A NEW POLITICAL WEDGE





THE WAY ST. LOUIS WOMEN DROVE A NINE-HOUR DAY INTO THE LAW



BY INIS H. WEED



It was the evening before the state primaries--a sweltering

first of August night in the tenement district of St. Louis, where

the factory people eat their suppers and have their beds. Men

in shirt-sleeves and women with babies sat on the steps for a

breath of air, and the streets were a noisy welter of children.



Two of the most enthusiastic girls in the Women's Trade

Union League stopped before the group silhouetted in the gaslight

at No. 32 and handed the men in the group this card:





REPUBLICAN VOTERS

-----------------

It is the Women and Children that are the Victims of Manufacturers

and Manufacturers Associations

and it is the

WORKING WOMAN AND CHILD

that demands your protection at the

PRIMARIES, TUESDAY, AUGUST 2nd

Scratch

-------

E.J. Troy

Secretary St. Louis Manufacturers Association and run by them on the

Republican Ticket for the Legislature in the 1st District Comprising

WARDS 10, 11, 2,13, and 24. Precincts 14 of the 15th WARD. Precincts 1,

2, 3 of the 23rd WARD. Precincts 1, 2 of the 15th WARD. Precincts 6, 7,

10, 11, 12, 13 of the 14th WARD. Precincts 1, 4, 5 of the 9th Ward





"So yez would be afther havin' me scratch Misther Troy?" Mike Ryan ran

his fingers through his stubby crop with a puzzled air. "Oi'm always fur

plazin' the loidies, but Misther Troy, he's a frind o' mine. Shure, he

shmokes a grand cigar, an' he shakes yer hand that hearty."



So Mike belonged to the long, long glad-hand line. Well, _personal_

arguments were necessary in his case then. That was the way the girls

sized up Mike Ryan.



"But this ticket has something to do with your oldest girl."



"With Briddie?"



"It sure does, Mr. Ryan. Didn't I hear your wife tellin' what with the

hard times an' all, you'd be puttin' Briddie in the mill this winter as

soon as ever she's turned fourteen? Wouldn't you rather they worked her

nine hours a day instead o' ten--such a soft little kid with such a lot

o' growin' to do? There's a lot of us goin' to fight for a Nine-Hour

Bill for the women and children this winter, an' do you think a

manufacturers' representative, like Troy, is goin' to help us? Look at

his record! See how he's fought the employees' interests in the

legislature! That's a part of his job! _He_ won't vote for no Nine-Hour

Bill!"



And the two girls went on to the next tenement.



They were only two of the hundreds of Trade Union girls who were "doing"

the First Electoral District (about one-third of St. Louis) on the eve

of the primaries. They were thorough. They had the whole district

organized on the block system, and they went over each block house by

house.



_A new move, is it not, this carefully organized effort of factory women

to secure justice through the ballot-box?_



How have St. Louis women attained this clear vision that their

industrial future is bound up in politics? It is a three years' story.

Let us go back a little.



St. Louis is essentially a conservative city. First, it was an old

French town; then a Southern town; then a German tradesman's town. With

such strata superimposed one above the other, it could hardly be other

than conservative. In addition, St. Louis was crippled in the war

between the states. She lost her market. This made her slow.



In the 'eighties, this old French-Southern-German city began to recover

from the ruin of her Southern trade. Little by little she took heart,

for the great Southwest was being settled. There was a new field in

which to build up trade. To-day St. Louis is _the_ great wholesale and

jobbing depot, _the_ manufacturing city for that vast stretch of

territory known as the Southwest.



Since 1890, great fortunes have been amassed--most of them, indeed, in

the past ten years. There has been a rapid growth of industry. The old

Southern city has become a soft-coal factory center. A pall of smoke

hangs over the center of the city where the factories roar and pound.

In the midst of this gloom the workfolk are creating rivers of beer,

carloads of shoes and woodenware, millions of garments and bags, and the

thousand and one things necessary to fill the orders of hundreds of

traveling salesmen in the Southwest territory--and in the South, too,

for St. Louis is winning back some of her old-time trade.



