(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
The Great Philadelphia Textile Strike of 1903
The Central Textile Workers Union of Philadelphia held a meeting the evening of May 27, 1903. A vote was taken and a general strike call was issued. That general strike eventually caused 100,000 textile workers to go out on strike in the Philadelphia area. 16,000 of those were children under the age of 16, some as young as 8 or 9 years of age. The textile industry of the day employed children at a higher rate than any other industry. The number given from the 1900 census was 80,000. In cotton textiles, they made up 13.1% of the work force, and that rate reached 30% in the South.
The Central Textile Workers’ Union issued this statement:
Thirty-six trades, representing 90,000 people, ask the employers to reduce working hours from sixty to fifty-five hours a week. They are willing that wages be reduced accordingly. They strike for lower wages in an effort to get shorter hours.
Three trades, representing 10,000 people, ask for the same reduction in working hours, but, in addition, they ask for the same weekly wages or a slight increase, averaging ten per cent.
The request for shorter hours is made primarily for the sake of the children and women. For six years the organized textile workers of Philadelphia have been trying in vain to persuade the politician-controlled Legislature of Pennsylvania to pass a law which would reduce the working hours of children and women and stop them from doing night work.
Average wages for adults for 60 hours of work were $13. Children working 60 hours(!) got $2.
On Monday June 1st, at least 90,000 textile workers went out on strike in the Philadelphia area. Of the 600 mills in the city, about 550 were idle. Philadelphia now had more workers out on strike than at any other time in her history. Several thousand workers had already been on strike before the textile strike began, including: the carriage and wagon builders, and the carpenters along with others working in the building trades. It appeared that the city would be in for a long hot summer.
By the next day, Tuesday, the strike spread to the hosiery mills, increasing the army of idle workers by 8,000 Most of these were women and children employed in the Kensington district. This class of workers was unorganized, but they decided to join the ranks of the unionist in other branches of the textile trade as they witnessed the magnitude of the fight for a shorter work week. The Manufacturers vowed they would not submit to the union demands even if they had to shut down their factories indefinitely.
Mother Jones in Philadelphia
By June 17th, Mother Jones was in Philadelphia ready to lend her assistance to the fight. Mother considered child labor to be the worst of the industrial sins. She later described what she witnessed in Philadelphia:
Every day little children came into Union Headquarters, some with their hands off, some with the thumb missing, some with their fingers off at the knuckle. They were stooped little things, round shouldered and skinny. Many of them were not over ten years of age, although the state law prohibited their working before they were twelve [actually, 13] years of age.
The law was poorly enforced and the mothers of these children often swore falsely as to their children’s age. In a single block in Kensington, fourteen women, mothers of twenty-two children all under twelve, explained it was a question of starvation or perjury. That the fathers had been killed or maimed at the mines.
On Thursday June 18th, 30,000 textile strikers marched to City Hall. They marched through the city of Philadelphia with Mother Jones in the lead, a little girl striker on each side of her. The streets were full of banners and signs:
We want justice!
We want to go to school!
We want time to eat our meals and think!
Mother later described her speech::
I put the little boys with their fingers off and hands crushed and maimed on a platform. I held up their mutilated hands and showed them to the crowd and made the statement that Philadelphia’s mansions were built on the broken bones, the quivering hearts and drooping heads of these children. That their little lives went out to make wealth for others. That neither state or city officials paid any attention to these wrongs. That they did not care that these children were to be the future citizens of the nation.
The officials of the city hall were standing in the open windows. I held the little ones of the mills high up above the heads of the crowd and pointed to their puny arms and legs and hollow chests. They were light to lift.
I called upon the millionaire manufacturers to cease their moral murders, and I cried to the officials in the open windows opposite, “Some day the workers will take possession of your city hall, and when we do, no child will be sacrificed on the altar of profit.”
The officials quickly closed the windows, just as they had closed their eyes and hearts.
The Children’s Crusade Begins
John Spargo, editor of The Comrade was in Philadelphia assisting Mother Jones with her efforts to aid the strikers. Both were frustrated that there was little press coverage of the strike. Efforts to raise money for the strikers had been disappointing, and the strikers’ relief fund was running low. Mother Jones later describe the reason for the lack of publicity:
I asked the newspaper men why they didn’t publish the facts about child labor in Pennsylvania. They said they couldn’t because the mill owners had stock in the papers.
“Well, I’ve got stock in these little children,” said I, “and I’ll arrange a little publicity.”
