THE JOB LADY
From: How To Write Special Feature Articles
(Category: PART II
GIVES THE YOUNG WAGE-EARNER A FAIR WORKING CHANCE
BY MARY E. TITZEL
The Jones School, the oldest public school building in Chicago, is at
Harrison Street and Plymouth Court. When it was new, it was surrounded
by "brown-stone fronts," and boys and girls who to-day are among the
city's most influential citizens learned their A-B-C's within its walls.
Now, the office-buildings and printing-houses and cheap hotels and
burlesque shows that mark the noisy, grimy district south of the "loop"
crowd in upon it; and only an occasional shabby brown-stone front
survives in the neighborhood as a tenement house. But in the Jones
School, the process of making influential citizens is still going on.
For there the "Job Lady" has her office, her sanctum.
Job Lady is a generic term that includes Miss Anne Davis, director of
the Bureau of Vocational Supervision, and her four assistants. The
Bureau--which is the newest department of Chicago's school system--is
really an employment agency, but one that is different from any other
employment agency in the United States. It is concerned solely with a
much-neglected class of wage-earners--children from fourteen to sixteen
years of age; and its chief purpose is, not to find positions for its
"patrons," but to keep them in school.
It was founded as a result of the discovery that there were not nearly
enough jobs in Chicago to go around among the twelve or fifteen thousand
children under sixteen years of age who left school each year to go to
work; also that, though a statute of the State required a child either
to work or to go to school, there were about twenty-three thousand
youngsters in the city who were doing neither. The law had made no
provision for keeping track of the children once they had left school.
No one knew what had become of them. So Miss Davis, acting as special
investigator for the School of Civics and Philanthropy and the Chicago
Women's Club, set to work to find out.
She discovered--and she can show you statistics to prove it--that
"bummin'" around, looking aimlessly for work, brought many a boy and
girl, unable to withstand the temptations of the street, into the
Juvenile Court. And she found, as other statistics bear witness, that
the fate of the children who found jobs was scarcely better than that of
their idle brothers and sisters. Undirected, they took the first
positions that offered, with the result that most of them were engaged
in "blind-alley" occupations, unskilled industries that offered little,
if any, chance for advancement and that gave no training for the future.
The pay was poor; it averaged two dollars a week. Working conditions
were frequently unhealthful. Moral influences of shop and factory and
office were often bad. For the most part, the industries that employed
children were seasonal; and many boys and girls were forced into long
periods of inactivity between positions. This state of affairs, combined
with a natural tendency to vary the monotony of life by shifting, on the
slightest pretext, from one job to another, was making of many children
that bane of modern industry, the "casual" laborer.
The Bureau--started informally in the course of initial investigations
and kept alive through the grace of the Women's Club, until the Board of
Education was ready to adopt it--has been able to do much in
amelioration of the lot of the fourteen-to-sixteen-year-old worker. But
no statistics it can produce are as telling as the sight of the Bureau
in operation. Sit with your eyes and ears open, in a corner of the
office in the Jones School and you will make the acquaintance of one of
the humanest employment agencies in the world; also you will learn more
about such grave subjects as the needs of our educational system and the
underlying causes of poverty than you can learn out of fat treatises in
"Why do you want to leave school?" That is the first question the Job
Lady asks of each new applicant who comes to the Bureau for work.
Perhaps the child has heard that question before; for in those schools
from which the greatest numbers of children go out at the age of
fourteen, Miss Davis and her assistants hold office hours and interview
each boy or girl who shows signs of restlessness. They give informal
talks to the pupils of the sixth and seventh grades about the
opportunities open to boys and girls under sixteen; they discuss the
special training offered by the schools and show the advisability of
remaining in school as long as possible; they try to find an opportunity
of talking over the future with each member of the graduating class.
But even when the way has been paved for it, the question, "Why do you
want to leave school?" brings to light the most trivial of reasons. In
very few cases is it economic necessity that drives a child to work.
"I ain't int'rusted," explained one boy to Miss Davis. "I jest sits."