And the toil of their lifting hands and flying fingers has wrought a

golden age for the men who control the capital and the tools. The men

who manage have been shaking hands in their clubs for the past decade

and congratulating themselves and each other over their drinks. "Yes,

St. Louis is a grand old business town. Solid! No mushroom real-estate

booms, you know, but a big, steady growth. New plants starting every

month and the old ones growing. Then, when we get our deep waterway,

that's going to be another big shove toward prosperity.



"Nice town to live in, too! Look at our handsome houses and clubs and

public buildings. Never was anything like our World's Fair in the

history of men--never! Look at our parks, too. When we get 'em linked

together with speedways, where'll you find anything prettier?" Thus the

money-makers in this heavy German town.



But what about the employees--the clerks and the factory workers? Have

they been "in" on this "big shove toward prosperity?" Have they found it

a "nice" town to live in?



No, to each count. For the people at the bottom of the ladder--for the

people who tend machines, dig ditches, and stand behind the notion

counter--St. Louis is a smoky town, where people have gray lungs instead

of pink; a town where franchise grabbing and an antiquated system of

taxation have their consequence of more than New York city rents. A town

whose slums, says Lee Frankel, are the worst in the country. A town

where wages are low (in some occupations twenty-five per cent lower than

in New York City); where employment is irregular, the speeding-up

tremendous, the number of women entering industry steadily increasing,

and where the influx of immigrant labor is pulling down the wage scale

and the standard of living.



The average wage of the shoe-workers in the East is $550 per year. In

St. Louis it is $440 if work is steady--and rents are higher than in New

York City.



It must be remembered that this sum is an average, and that thousands of

shoe-workers earn, less than $440, for full-time work. The same is true

of thousands engaged in other kinds of manufacture and in department

stores.



Somehow the town looks different from the two ends of the ladder.



The government of Missouri and St. Louis has been about as little

adapted to the needs of the industrial worker as it well could be. Men

have been concerned not so much with social justice as with government

protection for money-making schemes.



Business opportunity has depended much on _pliable state and municipal

laws_. How the interests fought to keep them pliable; how St. Louis and

Missouri became a world scandal in this steady growth to riches, we all

know.



We know, too, the period of political reform. People thought the killing

trouble in Missouri lay largely with the governmental machinery; and the

optimists' faith in a state primary law, in the initiative and

referendum as panacea, was white and shining. _They did not see that the

underlying problem is industrial_.



After the reform wave had spent itself, the crooked people who had kept

out of jail crept from their holes and went back to their old job of

beating the game. The only essential difference is that their methods

to-day are less raw and crude. They play a more gentlemanly game; but

the people are still robbed of their rights.



Thus it came to pass that when the cheerful optimist went to the

cupboard to get his poor dog a bone, why, lo! the cupboard was bare.



Meantime the dog has taken up the struggle for social justice on his own

account, not singly but in groups and packs. As yet, although a deal of

snuffing, running to and fro, barking, yelping, and fighting has been

done, little has been accomplished; for one reason, because labor has

lacked great organizers in St. Louis.



It has remained for the working women of St. Louis to make the

industrial idea effective and to reach out with united single purpose to

bend the political bow for their protection.



The Women's Trade Union League, whose real general is Cynthelia Isgrig

Knefler, the most dynamic woman in St. Louis, received its first impetus

only three years ago in the idealism of a brilliant young Irish girl,

Hannah Hennessy, who died at Thanksgiving, 1910, a victim of exhausting

work in a garment shop and of her own tireless efforts to organize the

working girls of her city.



Hannah Hennessy was sent by the Garment Workers' Union to the National

Labor Convention of 1907 at Norfolk, Virginia.



There she glimpsed for the first time the inevitable great world march

of women following industry as machinery takes it out of the home and

into the shop--saw these women, blind, unorganized, helpless to cope

with the conditions offered by organized capital. The vision fired this

Irish girl to a pitch of enthusiasm peculiar to the Celtic temperament.

Back she came to St. Louis with the spirit of the Crusaders, her vision

"the eight-hour day, the living wage to guard the home."