The national tour of the Liberty Bell gave Mother the idea to arrange a tour for the little children who were striking for “some of the freedom of childhood.” And Mother Jones made plans to leave from Kensington with an “army” of 300 men, women, and children, heading east.
On Tuesday July 7th at 11 o’clock in the morning, Mother Jones began what came to be called “The Children’s Crusade.” Starting from the Kensington Labor Lyceum, she led her “Industrial Army” out of Kensington toward the northeastern Philadelphia neighborhood of Torresdale where they would camped for the night. The army was accompanied by fifes and drums, American flags, and union banners.
Before leaving Kensington, Mother gave an interview to the North American where she explained her reasons for undertaking the Children’s Crusade:
The sight of little children at work in mills when they ought to be at school or at play always rouses me. I found the conditions in this city deplorable, and I resolved to do what I could to shorten the hours of toil of the striking textile workers so as to gain more liberty for the children and women. I led a parade of children through the city-the cradle of Liberty-but the citizens were not moved to pity by the object lesson
The curse of greed so pressed on their hearts that they could not pause to express their pity for future men and women who are being stunted mentally, morally, and physically, so that they cannot possibly become good citizens. I cannot believe that the public conscience is so callous that it will not respond. I am going out of Philadelphia to see if there are people with human blood in their veins.
I am going to picture capitalism and caricature the money-mad. I am going to show Wall Street the flesh and blood from which it squeezes its wealth. I am going to show President Roosevelt the poor little things on which the boasted commercial greatness of our country is built. Not one single Philadelphia minister of Christ’s Gospel has so much as touched on the textile strike in this city. I shall endeavor to arouse sleeping Christians to a sense of their duty towards the poor little ones.
Understand me, I do not blame the manufacturers individually. They are, I repeat, victims of the competitive system. But I do blame society for allowing such evils to exist and to grow without an effort to destroy them. God help the nation if something is not done for a day of reckoning will surely come and with it bloody revolution.
John Spargo accompanied the Children Crusade for the first few days of the march. Spargo was the editor of The Comrade, and in the August 1903 issue of that magazine, we can find photos of the first day of the march.
Marching in the Summer Heat
The Army arrived at South Bristol the next morning and camped for the day on the Simons estates. The Crusaders were coping with extreme heat, and many of the marches returned to Philadelphia.
The children were equipped with knapsacks containing a knife and fork, a tin cup, and a plate. Meals were cooked in a large wash boiler when the army stopped along the road. The commissary department consisted of eight wagons carrying bread and canned goods. The grocers of Kensington had generously outfitted the army for the first few days of the journey. The marchers had a watchword:
From Kensington to Wall Street.
The New York Times described the Children’s Crusade as a “decent on New York” by Mother Jones to collect funds for the textile strikers of Philadelphia:
She brings an assortment of glass jewelry, fancy dresses, masks, megaphones, and other articles for use in getting up tableaus. “Mr. Capital” and “Mrs. Millowner” will be shown gorgeously attired. When the party reaches here it will be taken in hand by the committee of Social Democrats and arrangements will be made at once for a mass meeting and tableaus in Madison Square Garden.
That evening, Mother Jones rode into Bristol in a wagon followed by her Industrial Army. The little textile band made up of six fifes, four snare drums, and a bass drum announced their arrival. The men and boys carried American flags and and held their banners aloft.
The parade was followed by an open air meeting at the foot of Pond street near the old Dorranco mill. John Sweeney was the marshal of the event. Mother Jones followed Isaac Cowan of the Machinists Union to the platform. The Bucks County Gazette described Mother Jones as she spoke to the crowd of supporters 2000 strong:
Attired in a gown of mourning, she removed her black hat, revealing her wealth of white hair. Her manner was entirely pleasing. A pair of kindly blue eyes looked directly at you. High cheek bones, a short chin and rather florid complexion was enhanced by its crown of silver hair. The voice was rather harsh, probably from much open air speaking, but she had the habits of the trained orator. Her speaking is impressive, her arguments clear, and her manner of deliverance persuasive.
Mother called the conditions in the textile mills of Philadelphia deplorable. She said that she wanted to let the people know that the strikers cause was for justice and that she intended to continue to devote her services on their behalf.
The main body of the Army marched out of Bristol early the next morning headed to Trenton while several strikers stayed behind with a horse and wagon. They went about the town soliciting provisions from friendly shopkeepers. Mother later reported how farmers all along the way drove out to meet the Children’s Crusade with wagons loaded with fruit and vegetables, and the farmers’ wives brought the children clothes and money.