The Job Lady is often able to convince even the sitters that school is,
after all, the best place for boys and girls under sixteen. She
persuaded between twenty-five and thirty per cent. of the children that
applied at the Bureau last year to return to school. Sometimes all she
had to do was to give the child a plain statement of the facts in the
case--of the poor work and poor pay and lack of opportunity in the
industries open to the fourteen-year-old worker. Often she found it
necessary only to explain what the school had to offer. One boy was sent
to Miss Davis by a teacher who had advised him to go to work, although
he had just completed the seventh grade, because he had "too much
energy" for school! He was a bright boy--one capable of making something
of himself, if the two important, formative years that must pass before
he was sixteen were not wasted; so he was transferred from his school to
one where vocational work was part of the curriculum--where he could
find an outlet for his superfluous energy in working with his hands. Now
he is doing high-school work creditably; and he has stopped talking
about leaving school.
But it isn't always the whim of the child that prompts him to cut short
his education. Sometimes he is driven into the industrial world by the
ignorance or greed of his parents. Miss Davis tells of one little girl
who was sacrificed to the great god Labor because the four dollars she
brought home weekly helped to pay the instalments on a piano, and of a
boy who was taken from eighth grade just before graduation because his
father had bought some property and needed a little extra money.
Frequently boys and girls are put to work because of the impression
that schools have nothing of practical value to offer.
Still, even the most miserly and most stubborn and most ignorant of
parents can sometimes be made to see the wisdom of keeping a child in
school until he is sixteen. They are won to the Job Lady's point of view
by a statement of the increased opportunity open to the child who is
sixteen. Or they are brought to see that the schools are for _all_
children, and that work, on the contrary, is very bad for some children.
But often all the Job Lady's efforts fail. The child is incurably sick
of school, the parent remains obdurate. Or, perhaps, there is a very
real need of what little the son or daughter can earn. Often some one
can be found who will donate books, or a scholarship ranging from
car-fare to a few dollars a week. Over four hundred dollars is being
given out in scholarships each month, and every scholarship shows good
returns. But often no scholarship is forthcoming; and there is nothing
for the Job Lady to do but find a position for the small applicant.
Then begins the often difficult process of fitting the child to some
available job. The process starts, really, with fitting the job to the
child, and that is as it should be. The Job Lady always tries to place
the boys and girls that come to her office where there will be some
chance for them to learn something. But jobs with a "future" are few for
the fourteen-year-old worker. The trades will not receive apprentices
under the age of sixteen; business houses and the higher-grade factories
won't bother with youngsters, because they are too unreliable; as one
man put it, with unconscious irony, too "childish." So the Job Lady must
be content to send the boys out as office and errand boys or to find
employment for the girls in binderies and novelty shops. But she
investigates every position before a child is sent to fill it; and if it
is found to be not up to standard in wages or working conditions, it is
crossed off the Bureau's list.
The Job Lady has established a minimum wage of four dollars a week. No
children go out from the Bureau to work for less than that sum,
excepting those who are placed in the part-time schools of some printing
establishments, or in dressmaking shops, where they will be learning a
useful trade. This informal minimum-wage law results in a raising of the
standard of payment in a shop.
In such manner, the Bureau makes over many a job to fit the worker. But
the fitting process works both ways. The Job Lady knows that it is
discouraging, often demoralizing, for a child to be turned away, just
because he is not the "right person" for a place. So she tries to make
sure that he _is_ the right person. That she succeeds very often, the
employers who have learned to rely on the Bureau will testify.
"If you haven't a boy for me now," one man said to Miss Davis, "I'll
wait until you get one. It will save time in the end, for you always
send just the boy I want."
The secret of finding the right boy lies, first of all, in discovering
what he wants to do; and, next, in judging whether or not he can do it.
Very often, he has not the least idea of what he wants to do. He has
learned many things in school, but little or nothing of the industrial
world in which he must live. To many boys and girls, especially to those
from the poorest families, an "office job" is the acme of desire. It
means to them, pitifully enough, a respectability they have never been
quite able to encompass. As a result, perhaps, of our slow-changing
educational ideals, they scorn the trades.
Into the trades, however, Miss Davis finds it possible to steer many a
boy who is obviously unfitted for the career of lawyer, bank clerk, or,
vaguely, "business man." And she is able to place others in the coveted
office jobs, with their time-honored requirement: "only the neat,
honest, intelligent boy need apply."