For the first time she saw the broken physical future of women who label

three thousand five hundred bottles of beer an hour, and accept their

cuts and gashes from the bursting bottles as inevitable; of women who

put eyelets on a hundred cases of shoes a day, twenty-four pairs to the

case; of women who must weave one thousand yards of hemp cloth a day to

hold their job in a mill where the possible speed of woman and machine

is so nicely calculated that the speediest person in the factory can

weave only twelve hundred and sixty yards a day; where the lint from

this hemp fills the air and is so injurious to eyes and throat that the

company furnishes medical attendance free.



To undertake the huge task of organizing these thousands of St. Louis

women would require not only vision but time and energy. Hannah's return

meant being engulfed in the vast roar made by rows of throbbing,

whirring machines, into one of which she sewed her vitality at dizzy

speed ten hours a day. Vision she had, but training, time, energy--no!



It was at this point that she met Cynthelia Isgrig Knefler, a

leisure-class young woman, who had been gripped by a sense of the

unevenness of the human struggle. Cynthelia Knefler was groping her way

through the maze of settlement activities to an appreciation of their

relative futility in the face of long hours, low wages, and unsanitary

shops.



Then the idealism of these two young women, born on the one hand of hard

experience, on the other of a gentle existence, fused, and burned with a

white light whose power is beginning to touch the lives of the women who

toil and spin for the great Southwest.



Both women possessed fire and eloquence. Hannah's special contribution

was first-hand experience; Mrs. Knefler's the knowledge of economic

conditions necessary to an understanding of our complicated labor

problems. Wise, sane, conservative, Mrs. Knefler not only helped Hannah

to organize branch after branch of the Women's Trade Union League in the

different industries, but set out at once to train strong, intelligent

leaders. She stimulated them to a critical study of labor laws with the

evolution of industry for background.



Night after night for two years Mrs. Knefler and Hannah were out

organizing groups of girls. Mrs. Knefler's friends finally stopped

remonstrating with her. Hannah, utterly self-forgetful despite ten hours

a day in the mills, hurled herself into the new work. Evening after

evening her mother protested anxiously, but Hannah, heedless of her own

interest, would eat her supper and hurry across the city to help groups

of new girls--American, Russian, Roumanian--a confused mass, to find

themselves and pull together.



One June morning in 1910 the papers announced that the Manufacturers'

Association and the Business Men's League had decided on E.J. Troy as

their candidate to the State Legislature for the First District. His

candidacy was also backed by the Republican machine. The papers went on

to say that E.J. Troy was one of "our ablest and most popular fellow

townsmen," that he had grown up in his district, had a host of friends,

and might be expected to carry the primaries by a big majority.



That evening at the weekly dinner of the officers of the Women's Trade

Union League at the Settlement, Mrs. Knefler hurried in: "Girls, have

you seen the morning papers? Do you know that we've got E.J. Troy to

contend with again?"



At the same moment in dashed Hannah Hennessy by another door, calling

out, "Girls, they're goin' to put Troy on the carpet again!"



To both speeches came half a dozen excited replies that that's just what

they were talking about!



Over the potatoes and meat and bread-pudding the situation was discussed

in detail.



"Yes, 'twas him, all right, that thought up most of those tricky moves

when we was tryin' to get our Nine-Hour Bill before," reflected a wiry,

quick-motioned girl during a second's pause.



"Don't it just make you boil," began another, "when you think how he

riled 'em up at every four corners in Missouri! He had every old country

storekeeper standin' on end about that Nine-Hour Bill. He had 'em

puttin' on their specs and callin' to mother to come and listen to this

information the manufacturers had sent him:--how the labor unions was

tryin' to get a Nine-Hour Bill for women passed; how it would keep their

youngest girl, Bessie, from helping in the store when the farmers drove

in of a Saturday night; and how it was a blow at American freedom."



"E.J. Troy's got to be squenched at the primaries," said a third,

quietly and decisively.



"But how?" asked a more timid officer.



Bing! Mrs. Knefler got into action. There never was a woman for whom a

difficult situation offered a more bracing tonic quality. The business

meeting that followed fairly bristled with plans.