Mother admited that heat took its toll on the marchers, but insisted that the children were happy to be bathing every day in the brooks and rivers. They viewed the march as a holiday from the mills. Odd but true, that much public concern was voiced regarding the children marching in the summer heat where little concern was shown for the very same children working in hot and dusty mills for twelve hours every day.
The Industrial Army Crosses the Delaware
Mother Jones reached Morrisville Point with her Industrial Army late in the afternoon of July 9th. Mother immediately crossed the Delaware River and went to visit Mayor Katzenbach of Trenton. She was able to obtain permission to hold a mass meeting for the next evening at Monument Park but was denied a parade permit.
After resting in the shade at Morrisville Point most of the afternoon of Friday July 10th,
the Army marched into Trenton and made their way to Monument Park where 5000 supporters where gathered for a mass meeting.
William Thomas, President of Trenton’s Common Council, presided over the event. The main speaker was, of course, Mother Jones. She spoke out in condemnation of the wealthy textile manufacturers who squeeze their profits out of the labor of little children. And she took on President Roosevelt and his theories on “race suicide:”
Women have learned that their children are taken away from them and put to work when they should be in school. What is the use of bringing a lot of children into the world to make more money for plutocrats, while their little lives are being ground out in the mill and workshop?
The army I am leading on to New York is composed of intelligent workmen whose lives have almost been ground out in the textile mills of Kensington. Our cause is a just one and we propose to show the New York millionaires our grievances.
Mother also spoke that evening before the Central Labor Union of Trenton. In total, about $100 was raised for the Industrial Army in Trenton.
Teaching Economics at Princeton
The Industrial Army had a difficult day of travel the next day. At noon the Army took refuge from the heat at Stony Brook, three miles from Princeton. There they ate lunch, and at two o’clock pushed on. They were soon overtaken by a fierce rain storm.
Again they sought shelter and were taken in by the caretaker of the estate of former President Grover Cleveland. The Clevelands were away on holiday, but the Industrial Army was given shelter, and invited to spend the night in the big cool barns of the estate. A Princeton hotel donated a large meal which was thoroughly enjoyed as the Army dried out.
Mother Jones gave a speech before a great crowd of professors and students of Princeton University. Mother offered this description of her speech:
I told them that the rich robbed these little children of any education of the lowest order that they might send their sons and daughters to places of higher education. That they used the hands and feet of little children that they might buy automobiles for their wives and police dogs for their daughters to talk French to. I said the mill owners take babies almost from the cradle. And I showed those professors children in our army who could scarcely read or write because they were working ten hours a day in the silk mills of Pennsylvania.
She pointed to little James Ashworth and said:
Here’s a text book on economics, he gets three dollars a week and his sister who is fourteen gets six dollars. They work in a carpet factory ten hours a day while the children of the rich are getting their higher education.
The Preacher and Mother Jones
On Sunday evening, July 12th, an open air meeting was held in the city of New Brunswick. The Industrial Band paraded about town and money was raised to assist the Army’s march to New York City. Mother Jones gave a speech and related an encounter with an area preacher. She said that when she approached the clergyman and requested aid for the little children who toil in the textile mills, he referred her to the politicians. Mother replied:
God help the children when the churches turn them over to the politicans.
The Industrial Army had been camped on the banks of the Raritan while Mother Jones and the other women stayed in a hotel. Rain and mosquitoes plagued the army causing a few disgruntled members to complain to The New York Times before returning to Philadelphia. The Times reported these few defections with great glee. But never a word of sympathy for the little children plagued with long hours of toil in the dirty, dusty, hot factories. No decent member of the Industrial Army should have begrudged their aged leader a bed in a hotel.
The local Federation of Labor assisted the Army while they were in New Brunswick.
Mother Jones and her Army remained in New Brunswick for another day. She continued to make speeches while the little Industrial Band of fife and drums paraded the streets raising money for the march to New York City and for the textile strikers of Philadelphia. The following is an example of a speech by Mother Jones while in the area:
I have seen some children killed by slow starvation and others maimed and torn. What is to become of the next generation when this generation is being torn from the cradle to be thrown into the factories. Statistics show that out of every ten hours of labor, the laboring man is paid for two, while the other eight are stolen by the capitalist…There are three ways of making a living-working for it, begging it and stealing it. And the capitalist steals it from the working man.