Often, given the honesty and intelligence, she must manufacture a child
to fit the description. Sometimes all that is necessary is a hint about
soap and water and a clean collar. Sometimes the big cupboard in her
office must yield up a half-worn suit or a pair of shoes that some
luckier boy has outgrown. Occasionally, hers is the delicate task of
suggesting to a prematurely sophisticated little girl that some
employers have an unreasonable prejudice against rouge and earrings; or
that even the poorest people can wash their underwear. Manners
frequently come in for attention.
When the boys or girls are placed, the Bureau, unlike most employment
agencies, does not wash its hands of them. Its work has only begun. Each
child is asked to report concerning his progress from time to time; and
if he does not show up, a vocational supervisor keeps track of him by
visits to home or office, or by letters, written quarterly. The Job Lady
is able to observe by this method, whether or not the work is suitable
for the child, or whether it offers him the best available chance; and
she is often able to check the habit of "shifting" in its incipient
stages. She is continually arbitrating and making adjustments, always
ready to listen to childish woes and to allay them when she can.
Not long ago, I went to a conference on Vocational Guidance. There I
heard, from the mouths of various men, what hope the work being done by
the Bureau held for the future. One showed how it had infused new blood
into the veins of an anemic educational system, how it was making the
schools a more efficient preparation for life--the life of factory and
shop and office--than they ever had been before.
Another man pointed out that the Bureau, through the schools, would
strike at one of the deep roots of poverty--incompetency. More people
are poor for lack of proper equipment to earn a living and proper
direction in choosing a vocation, he said, than for any other one
A third man saw in the Vocational Bureau a means of keeping a control
over employing interests. "You treat our children well, and you pay them
well," the schools of the future, he declared, would be able to say to
the employer, as the Bureau was already saying, "or we won't permit our
children to work for you." A fourth had a vision of what the Bureau and
the new education it heralded could do toward educating the men and
women of the future to a knowledge of their rights as workers.
And then there came a man with a plea. "All of these things," he said,
"the Bureau can accomplish--must accomplish. But let us not forget, in
our pursuance of great ends, that it is the essential _humanness_ of the
Bureau that has made it what it is."
Here was the final, immeasurable measure of its success. It counts, of
course, that the Job Lady helps along big causes, drives at the roots of
big ills; but, somehow it counts more that an anxious-faced youngster I
saw at the Bureau should have brought his woes to her. His employer had
given him a problem to solve--and he couldn't do it. He was afraid he'd
lose his job. He had never been to the Bureau before, but "a boy you got
a job for said you'd help me out," he explained--and he was sent off
happy, the problem solved.
It counts too, that Tillie, who had once found work through the Bureau,
but was now keeping house for her father, should turn to the Bureau for
aid. Her father had been sick and couldn't afford to buy her anything
new to wear. "My dress is so clumsy," she wrote, "that the boys laugh at
me when I go out in the street." She was confident that the Job Lady
would help her--and her confidence was not misplaced. It counts that
the Jameses and Henrys and Johns and Marys and Sadies come, brimming
over with joy, to tell the Job Lady of a "raise" or of a bit of
approbation from an employer. All the funny, grateful, pathetic letters
that pour in count unspeakably!
To hundreds of boys and girls and parents the Job Lady has proved a
friend. There has been no nonsense about the matter. She has not
sentimentalized over her work; she has not made it smack of charity.
Indeed, there is no charity about it. The boys and girls and parents who
come to the Job Lady are, for the most part, just average boys and girls
and parents, as little paupers as millionaires. They are the people who
are generally lost sight of in a democracy, where one must usually be
well-to-do enough to, buy assistance, or poor enough to accept it as
alms, if he is to have any aid at all in solving the problems of life.
It is a great thing for the schools, through the Bureau, to give to
these average men and women and children practical aid in adjusting
their lives to the conditions under which they live and work, and to do
it with a sympathy and an understanding--a humanness that warms the
* * * * *
_(Kansas City Star)_
Two illustrations with the captions:
1. "Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher," an Illustration in
the "Adventures of Tom Sawyer" (Harpers), which met the
2. Mrs. Laura Frazer, the Original "Becky Thatcher," Pouring
Tea at Mark Twain's Boyhood Home in Hannibal, Mo.,
on the Anniversary of the Author's Birth.
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