twopence. The French workwoman must give eleven or twelve sous, and then have only beet sugar, which has not much over half the saccharine quality of cane sugar. Flour, milk, eggs, all are equally high, meat alone being at nearly the same prices as in London. Fruit is a nearly impossible luxury, and fuel so dear that shivering is the law for all but the rich, while rents are also far beyond London prices, with no “improved dwellings” system to give the utmost for the scanty sum at disposal. For the needlewoman the food question has resolved itself into bread alone, for at least one meal, with a little coffee, chiefly chicory, and possibly some vegetable for the others. But many a one lives on bread for six days in the week, reserving the few sous that can be saved for a Sunday bit of meat, or bones for soup. Even the system which allows of buying “portions,” just enough for a single individual, is valueless for her, since the smallest and poorest portion is far beyond the sum which can never be made to stretch far enough for such indulgence.

“I have tried it, madame,” said the same speaker, who had mourned over the degeneration of finish among the workwomen. “It was the siege that compelled it in the beginning, and then there was no complaining, since it was the will of the good God for all. But there came a time when sickness had been with me long, and I found no work but to stitch in my little room far up under the roof, and all the long hours bringing so little,–never more than two and a half francs, and days when it was even less; and then I found how one must live. I was proud, and wished to tell no one; but there was an ouvrière next me, in a little room, even smaller than mine, and she saw well that she could help, and that together some things might be possible that were not alone. She had her furnace for the fire, and we used it together on the days when we could make our soup, or the coffee that I missed more than all,–more, even, than wine, which is for us the same as water to you. It was months that I went not beyond fifty centimes a day for food, save the Sundays, and then but little more, since one grows at last to care little, and a good meal for one day makes the next that is wanting harder, I think, than when one wants always. But I am glad that I know; so glad that I could even wish the same knowledge for many who say, ‘Why do they not live on what they earn? Why do they not have thrift, and make ready for old age?’ Old age comes fast, it is true. Such years as I have known are double, yes, and treble, and one knows that they have shortened life. But when I say now ‘the poor,’ I know what that word means, and have such compassion as never before. It is the workers who are the real poor, and for them there is little hope, since it is the system that must change. It is the middleman who makes the money, and there are so many of them, how can there be much left for the one who comes last, and is only the machine that works?

“All that is true of England, and I have had two years there, and thus know well; all that is true, too, here, though we know better how we can live, and not be always so triste and sombre. But each day, as I go by the great new shops that have killed all the little ones, and by the great factory where electricity makes the machines go, and the women too become machines,–each day I know that these counters, where one can buy for a song, are counters where flesh and blood are sold. For, madame, it is starvation for the one who has made these garments; and why must one woman starve that another may wear what her own hands could make if she would? Everywhere it is occasions [bargains] that the great shops advertise. Everywhere they must be more and more, and so wages lessen, till there is no more hope of living; and, because they lessen, marriage waits, and all that the good God meant for us waits also.”

On the surface it is all well. There is less incompetency among French than English workers, and thus the class who furnish them need less arraignment for their lack of thoroughness. They contend, also, with one form of competition, which has its counterpart in America among the farmers’ wives, who take the work at less than regular rates. This form is the convent work, which piles the counters, and is one of the most formidable obstacles to better rates for the worker. Innumerable convents make the preparation of underwear one of their industries, and, in the classes of girls whom they train to the needle, find workers requiring no wages, the training being regarded as equivalent. Naturally, their prices can be far below the ordinary market one, and thus the worker, benefited on the one hand, is defrauded on the other. In short, the evil is a universal one,–an integral portion of the present manufacturing system,–and its abolition can come only from roused public sentiment, and combination among the workers themselves.
Prisoners of Poverty
Helen Campbell, 1889
I have a graduate degree in history and I love history in all it’s forms–especially women’s history. A graduate degree in women’s studies was not an option at the university where I received my MA in History so I had to make do with a more generalized degree. However, in every class I made up for the lack by researching the condition of women in each age that I studied. I have always been fascinated by women’s history, so I thought I would start sharing some of the lost treasures that I uncover. I believe that most people have curious minds and like glimpses of how the world was, and how things were perceived in the past. I firmly believe in the idea that we must remember history in order to learn from it, grow and hopefully cut down on the number of stupid mistakes that random impulse and intellectual curiosity and greed and a thousand other human motivators lead us to make.
Smiles and Good Fortune,
Teresa Thomas Bohannon