The girls' first move was to go before the Central Labor Body and ask

them to indorse their objections to E.J. Troy. Definite action beyond

indorsement the girls did not ask or expect. This much they got.



One day a little later, when Mrs. Knefler's campaign was beginning to

take form, a representative of E.J. Troy called Mrs. Knefler on the

telephone. The voice was bland, smooth, and very friendly. Wouldn't

she--that is--ah--er--wouldn't her organization confer with Mr. E.J.

Troy? He felt sure they would come to a pleasant and mutually helpful

understanding.



Mrs. Knefler explained to the mouthpiece (take it either way) that it

would be quite useless; that the stand of the League was taken on Mr.

Troy's previous record and on the "interests" he represented; that while

they had nothing against him in his private capacity, as a public

servant they must oppose him. All this in Mrs. Knefler's suavest

fashion. She feels intensely, but she never loses her self-possession.

That's why she is such a formidable antagonist.



It was the last week in June--they had just a month before the primaries

in which to rouse public opinion. The newspapers must help, of course.



Mrs. Knefler went to the editors. They were polite, they admitted the

justice of her stand, but they were evasive. Mrs. Knefler opened her

paper the next morning after she had made the rounds, to find not a

single word about the danger to the working woman's interests.



What could the papers do? Weren't they in the hands of the "big cinch,"

as a certain combination of business men in St. Louis is known?

Naturally they refused to print a line. You never step on your own toe,

do you, or hit yourself in the face--if you can help it?



One must admit that things looked bad for the League. How were girls who

raced at machines all day, who had neither money nor the voice of the

press, to rouse this sluggish, corrupt city to the menace of sending to

the legislature men like E.J. Troy, pledged body and soul to the

manufacturers? How could they waken the public to woman's bitter

necessity for shorter hours? The case looked hopeless, but Mrs. Knefler

merely set her teeth, and got busy--decidedly busy.



She planned a campaign that no other St. Louis woman in her class would

have had the courage to tackle. Mrs. Knefler is a member of the club

that is the St. Louis clubwomen's "holy of holies." They have a

club-house that just drips art, and they steep themselves in

self-culture. As a group their consciousness of the city's industrial

problems is still nebulous. The high light in which Mrs. Knefler's work

must inevitably stand out is intensified by this background of

self-culture women, with a few--only a few--rash daughters shivering

around preparatory to taking their first cold plunge in the suffrage

pool.



In such an atmosphere Cynthelia Knefler planned and carried out the

biggest, the most modern and strategic campaign for the working woman

ever waged outside a suffrage state. It was done simply because her

heart was filled with the need of the thousands of helpless, unorganized

girls for protection from the greed of organized capital.



There are moments when love gives vision and raises us head and

shoulders above our group. So it was with Cynthelia Knefler, brought up

in this conservative city, educated in a prunes-and-prisms girls'

school, steeped in the Southern idea that no "lady" would ever let her

picture or her opinions get into the newspapers, and that making public

speeches was quite unthinkable!



The press was silent, but at least Mrs. Knefler could speak to the labor

unions. She and two other women appealed to every labor union in St.

Louis with a speech against E.J. Troy. They fought him--not as a man,

but as a representative of the "big interests." Mrs. Knefler made

seventy-six speeches in that one month before the primaries. That meant

hurrying from hall to hall on hot summer nights and making two speeches,

and sometimes three and four, while her friends were wearing white

muslin and sitting on the gallery, to get the cool of the evening.



Mrs. Knefler's mind was working like a trip-hammer that month; seeking

ways and means for rousing the busy, unthinking, conglomerate mass of

people to the real issue. Money in the League was scarce. There are no

rich members. But out of their wages and out of raffles and

entertainments the League had a small reserve. Part of this they used to

print sixty thousand cards. So that when you went in to get a shave your

glance was caught, as the barber turned your head, by this red ticket

"Scratch E.J. Troy." When you stopped in for a loaf of bread, a red

ticket behind the glass of the case advised you to "Scratch E.J. Troy."

When you went in for a drink, there leaped into sight dozens of little

red tickets: "Scratch E.J. Troy."