The Army arrived in Rahway on Tuesday July 14th, and was provided a large room in the Rahway Inn by H. C. Wilson, owner of the inn. Mother Jones arrived by train accompanied by Charles Sweeney, Chief Marshal of the Industrial Army, and by John Lopez, correspondent for Philadelphia North American. Three women were also traveling with Mother: Mrs. Sweeney, Mrs. Hanson, and Mrs. Clinton.
The Army now consisted of the Industrial Band and about thirty-five Crusaders. They were treated to shaves by local union barbers.
Mother gave a speech before 2000 supporters. She insisted that a public aroused on the issue of child labor would result in:
Blessings not only to the children but to the whole nation.
In Elizabeth, New Jersey as Guests of the Socialists
Mother Jones arrived in Elizabeth by train Wednesday July 15th at 12:15 PM. The Industrial Army marched into town a bit later. The Army, lead by Mother Jones, then marched to Washington Hall on Elizabeth Street. They were the guests of the Socialist Party of Elizabeth while they were in the town. Mayor Ryan and the local labor unions also gave the Crusaders a warm welcome.
That afternoon, the Army held a parade through the factory section of town and collected donations as the workers quit for the day. In the evening, another parade was held and Mother Jones spoke at Washington Hall, followed by another meeting and another speech at Eller Park.
Atwell Bartholomew, President of the New Brunswick Federation of Trades and Labor Unions, felt it necessary to issue a statement “repudiating certain views” of Mother Jones:
While organized labor is in full sympathy with “Mother” Jones’s views on child labor, she did not express the sentiment of organized labor toward the Church. We see no reason why the Church and labor should not be considered as allies, working together for the uplifting of Humanity.
Now, while in New Brunswick Mother had certainly never made any such statement opposing an alliance between the Church and labor. But she had criticized a certain preacher for his refusal to help the children of the textile mills. Thankfully, Mother had more courage than the F. of L. leaders when it came to standing up to those preachers who concerned themselves more with “proper society” than with the poor and dispossessed.
Mother Appeals to the President
On July 16th the Newark Evening News published this appeal from Mother Jones to the President. Mother Jones pleaded on behalf of the little children who spent their days in the industrial prisons of the nation rather than in school:
To Theodore Roosevelt
President of the United States
Being citizens of the United States of America, we, members of the textile industry, take the liberty of addressing this appeal to you. As Chief Executive of the United States, you are, in a sense, our father and leader, and as such we look to you for advice and guidance. Perhaps the crime of child slavery has never been forcibly brought to your notice….
These little children, raked by cruel toil beneath the iron wheels of greed, are starving in this country which you have declared is in the height of prosperity-slaughtered, ten hours a day, every day in the week, every week in the month, every month in the year, that our manufacturing aristocracy may live to exploit more slaves as the years roll by.
We ask you, Mr. President, if our commercial greatness has not cost us too much by being built upon the quivering hearts of helpless children? We who know of these sufferings have taken up their cause and are now marching toward you in the hope that your tender heart will counsel with us to abolish this crime.
The manufacturers has threatened to starve these children, and we seek to show that no child shall die of hunger at the will of any manufacturer in this fair land. The clergy, whose work this really is, are silent on the crime of ages, and so we appeal to you.
It is in the hope that the words of Christ will be more clearly interpreted by you when he said “Suffer little children to come unto me.” Our destination is New York City, and after that Oyster Bay. As your children, may we hope to have the pleasure of an audience? We only ask that you advise us as to the best course….
The reply should be addressed to “Mother” Jones’s Crusaders, en route according to the daily papers.
We are very respectfully yours,
“Mother” Jones, Chairman
And from the Indianapolis News came this reassuring news:
Oyster Bay, N.Y., July 17-Plans have been perfected quietly to prevent “Mother” Jones and her so-called “army of textile workers” from visiting Oyster Bay. The matter is in the hands of the secret service and the New York Police department.
Thanks be to Goodness! that the President of the United States had so much protection from an old woman and the little children of the textile mills!
Mother Says Her Army Will Not Be Bluffed
Mother Jones and her Army arrived in Newark in the early afternoon of July 17th. They came from Elizabeth on foot and by trolley. They paraded, banners waving, through Broad Street to their temporary headquarters where a luncheon was served.
That evening, Mother Jones spoke before a large open-air meeting in front of the courthouse. Several hundred supporters cheered her speech enthusiastically. Delegates from the Essex County Trades Council also spoke giving a warm welcome to the “miners’ friend” and her Industrial Army. The Trades Council hosted the Crusaders while they were in Newark.
Mother Jones and the Industrial Army arrived in Paterson at noon on July 18th. They came from Newark by trolley car, and were taken to Helvetia Hall for a luncheon and entertainment provided for them by the Trades Council.
