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The last General Assembly passed the following law: Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Missouri, as
SECTION 1. That it shall be the duty of all employers of females in any mercantile business or occupation to provide and maintain suitable seats for the use of such female employes at or beside the counter or work-bench where employed, and to permit the use of such seats by employes to such an extent as may be reasonable for the preservation of their health.
Sec. 2. That any violation of this act by any employer shall be deemed a misdemeanor, and on being thereof convicted shall be pun. ished by a fine not exceeding twenty-five dollars, at the discretion of the court. And it is hereby made the duty of the commissioner of labor statistics to secure, as far as may be in his power, a proper observance of the provisions of this act.
Sec. 3. All acts or parts of acts inconsistent with this act are hereby repealed.
Approved March 7, 1885.
It being made the duty of the Commissioner of Labor Statistics to enforce the provisions of this enactment, I have personally or by my chief clerk, twice visited the principal mercantile establishments in St. Louis and Kansas City where females are employed—the first time presenting a copy of the law to each of the proprietors or business managers of the same, and explaining its provisions, and the second time (two months afterwards) to look after its observance and compliance.
I found, except in one or two instances only, a cheerful disposition to acquiesce in the law, and a general concession that the intent of the law was good, and its enforcement would result to the advantage of the employer by protecting the health and thereby promoting the usefulness and business eificiency of the employes. Many establishments had long before the passage of the law anticipated its benefits and had ample seats provided for their employes. Others cheerfully conformed to it. It would, however, be difficult, were the provisions of the law ignored or evaded, to obtain information from the employes that would safely warrant a prosecution, for the simple reason that whoever gave information or appeared as a witness, would be sure to loose her situation.
However, I find upon the whole that the law is working well, and have reason to believe that prosecutions will not be necessary, the good common sense of the employer being of itself sufficient to enforce it.
According to the United States census of 1880, there were employed in that year in the State of Missouri, 63,995 minors, classified as follows: Males over 16 years old, 54,200; females over 15 years old, 5,474, and children of lees age 4,321. Nearly all of this number are employed in the larger cities, St. Louis employing alone a total of 41,825. Of the number of children 3,084 appear as employed in St. Louis. This labor is mostly employed in the manufacture of tobacco, baking powders, matches, crackers, candies, cotton bagging and knit goods.
To ascertain the exact age of children so employed is next to impossible, as it appears that they are instructed to avoid giving information in that respect, their answer in most instances being: “I am 14
I years old.” Many of these children in our crowded cities are growing up without even the rudiments of education, and the number of this class seems to be increasing yearly, and will continue to do so in proportion with the development of those industries where child-labor is utilized.
Some of the parents are anxious, while many of them are from necessity compelled to have the children's work aid in providing for the necessities of life, at the sacrafice of the moral and mental culture of the same.
To provide at least for a partial education nearly all the States of the Union have laws in existence prohibiting the employment of children under fourteen years of age, unless they can show that they have attended school for at least three months during the year next preceding.
As the continued and constant employment of children at work will prevent their mental development, so will the confinement in factories and workshops during ten hours each day retard and cripple their physical development. Laws can perhaps be enacted to bring some relief, but the main, and in my opinion the only successful remedy will be the fostering of public sympathy for the children, and the cultivation of a public opinion against their employment.