There are always some men, though, who are moved only by the big, noisy

things of life. Only Schneider's band sounds like music to them; only

"Twenty Buckets of Blood, or Dead Man's Gulch" appeals to them as

literature; and the only speaker is the man who rips out Old Glory and

defies forked lightning. In a political campaign the little red ticket

is lost on that kind of man. Mrs. Knefler understood this. So one hot

July day huge posters in high, wood-block letters screamed from

billboards and the walls of saloons and barber shops and labor halls:

"Union men and friends, Scratch E.J. Troy."



All this printing and bill-posting was expensive for working girls. They

came back at the Central Labor body again. "Your sympathy is great, but

your funds are better," they said.



"You've tackled too big a job," the Labor leaders told the girls, with a

benevolent air. "He's the candy around this town--E.J. Troy is. It would

take a mint of money to beat E.J. Troy."



However, the Central body instructed the legislative committee of five

to give the girls every help, and they did good service. But the Central

Body didn't instruct the Committee to go down very far into the

treasury.



July was wearing on. The League hurled itself upon the press once more.

Surely after so much speech-making and bill-posting the editors would

accord them some recognition merely as news. Silence--absolute silence

in the next day's papers, and the next.



How did they accomplish the next move? That is one of the secrets. Their

money was gone, the silence of the press had crushed them with an

overwhelming sense of helplessness, but nevertheless they turned the

trick. They reached the upper and middle class readers of the South Side

District, Troy's district, which the papers were determined to keep as

much in ignorance as possible. All one night, silent, swift-moving men

whipped the paste across the billboards of that section and slapped on

huge posters, so that when Papa Smith and young Mr. Jones and Banker

Green came out of their comfortable houses next morning on their way to

business, they neglected their papers to find out why they should

"scratch E.J. Troy."



The day of the primaries was almost come. Now to reach the dull fellows

who hadn't seen the cards and the huge posters, who use their eyes only

to avoid obstacles. One night, as the factory whistles blew the signal

of dismissal, the men in the lines of operators who filed out of shop

and mills found themselves mechanically taking and examining this ticket

handed them by League girls, who had gone off their job a bit early and

had their wages docked in order to work for the larger good.



The Committee of the Central Body was now openly active in their behalf.

Men as well as women were passing out the tickets.



Then came the eve of the election. Busy pairs of girls who had already

done ten hours' work were going over E.J. Troy's district, with its

sections of rich and poor and well-to-do. Throbbing feet that had

carried the body's weight ten hot, fatiguing hours hurried up and down

the blocks, climbed flight after flight of stairs, and stood at door

after door.



"Say, kid, ain't it the limit that a woman can't vote on her own

business?" said one girl too another after they had finished the one

hundred and forty-fifth family and tried to explain their stake in the

election to a bigoted "head of the house."





On the morning of the primaries Mrs. Schurz, as she took the coffee off

the stove, remonstrated with her oldest daughter, Minna. "Vat, Minna,

you ain't goin' to stay out of de mill today and lose your pay?



"Yes, I be, _Mutter_," retorted Minna, with a tightening of the lips and

a light in her eyre. "I'm goin' to the polls to hand out cards to the

voters. I'm goin'. I don't care if I lose my job even."



"Oh, Minna, dat is bad, and me wid four _kinder_ to eat de food. Where

is de _fleisch_ and de _brot_ widout your wages?" Mrs. Schurz's heavy

face wore the anxious despondence so common to the mothers of the poor.



The girl hesitated, then tightened her lips once more. "I've got to take

the risk, _Mutter_. It'll come out right--it's got to. Do you want the

rest of the children workin' ten hours a day too? Look at me! I ain't

got no looks any more. I'm too dead tired to go out of a Saturday night.

I can't give nobody a good time any more. I guess there won't be no

weddin' bells for mine--ever. But the kids"--pointing to the inside

bedroom, where the younger girls were still asleep--"the kids is a-goin'

to keep their looks."