In the evening, Mother spoke to a packed audience at Helvetia Hall. Daniel Tewan, Secretary of the Textile Workes’ Union introduce Mother Jones, and she was given a vigorous reception by the crowd. Mother Jones said that the Army had every intention of visiting Oyster Bay, and that they would not be “bluffed” in their efforts to see the President.
Mother addressed the United Silk Weavers in Paterson the next morning, Sunday, July 19th, but her attempt to get them to join the American Federation of Labor was unsuccessful. They chose to remain outside of that labor body.
New York City Chief Inspector Cortright was making it known that Mother Jones and the Industrial Army would not be allowed to parade in his city without a permit, and he stated his doubts that such a permit would be granted to Mother Jones.
A Picnic with the Social Democrats
Mother Jones gave a speech at the annual picnic of the Social Democrats of New York City later that evening at Sulzer’s Westchester Park. When she was introduced on the platform, she was greeted by wild cheering from the crowd of 4000. She had to wait several minutes for the cheering to cease before she could begin her speech:
I will be here with my children from the textile works Thursday evening, when I will address you at some length. I am too tired to do so now, and as you see, I am very hoarse.
There is one thing I must tell you, and that is that I am going to complete the journey to Oyster Bay with my army to see the President. The newspapers say he will not see me. I am going there to find out if he is the President of the capitalists only, or whether he is the President of the working men too. If he is the President of the capitalists only, he will be wiped out at the next election.
Mother was escorted about the park and she enjoyed the tests of strength very much, especially the sledge hammer competition. She also enjoyed watching the children at their games such as egg racing and rope skipping. She said that she was happy to see them playing in the open air and glad that they had a chance to go to school.
The Industrial Army paraded about Paterson the morning of July 20th with their drum corps before taking to the road again, headed for Passaic.
Mother Jones arrived in Passaic at about 7 o’clock that evening by buggy. The Army came marching into town about a half-hour later. A hard driving rain caused the cancellation of the open-air meeting which had been planned. The Army camped out at a dance hall in the immigrant section of town, while Mother spent the night in a hotel.
“See These Little Fellows!”
Mother Jones arrived in West Hoboken by trolley Tuesday July 21, and the Industrial army marched in soon after. They headed to the headquarters of the local Socialists where they were fed and entertained. Mother Jones spoke in the evening to a large crowd in a hall on Paterson Road. She spoke, as usual, on the great evil of children working in the factories. She declared the march a great success in that it had focused the attention of the workers on the evils of child labor, and that that accomplishment alone made the time and trouble of the march worthwhile.
On the subject of the Presidential visit, Mother had this to say:
I have sent the President a respectful letter
no representative of anybody in this country ever sent him a more respectful letter, I am sureexplaining to him what my errand is and asking for an appointment. I have received no answer. I wish to state my public belief that the President has not seen my letter. What I ask for on behalf of the 125,000 textile workers I represent is an opportunity for a short interview with the President, with three of the little boys who have come with me from the Kensington district. I would like to have him see these little fellows, and question them, if he will.
Mother Jones stayed in a hotel that night while the Army camped out in a local saloon.
New York City Permit Denied
The Army reached Jersey City Wednesday, July 22nd. An advance committee was sent on ahead to New York City to visit Acting Police Commissioner Ebstein for the purpose of obtaining a parade permit. The permit was denied. It was said that Mother would be arrested should she decide to march her army in New York City without the required permit.
That evening, Mother spoke at a meeting in Central Hall on Jersey City Heights. She spoke to a packed house, denouncing the capitalists for their employment of little children in the mills. She pointed to the millionaires who rode around in automobiles while little children labor in the mills. She pointed to the Congress that had appropriated $45,000 to entertain Prince Henry, but would do nothing to help child laborers.
Mother said that she had not changed her mind about going to Oyster Bay:
My army and myself will certainly visit Sagamore Hill, and if we don’t see the President, we will go to Washington and wait for him there.
Mother Gets Her Permit
Mother Jones came herself early the next morning of Thursday, July 23rd, to see Acting Police Commissioner Ebstein, and when he continued to refuse her a parade permit, she went over his head and appealed directly to Mayor Low. The Mayor agreed to see her at City Hall. She explained to him that her army was intent on passing peacefully through New York City on its way to visit the President at Oyster Bay. The Mayor summoned Ebstein to City Hall and eventually an agreement was reached which allowed Mother and her Army to hold a parade and a meeting in the evening. The use of Madison Square Garden was, however, denied to her.
The Army arrived by ferry that afternoon at 2:30. A delegation of the Social Democratic Club met them at the ferry landing and escorted them to the headquarters at 64 East Fourth Street where they were housed and fed.
A Torch Light Parade and a Speech
The parade began at 8 o’clock in the evening with Mother Jones leading the way. The Industrial Band of two fifes and two drums provided the marching music. Local Socialists joined the little army of about forty warriors carrying torches to illuminate the transparencies:
Fifty-five Hours or Nothing
Give Us More Schools
We Only Ask for Justice
Prosperity: Where Is Our Share?
A crowd of east siders followed behind, and an escort of three Inspectors with city police reserves from eleven stations was provided by the city. That expense was thought necessary by city leaders to “guard” the little army of textile workers.
The meeting was held about a block from Madison Square, near Twenty-seventh. A great crowd of 30,000 turned out to hear the speeches. Col. Geiger of Philadelphia was the first to speak, followed by Benjamin Hanford, former Socialist candidate for Mayor of New York. Hanford’s statements had little to do with the textile strike or child labor. He first abused Low and Ebstein and then declared:
Each of these policemen has a revolver in his pocket. You have none. The militia come down the streets when they parade with glistening bayonets. Why are they armed: Because of the law. Your vote is a sacred thing. Next election vote so that you will carry the revolver instead of the police. Not that we socialists believe in blood shed-the capitalists say we do, but you can’t find any dead capitalist that we have killed.
Mother Jones was introduced by Col. Geiger to the cheers of the New Yorkers assembled to hear her. She spoke from the back of a truck with her arms around the shoulders of two of the youngest textile strikers. She said that she had marched 92 miles with her band of little slaves and:
We are quietly marching toward the president’s home. I believe he can do something for these children, although the president declares he cannot. Congress last year passed a bill giving $45,000 to fill the stomach of an old prince, and he endorsed that, and if he could do that he surely could tell congress to pass a bill that would take the children out of the God-accursed mills and put them in the schools
And Shorter Hours for the Police Also
Later Mother expressed disapproval of the speech made by Benjamin Hanford, stating that she had not realized that he would make such a violent speech. Regarding Hanford’s strong criticisms of the Acting Police Commissioner, Major Ebstein, and the New York City Mayor, Seth Low, Mother made this statement:
Both Mayor Low and Major Ebstein treated me with all possible courtesy. I could not ask for better treatment from any one. The Mayor was in every way a perfect gentleman in his dealings with me.
For his part, Major Ebstein said that he would certainly allow Mother Jones to have another meeting, “why shouldn’t I?”
And indeed she did hold another meeting the next night, Friday, July 24th, at the corner of Twenty-fourth Street and Fourth Avenue. She was escorted there by Capt. O’Connor of the West Thirtieth Street Police Department and his reserves. She spoke to a crowd of 1,500 for about an hour on the subject of child labor. She also praised the policemen and advocated shorter hours for them.
By some reports, the Secret Service made a visit to Mother Jones in an effort to get her to give up her plan to march on the home of President Roosevelt at Oyster Bay. Mother continued to insist that the Army had every intention of going to Sagamore Hill:
Oh, yes, I shall certainly go to Oyster Bay but I will take only these three little boys with me, to see the President. If he refuses to see the boys, why, I will not see him, that’s certain. But I think he will see us. Why shouldn’t he. We are law-abiding American citizens.
At Bostock’s Wild Animal Show
On Saturday, July 25th, Mother Jones and her Industrial Army of textile strikers made their way to Coney Island where they were the guests of the famous animal trainer, Frank C. Bostock who was known far and wide as the “King of the Animals.” It was said that Bostock’s lion act, featuring Bonavita and his 27 African lions, was the greatest in the world. And then there was Mme. Morelli, “queen of the jaguars.” She was the world’s most famous woman animal trainer. The children were also entertained by Clyde W Powers with his trio of elephants, Brandu, the snake charmer, and more-some 25 acts in all.
On Sunday afternoon of July 26th at 4;30, the Bostock Building was filled to capacity as the wild animal show roared to a close and Mother Jones with her Industrial Army made an appearance. The stage was set for Mother with the scenery of a Roman Colosseum. Two Roman emperors stood at the front, thumbs down. In front of the emperors were the empty animal cages with their iron bars. Into these cages Mother placed her little textile laborers. The children clung to the bars while Mother spoke. The aristocracy of the employers reminded her of this scene, she told the audience, for they stand above “with their thumbs down to the little ones of the mills and factories.” She also criticized the public for “sitting dumbly by.”