It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent.
– W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Woman’s Work Is Never Done - Surviving in Poverty - The City of the Sun


 It is only with weeks of experience that the searcher into the under world of Paris life comes to any sense of real conditions, or discovers in what directions to look for the misery which seldom floats to the surface, and which even wears the face of content. That there are no slums, and that acute suffering is in the nature of things impossible, is the first conviction, and it remains in degree even when both misery and its lurking-places have become familiar sights. Paris itself, gay, bright, beautiful, beloved of every dweller within its walls, so dominates that shadows seem impossible, and as one watches the eager throng in boulevard or avenue, or the laughing, chattering groups before even the poorest café, other life than this sinks out of sight. The most meagrely paid needlewoman, the most overworked toiler in trades, indoors or out, seizes any stray moment for rest or small pleasures, and from a half-franc bottle of wine, or some pretence of lemonade or sugar water, extracts entertainment for half a dozen. The pressure in actual fact remains the same. Always behind in the shadow lurks starvation, and there is one street, now very nearly wiped out, known to its inhabitants still as “la rue où l’on ne meurt jamais”–the street where one never dies, since every soul therein finds their last bed in the hospital. This is the quartier Mouffetard, where bits of old Paris are still discernible, and where strange trades are in operation; industries which only a people so pinched and driven by sharp necessity could ever have invented.

The descent to these is a gradual one, and most often the women who are found in them have known more than one occupation, and have been, in the beginning at least, needlewomen of greater or less degree of skill. Depression of wages, which now are at the lowest limit of subsistence, drives them into experiments in other directions, and often failing sight or utter weariness of the monotonous employment is another cause. These form but a small proportion of such workers, who generally are a species of guild, a family having begun some small new industry and gradually drawn in others, till a body of workers in the same line is formed, strong enough to withstand any interlopers.

“What becomes of the women who are too old to sew, and who have never gained skill enough to earn more than a bare living?” I asked one day of a seamstress whose own skill was unquestioned, but who, even with this in her favor, averages only three francs a day.

“They do many things, madame. One who is my neighbor is now scrubber and cleaner, and is happily friends with a ‘concierge,’ who allows her to aid him. That is a difficulty for all who would do that work. It is that the ‘concierges,’ whether men or women, think that any pay from the ‘locataires’ must be for them; and so they will never tell the tenant of a woman who seeks work, but will say always, ‘It is I who can do it all. One cannot trust these from the outside.’ But for her, as I say, there is opportunity, and at last she has food, when as ‘couturière’ it was quite–yes, quite impossible. There was a child, an idiot–the child of her daughter who is dead, and from whom she refuses always to be separated, and she sews always on the sewing-machine, till sickness comes, and it is sold for rent and many things. She is proud. She has not wished to scrub and clean, but for such work is twenty-five centimes an hour, and often food that the tenant does not wish. At times they give her less, and in any case one calculates always the time and watches very closely, but for her, at least, is more money than for many years; sometimes even three francs, if a day has been good. But that is but seldom, and she must carry her own soap and brush, and pay for all.

“That is one way, and there is another that fills me with terror, madame, lest I, too, may one day find myself in it. It is last and worst of all for women, I think. It is when they wear ‘le cachemire d’osier.’ You do not know it, madame. It is the chiffonieress basket which she bears as a badge, and which she hangs at night, it may be, in the City of the Sun. Voila, madame. There are now two who are on their way. If madame has curiosity, it is easy to follow them.”

“But the City of the Sun? What is that? Do you mean Paris?”

“No, madame. It is a mockery like the ‘cachemire d’osier.’ You will see.”

