Page images

What may be the average number of young girls a mistress employs as apprentices ? In a few of the larger establishments the number so employed, is from 30 to 40: in very few establishments is it less than six. In order that we may err on the safe side if we err at all, we shall suppose the average number to be ten. Ten, then, multiplied by fifteen hundred, would make the entire number of young creatures so occupied, 15,000.

And how do these 15,000 young females live ? and how are they treated ? A plain unvarnished narrative shall answer the questions.

The usual hour at which dress-makers' apprentices commence their labours, is seven in the morning, and that, at which they close for the day, is eleven at night. One half-hour more elapses before they can retire to rest, and in order to be ready to resume their needle at seven in the morning, they must at least get up by half-past six. The average amount of time, therefore, which is allotted for them to rest, does not exceed seven hours. This would be obviously too little for delicate female frames, especially at the critical time of life, at which, by far the largest portion of these girls are apprenticed, even were their labours light, and of short duration during the day. But the very reverse is the painful fact: they ply the needle without a moment's intermission, save the twenty or thirty minutes allowed them for eating their meals, from the time they enter the work-room, until they have quitted it for the night. Now, surely, it needs no medical genius to tell us, that, to poor young delicate creatures thus worn out day after day for a succession of months, with fourteen or fifteen hours unintermitting toil, seven hours repose is not only inadequate to meet the requirements of nature, but must be attended with the greatest perils to the constitution.

But the evil, if merely regarded in a physical light, does not end here. In addition to the injurious effects of these protracted hours of exhausting employment on the bodily health and spirits of these girls, they are pent up in heated rooms, where the luxury of a mouthful of pure fresh air is seldom enjoyed. Their meals too, which are entirely of a coarse description, and altogether unfitted for the subdued and delicate appetite of creatures thus employed in sedentary labour from morn to night, are snatched up with an expedition which deprives their food of half its nutritive qualities. As for digestion, who could expect that process to go on, when the transition from the eating apartment to the work-table is contemporaneous with the last mouthful they have swallowed ? Air and exercise are things unknown to them; and to aggravate the physical hardships of their condition, they are, in the majority of cases, subjected to insults and to irritating language, from those in whose employment it is their hard lot to be.

Such is the usual state of dress-makers' apprentices in what is called “the season,” which season, usually lasts seven or eight months of the year. On urgent occasions, such as a Drawing-room, a ball, or other greater display at court, the hardships of their case are increased ten-fold. That we may not be suspected of over-colouring the picture, or of giving an exaggerated account of a state of things which is proverbially bad, we shall fortify our positions on this point, by a short quotation from an article which has recently appeared in a literary Journal; which article, we know from a private

source, to have proceeded from the pen of a lady well acquainted with the subject.

The dress-makers,” says that lady, in describing a scene which consisted with her own personal knowledge, are for the most part young, and many have not done growing. It is near midnight of the second night of working, when they should have been sleeping, and they are to sit through the whole of this night and next day; making three days and two nights of incessant sewing; an occupation which cannot be safely pursued for more than a few hours at a time. These girls are fed high *-roast beef, porter, port wine, are supplied them; the rooms are kept light and hot, every stimulus is applied. Three at once drop off their chairs fainting, they are plied with strong green tea, and they resume their work. As often as they are sinking, more green tea is given them—their eyes are dim, their skin burns, their hands tremble, their voices are hysterical—but the ball-dresses are finished ;' and that was the object to be attained.

What a melancholy picture ! . And yet the scene so vividly described, is one of every-day occurrence in the height of the London season. What constitution could withstand the effects of such attacks on it ? Not the most robust frame that ever female possessed. The constitutions of but very few, even of the stronger sex, could pass through such an ordeal uninjured.

Not less certain, though not so sudden, is the injury done to the health of dress-makers' apprentices, by their ordinary labours, coupled with the confinement, and the treatment, to which they are subjected. Their pale countenances, haggard looks, and general lifelessness of appearance, attest but too conclusively, the existence of a something within, which is impairing their health, and which, if the cause be not removed, will render them sickly and feeble for life ; if, indeed, it do not consign them to a premature grave. It is, we believe, a well-ascertained fact, that a greater number of dress-makers fall into consumption, and die of that fatal disease, than of any other class of persons in the community.

* Only on these occasions, when almost superhuman indurance and exertions are expected from them, and when it is for the interest of their employers to “keep them up to the mark."

We have ourselves known young females come up from the country, to serve two years' apprenticeship with a London dress-maker, in the view of returning to their native place, and then commencing business for themselves. They have come to London with a bloom on their cheeks, a flow of animal spirits in their conversation, and a general appearance of life about them, which it was a luxury to witness, but before four months had elapsed, we have seen them so pale, emaciated, dispirited, and altered in their appearance, that their own relations could hardly have recognized them.

(To be continued.)

THE FRIENDLESS AND THE DESTITUTE. In London there are many thousands of young females wholly dependant upon their own labours for daily support: their scanty earnings, in the majority of instances, are barely sufficient to procure the necessaries of life: their resources are contingent upon the caprice of overlookers and foremen, upon fashion, the weather, and what is called the season :" the slightest failure in health, or any of the uncertainties of life and business, entirely cut off their means of support, and make destitute even the few, who, by superior skill and incessant toil, were, from their miserable pittance, providing a little fund for the time of need.

The privations of the young female, when thus suddenly deprived of the means of support, are most distressing :-without food, and pressed by the still more urgent demands for rent, she too often seeks to be relieved from her difficulties by means at variance with the laws both of God and man.

But fearful and distressing as are the temptations and trials that have been thus feebly described, there are large numbers of young women, who, by previous indulgence and affectionate watchfulness, are rendered less able to bear the sudden reverses of life ; and who, unacquainted with the dangers of the metropolis, fall an easy prey to those who are ever on the alert to ensnare, to deceive, and to destroy. The London Female Mission, anxious to prevent this, have established an Indigent Refuge for young females of character. The following are the several classes which this Refuge is designed to preserve and succour :

I. Female Servants, who, by illness or any other unavoidable cause, are suddenly deprived of the means of support, and who are unable to pay even the small sum for board and lodging required at the Servants' Home.

II. Young Women, who are engaged in the numerous branches of manufacture, and the various departments of needle-work; and who, by slackness of trade or change of fashion, are brought to destitution and want.

III. Young Girls, who, by the removal or death of friends, are placed in an exposed or distressed position in society.

IV. Young Females, who, having come from the country to search for situations or friends, and failing in their object,

« PreviousContinue »