The speech continued:
After a long and weary march, with more miles to travel, we are on our way to see President Roosevelt at Oyster Bay. We will ask him to recommend the passage of a bill by congress to protect children against the greed of the manufacturer. We want him to hear the wail of the children, who never have a chance to go to school, but work from ten to eleven hours a day in the textile mills of Philadelphia, weaving the carpets that he and you walk on, and the curtains and clothes of the people….
In Georgia where children work day and night in the cotton mills, they have just passed a bill to protect song birds. What about the little children from whom all song is gone?
The trouble is that the fellers in Washington don’t care. I saw them last winter pass three railroad bills in one hour, but when labor cries for aid for the little ones they turn their backs and will not listen to her. I asked a man in prison once how he happened to get there. He had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him that if he had stolen a railroad he could be a United States Senator. One hour of justice is worth an age of praying.
Note: This speech is the best we have, so far, as an example of a speech by Mother Jones on the subject of child labor. Sources often state that she spoke “for an hour” on child labor at stops along way of The Children’s Crusades. More of this speech can be found in this issue of Hellraisers Journal. This speech can also be found in the Autobiography, where it was taken verbatim from the July 27, 1903 issues of The New York Times, and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
The Crusaders spent Saturday and Sunday nights in the loft of the Bostock Building. The little boys expressed delight with their sleeping quarters. They said that they wished they never had to go back to work in the mills, but could stay and live on Coney Island with Bostock and his wild animal show.
The Elephant and the Senator
The next morning, Monday July 27th, Mother Jones and the Industrial Army set out from Bostock’s Wild Animal Show at about 7:00 o’clock. They headed for the Oriental Hotel at Manhattan Beach, where Mother said she had an appointment with United States Senator, Thomas C. Platt. One of Bostock’s elephants lead the way, a mahout sitting on his neck, and the fife and drum corps in the howdah. Behind the elephant came the Textile Army, lined up behind Mother Jones and Marshal Sweeney.
The Army made its way up Neptune Avenue to Sheepshead Bay and across the bridge to the Oriental Hotel. They soon were at the front of the building with the band playing a lively marching tune. As Mother was headed up the front steps, the Senator made his escape out the back door. The Senator hoped to conceal himself in the 8:23 morning trolley, but the elephant found him. Crouching down on the tracks, the big beast began throwing sand at the Senator’s car delaying his departure for New York City by 5 minutes. This was not enough time for Mother to find him, however, for by the time she reached the trolley station, the Senator was gone.
Mother later told the story of how the Army got their breakfast at the hotel:
I asked the manager if he would give the children breakfast and charge it up to the Senator as we had an invitation to breakfast that morning with him. He gave us a private room and he gave those children such a breakfast as they had never had in all their lives. I had breakfast too, and a reporter from one of the Hearst papers and I charged it all up to Senator Platt.
After the hearty breakfast, Mother Jones and her Army made their way back to New York City. Reportedly, about half of the marches were given the fare to return to Philadelphia. Three boys, the band, and a few union men along with their wives remained with Mother Jones as the guests of the Social Democratic Party of New York.
Disappointment in Oyster Bay
Mother Jones arrived in Oyster Bay Wednesday morning, July 29th,from New York City on the 10:20 train. She came with two union men and three little boys, three of the youngest textile strikers. She made her way to the office of Acting Secretary B. F. Barnes to ask him to arrange a meeting for her with President Roosevelt. Mr. Barnes told Mother that the President would not see her without an appointment, and advised Mother to write a letter requesting such a meeting. Mother Jones agreed to write the letter and left the Secretary’s office.
The six Crusaders walked back to the station and took the 11:14 train back to New York City.
A Plea to the President “on behalf of enslaved childhood….”
On Friday, July 31st, the letter from Mother Jones to President Theodore Roosevelt was printed in the Philadelphia North American, as well as the Newark Daily Advertiser:
The Hon. Theodore Roosevelt
President of the United States
Oyster Bay, Long Island
Twice before have I written to you requesting an audience, that I might lay my mission before you and have your advice in a matter which bears upon the welfare of the whole nation.
I speak of the emancipation from the mills and factories of the hundreds of thousands of young children who are yielding up their lives for the commercial supremacy of the nation….
I have been moved to this, Mr. President, because of actual experience in the mills. I have seen little children without the first rudiments of education and no prospect of acquiring any. I have seen little children with hands, fingers and other parts of their bodies mutilated because of their childish ignorance of machinery.