So at six o'clock Minna joined the relays of working girls who--many of

them, like Minna, at personal risk and sacrifice--handed out cards all

day to each man who entered. Thus the men were reminded at the last

moment of the working woman's stake in the election. "Scratch E.J. Troy"

was before their eyes as they crossed their tickets.



Every moment of the day there were alert girls to make this final quiet

appeal for justice. They were serious, dignified. There was no jeering,

no mirth on the part of the men at the novelty of this campaign--nothing

to make any woman self-conscious.



The girls were quiet enough outwardly, but the inner drama was keyed

high. Had all their speech-making, placarding, bill-posting and the

canvassing of factories, blocks, and primaries--had all their little

savings, their risk and personal sacrifice accomplished anything? That

was what the girls asked themselves. The thermometer of their hope rose

and fell with the rumors of the day. The fathers of the Central Labor

Body patted them on the head benevolently and tried to ease their fall,

if they were to fall, by saying that anyway it would be something to

make Troy run third on his ticket.



Seven o'clock, and the girls were leaving the primaries in twos and

threes, tired but excitedly discussing the situation. Between hope and

despondency the comment varied on the streets, at the supper-tables, and

in the eager, waiting groups of girls on tenement steps and stairs.



At last came the authentic returns. E.J. Troy ran _3,338 votes behind

his ticket. With a silent press and practically no money, the working

women had defeated one of the most popular men in St. Louis._



A man pledged to the interests of labor legislation won his place. That

made the outlook better for the Women's Nine-Hour Bill, and thousands of

working girls tumbled into bed, tired, but with new hope.



Every newspaper in St. Louis failed to comment on the victory. The

slaves who sit at the editorial desk said they couldn't--they weren't

"let." _So the most hopeful feature in St. Louis politics has never been

commented on by the American press._



As for Hannah Hennessy--she had been too ill to share in the active

work of the campaign, but her influence was everywhere--a vital force, a

continual inspiration.



Week by week her cheeks grew thinner, her cough more rasping. But after

the campaign against Troy was over, she turned with the same intensity

of interest to the National Convention of the American Federation of

Labor which was to meet there in November. For a year she had been

making plans, eager to make this convention a landmark in the history of

women's labor. But in November she was in bed by the little grate fire

in the family sitting-room. And when convention week came with its

meetings a scant three blocks from her home, she could be there in

spirit only; she waited restlessly for the girls to slip in after the

daily sessions and live them over again for her.



On Thanksgiving Day, between the exhausting strain of high-tension work

and the zeal of the young reformer, her beautiful life and brilliant

fire were burned out. The committee for the prevention of tuberculosis

added her case to their statistics, and the League girls bore her into

the lighted church.



In the winter of 1910-11 the leaders of all the labor and social forces

of St. Louis, all the organizations for various forms of uplift, united

under an able secretary and began their custom of lunching together once

a week to discuss the pending social legislation. They played a good

game. First, there was the educational effect of their previous

legislative campaign to build on. Then there was all the economy and

impetus gained from consolidation. They knew the rules of the game

better, too. Their plans were more carefully laid and executed.



With a more wary and sophisticated eye on the Manufacturers' Association

and a finger in the buttonhole of every legislator, the socially awake

of St. Louis have secured _more humane child labor legislation, and the

Nine-Hour Day for women and children with no exception in favor of

shop-keepers_.



Knowing the sickening fate of industrial legislation in certain other

states when tried before judges whose social vision is fifty years

behind the times, the winners of this new bill began to wait tensely

enough for its testing. So far, however, the Women's Nine-Hour law has

not been contested. It has also been exceptionally well enforced,

considering that there are only four factory inspectors for all the

myriad shops and mills of this manufacturing city of the Southwest, and

only seven factory inspectors for the whole state of Missouri.



Meanwhile St. Louis's new political wedge, the Women's Trade Union

League, continues to be a perfectly good political wedge. When there is

legislation wanted, all kinds of organizations invariably call upon this

league of the working women, whose purpose is a wider social justice.



St. Louis is another American city where the working women are

discovering that they can do things if they only think so.



* * * * *



(_The Delineator_)



Illustrated by two pen-and-ink sketches made by a staff artist.





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