It is in this following that the polished veneer which makes the outward Paris showed what may lie beneath. Certainly, no one who walks through the Avenue Victor Hugo, one of the twelve avenues radiating from the Arc de Triomphe, and including some of the gayest and most brilliant life of modern Paris, the creation of Napoleon III. and of Baron Haussman, would dream that hint of corruption could enter in. The ancient Rue de la Révolte has changed form and title, and the beautiful avenue is no dishonor to its present name. But far down there opens nearly imperceptibly a narrow alley almost subterranean, and it is through this alley that the two figures which had moved silently down the avenue passed and went on; the man solid and compact, as if well-fed, his face as he turned, however, giving the lie to such impression, but his keen alert eyes seeing every shade of difference in the merest scrap of calico or tufts of hair. For the woman, it was plain to see why the needle had been of small service, her wandering, undecided blue eyes passing over everything to which the man’s hook had not first directed her.

Through the narrow way the pair passed into a sombre court, closed at the end by a door of wood with rusty latch, which creaks and objects as one seeks to lift it. Once within, and the door closed, the place has no reminder of the Paris just without. On the contrary, it might be a bit from the beggars’ quarter in a village of Syria or Palestine, for here is only a line of flat-roofed huts, the walls whitewashed, the floors level with the soil, and the sun of the warm spring day pouring down upon sleeping dogs, and heaps of refuse alternating with piles of rags, in the midst of which work two or three women, silent at present, and barely looking up as the new comers lay down their burdens. A fat yet acrid odor rises about these huts, drawn out from the rags by the afternoon heat; yet, repulsive as it is, there is more sense of cleanliness about it than in the hideous basements where the same trade is plied in London or New York. There is a space here not yet occupied by buildings. The line of huts faces the south; a fence encloses them; and so silent and alone seems the spot that it is easy to understand why it bears its own individual name, and to the colony of chiffoniers who dwell here has long been known as the City of the Sun. Doors stand open freely; honesty is a tradition of this profession; and the police know that these delvers in dust heaps will bring to them any precious object found therein, and that he who should remove the slightest article from one of these dwellings would be banished ignominiously and deprived of all rights of association.

These huts are all alike; two rooms, the larger reserved for the bed, the smaller for kitchen, and in both rags of every variety. In the corner is a heap chiefly of silk, wool, and linen. This is the pile from which rent is to come, and every precious bit goes to it, since rent here is paid in advance,–three francs a week for the hut alone, and twenty francs a month if a scrap of court is added in which the rags can be sorted. On a fixed day the proprietor appears, and, if the sum is not ready, simply carries off the door and windows, and expels the unlucky tenant with no further formality. How the stipulated amount is scraped together, only the half-starved chiffoniers know, since prices have fallen so that the hundred kilogrammes (about two hundred pounds) of rags, which, before the war, sold for eighty francs, to-day bring precisely eight.

“In a good day, madame,” said the woman, “we can earn three francs. We are always together, I and my man, and we never cease. But the dead season comes, that is, the summer, when Paris is in the country or at the sea; then we can earn never more than two francs, and often not more than thirty sous, when they clean the streets so much, and so carry away everything that little is left for us. It is five years that I have followed my man, and he is born to it, and works always, but the time is changed. There is no more a living in this, or in anything we can do. I have gone hungry when it is the sewing that I do, and I go hungry now, but I am not alone. It is so for all of us, and we care not if only the children are fed. They are not, and it is because of them that we suffer. See, madame, this is the child of my niece, who came with me here, and has also her man, but never has any one of them eaten to the full, even of crusts, which often are in what we gather.”

The child ran toward her,–a girl three or four years old, wearing a pair of women’s shoes ten times too large, and the remainder of a chemise. Other clothing had not been attempted, or was not considered necessary, and the child looked up with hollow eyes and a face pinched and sharpened by want, while the swollen belly of the meagre little figure showed how wretched had been the supply they called food. All day these children fare as they can, since all day the parents must range the streets collecting their harvest; but fortunately for such future as they can know, these little savages, fighting together like wild animals, have within the last twenty years been gradually gathered into free schools, the work beginning with a devoted woman, who, having seen the City of the Sun, never rested till a school was opened for its children. All effort, however, was quite fruitless, till an old chiffonier, also once a seamstress, united with her, and persuaded the mothers that they must prepare their children, or, at least, not prevent them from going. At present the school stands as one of the wisest philanthropies of Paris, but neither this, nor any other attempt to better conditions, alters the fact that twelve and fourteen hours of labor have for sole result from thirty to forty sous a day, and that this sum represents the earnings of the average women-workers of Paris, the better class of trades and occupations being no less limited in possibilities.