I feel that no nation can be truly great while such conditions exist without attempted remedy.
It is to be hoped that our crusade on behalf of enslaved childhood will stir up a general sentiment and secure the enforcement of the present laws.
But that is not sufficient as this is not alone a question of separate States, but of the whole nation. We come to you as the chief representative of that nation. I believe Federal laws should be passed and enforced governing this evil and including a penalty for violation.
If this is practicable, and I believe you will agree that it is, surely you can advise me of the necessary steps to pursue.
I have with me three children who have walked one hundred miles, serving as living proof of the truth of what I say.
If you decide to see these children, I will bring them before you at any time you may set.
Secretary Barnes has assured me on an early reply, and this should be sent care of the Ashland House, New York City.
Very respectfully yours,
Note: the full letter can be read here
The President’s Response
On Tuesday August 4th, this letter from B.F. Barnes to Mother Jones was printed in the North American:
Oyster Bay, N.Y.,
August 1, 1903
New York, N.Y.
I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 30th ult., and state that it has been brought to the President’s attention.
The President, as was shown by his action while Governor of New York, has the heartiest sympathy with every effort to prevent child labor in factories, and on this matter no argument need be addressed to him, as his position has been announced again and again.
Under the constitution it is not at present seen how Congress has power to act in such a matter. It would seem that the States alone at present have the power to deal with the subject.
Very truly yours,
Acting Secretary to the President
John Lopez, the paper’s correspondent who had accompanied the Children’s Crusade every step of the way, wrote about Mother’s reaction to the President’s response:
The allusion to the President’s sympathy as shown by his action while Governor of New York refers to an anti-child labor law which was passed under his administration. But that does not by any means satisfy the “Mother.”
She declares that labor has received as severe a blow in the face as though no letter had been received. “The President did not grant the interview, and that was what we asked for,” she said.
“The letter drops us down, as they think, in a a manner which disarms us. But I serve notice that the matter is not dropped here. If President Roosevelt was in such hearty sympathy with the child slaves while he was Governor of New York, what has worked such a change that he will refuse to see three boys who represent thousands of other children who are wearing out their lives in the mills.”
The same day, the news appeared in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette (PA) of a failed attempt by the National Civic Federation to settle the Philadelphia Textile Strike. The manufactures steadfastly refused to allow a 55-hour work week, insisting on 60 hours, even for the children. This was despite the strikers’ offer to accept a corresponding reduction in wages.
The strikers returned to work, as best they could, defeated.
A Federal Child Labor Law was not upheld by the Supreme Court until 1941.
And that law continues to allow child labor in the agricultural industry to this very day.
Child Farmworkers in the United States
Human Rights Watch
Babies in the Mill by Dorsey Dixon
To their jobs those little ones was strictly forced to go.
Those babies had to be on time through rain and sleet and snow.
Many times when things went wrong their bosses often frowned.
Many times those little ones was kicked and shoved around.
Delaware County Daily Times
of May 29, 1903
The New York Times
of June 130, 1903
The Wellsboro Gazette
-of June 17, 1903
The Cincinnati Enquirer
-of June 18, 1903
The Bucks County Gazette
-of July 9, 1903
-of July 10, 1903
New Brunswick Daily Times
-of July 13, 1903
-of July 14,
The Indianapolis News
-of July 15, 1903
Boston Daily Globe
-of July 15, 1903
-of July 16, 1903
-of July 17, 1903
(Newark, New Jersey)
-of July 16, 1903
The Inter Ocean
-of July 20, 1903
-of July 23, 1903
The Atlanta Constitution
-of July 24, 1903
The Cincinnati Enquirer
-of July 28, 1903
-of Aug 4, 1903
-of August 1903
“Child Slaves of Philadelphia”
-by John Spargo
(Search with title of article, choose p.253)
Broadcast Weekly Publishing, 1904
(Search google books with “Broadcast Weekly.”
Then search the book with “Frank Bostock.”
Makes good reading!)
The Autobiography of Mother Jones
-ed by Mary Field Parton
Charles H Kerr Pub, 1990
Pittston Strike Commemorative Edition
The Miners’ Angel
-by Dale Fetherling
So IL U Press, 1974
Mother Jones Speaks
-ed by Philip S Foner
The Correspondence of Mother Jones
-ed by Edward M Steel
U of Pittsburgh Press, 1985
(Parts of this diary have previously appeared in Hellraisers Jounal.)