Women and the Trades

Source: Elizabeth Beardsley Butler, Women and the Trades: Pittsburgh 1907-1908 (New York: Charities Publication Committee, 1909), pp. 332-333

Text: There were then in Pittsburgh in 1907, 22,185 working women in factories and stores, besides many more in occupations uncounted in this census; yet of this number only 258, less than 2 per cent, were in touch with a centre for social development and recreation, either in the play or re-creating sense. Even a little leisure is a by-product of life too valuable to waste, and the community is the loser if the free hour is spent only in weariness or some undesirable form of entertainment. Nickelodeons and dance halls and skating rinks are in no sense inherently bad, but so long as those maintained for profit are the only relief for nervous weariness and the desire for stimulation, we may well reckon leisure a thing spent, not used. These amusements take a toll from the people’s income, disproportionate to the pleasure gained. They divert, and to the work-weary girl, diversion is essential. Yet there should be possibility for constructive diversion. A diversion is needed which shall be a form of social expression, and with slighter toll from strength and income, be of lasting value to the body and spirit.

I shall not soon forget a Saturday evening when I stood among the crowd of pleasure-seekers on Fifth Avenue, and watched the men and women packed thick at the entrance of every picture-show. My companion and I bought tickets for one of the five cent shows. Our way was barred by a sign, “Performance now going on.” As we stood near the door, the crowd of people waiting to enter filled the long vestibule and even part of the sidewalk. They were determined to be amused, and this was one of the things labeled, “Amusement.” They were hot and tired and irritable, but willing to wait until long after our enthusiasm was dampened, and we had left them standing in line for their chance to go in.

It was an incident not without significance, this eagerness with which they turned toward leisure after a working week of unmeaning hours. Are we very sure that this eagerness is not as well worth conserving as any river fall that makes electricity or drives a mill?

Comments: Elizabeth Beardsley Butler (1885-1911) was an American social investigator. She was an important contributor to the Pittsburgh Survey, an extensive survey of social conditions in the American city, of which Women and the Trades: Pittsburgh, 1907-1908 was the first volume of six.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive