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PROTECTIVE WORK WITH THE YOUNG
MAKING THE COMMUNITY SAFE FOR THE CHILD
Jessie F. Binford, Director, Juvenile Protective Association, Chicago
There is no more popular subject of discussion today than our young people, and the inevitable conclusion usually is that when all is said or done the fault is really with the home. We cannot here enter into a discussion of home influences, but we know of course that they are, or can be, the most stabilizing factors in life. Communities, however, have certain responsibilities for their homes, and when they permit bad housing conditions, sordid, neglected residence districts, an economic situation that makes for poverty and neglect, those communities must inevitably substitute institutions for homes for many of their children, even to making provision for some of them in asylums, reformatories, and prisons.
Neither can we discuss at length the educational systems which we have built up, but we know perfectly well that until our schools adjust themselves to the needs of the individual instead of the group, and until they make provision through visiting teachers or some specialized group, call it what you will, for an early detection and adjustment of personality and social problems, the school can be held greatly responsible for many of the children who drift into our courts. And if our educators are slow to realize these two great needs, let us remember that after all the community is responsible for its schools.
In the lives of many of our children, even while at a very tender age and still in school, we begin to see the shadows of child labor. Children work in our mills and factories and fields; they go home from school to crack nuts, to bead dresses, to make artificial flowers and lamp shades and feathers, to tie tags; they help distribute our newspapers on the street corners and out on the wagons at all hours of day and night; they amuse the great pleasure-loving, thoughtless public by appearing in our theaters. At the tender age of fourteen, or perhaps younger, thousands of them are certificated for work. They leave school and cast their fortunes in our great commercial and industrial world.
Children are an important element today in the business of production and consumption. While we are spending millions in an attempt to educate and adjust them, emphasizing more and more the importance of childhood years, we allow a total disregard of childhood in permitting them not only to work, but in submitting them to stimulations and suggestions that every educator in the world recognizes as destructive. A recent release from the federal Children's Bureau (April 18, 1926) states that as a result of industrial accidents, in three states in one year, 38 young persons were killed, 920 partly disabled for life, and 6,520 temporarily disabled. Only accidents which were serious enough to have compensation paid for them were selected in the three states, so that the total number of young people injured was much larger. Accidents were
most numerous and injuries most serious in the cases of boys and girls sixteen and seventeen years old, this group being less experienced and careful than the older ones. Our child laborers have not been educated or trained; they have little stability or judgment; they are not satisfied or contented with what they have to do. And our vocational bureaus, at best, can only guide and perhaps make life a little less difficult and monotonous for them.
Child labor has shaped the end for many of the children of today, and yet we allow commercial interests to defeat one of the most humane pieces of legislation ever introduced into our legislatures. Shall we go on sending children into industry at an age and under conditions which make it impossible for them to attain normal mental and physical development? Is any community that demands child labor for its support, its pleasure, or its commercial success really safe for the child?
Recently the owner of one of our great newspapers came out with an editorial having this headline, "We can cure criminals by a practical application of the principles of Christianity." This elicited great commendation from religious and civic leaders throughout the country. Is it not typical of our lack of intelligent and thoughtful civic consciousness and responsibility that we find no comment on the fact that the newspaper itself today is one of the greatest influences in the lives of our children, and that child labor in the distribution of newspapers is a great factor in our production of delinquency? Where would Mr. Hearst have us begin to apply the principles of Christianity? And is he willing to take into consideration all the factors that begin to formulate a delinquent career even in the newspaper business? The distributing room of his own newspaper in Chicago has long been a source of much delinquency among the little boys who work there. Mr. Hearst's editorial with the general comment on it is an example of our tendency to applaud some general panacea which is so comforting to talk about that we fail to see its most obvious and simple application.
We must admit, whether we like it or not, that community life is a much greater factor in the lives of children today than ever before. Schools and churches and community centers take them away from home; they walk and play on our streets; they see our billboards and posters; they live in apartments; they read our newspapers which carry every detail of world-problems and of personal and public tragedies and scandals; they see our theaters and movies; they seek recreation in all kinds of commercial amusement places; they play in our great city and county playgrounds; and the automobile has made it possible for them easily to find recreation in far-away communities. They are continuously being impressed, consciously or unconsciously, by the standards and ideals which we adults express in our business and civic and personal lives. You are mistaken if you think it is long before they recognize the inconsistencies in our community life with what we have tried to teach them in the home, the school, and the church. An Italian girl whom we have known for many years flung her
self out of our office the other day with this parting retort, "You grown-up people are all alike. You say do what we tell you, not what we do." She had been acting as a maid in large downtown hotels and had been really shocked by the public violation of the Eighteenth Amendment by men and women whom she had had every reason to believe would respect our laws whether they liked them or not.
Years ago, in her book, The Spirit of Youth in the City Streets, Miss Addams spoke of the theater as "being a veritable house of dreams, infinitely more real than the noisy street and the crowded factories for thousands of young people in industrial cities where going to the show is the only possible road to the realms of mystery and romance." Since Miss Addams wrote this book, "going to the show" has become a part of the recreation of all children, not only in cities, but in every town and village. Four years' investigation by the Federal Trade Commission reveals the following facts: capital invested in the moving picture business, $1,500,000,000, thus ranking it fourth financially in United States industries; daily attendance, 20,000,000, three-fourths of this representing children and young people; number of theaters, 20,000.
It is not enough that our children help fill the moving picture houses as spectators; they are now being used to attract adult patrons. Very small children are dancing in the Charleston contests, performing all kinds of stunts on "Discovery" and "Amateur" nights, and taking part in dramatic performances. It is really most unpopular to urge any enforcement of our laws relative to children on the stage, and you get little support or interest in your efforts. Just about twenty-five years ago we established in Chicago the first juvenile court, and today we are advertised as the first city to conduct a juvenile movie contest. The children are to wear Buster Brown clothes bought at the Davis Store, Buster Brown shoes made by the Brown Shoe Company, in St. Louis, and the winners, one boy and one girl, will be sent to Hollywood to try out in the Buster Brown Comedies. Fifty-five theaters are to give these weekly preliminary contests, and it is estimated that 40,000 children will take part in them. The dancing schools and the theaters, with the help of the advertising medium of the newspapers and even the manufacturers, have discovered a cooperative method of persuading people to buy their commodity of entertainment. Their business of selling has become a science, and they were quick to realize the appeal of children on the stage; but what effect this is going to have on the children is a most serious thing.
As spectators and partners now our children witness vulgar, obscene, and often indecent vaudeville acts, pictures of sex and passion, brutal fights, frightful accidents, scenes of debauchery and illicit love, movies of people in their most lawless and passionate moments; and here they are getting their ideas of life and living.
This is supplemented by what they read in our newspapers and in our cheap, obscene, and suggestive magazines; by what they sing in many of our popular
songs; by the general appeal to the sex instinct of youth which has become a great asset in many commercial enterprises. Can any sex hygiene education or adjustment clinics ever counteract the continued perverted and cheapened sex knowledge and appeal made to the young people of today? On the one hand we are gropingly proposing unofficial or official local, state, or even federal censorship of moving pictures and of books and magazines and posters. On the other hand producers will not even admit that anything is wrong, and are using unlimited means to fight all kinds of censorship, from the Congress of the United States to our state legislatures and even our small local courts. International problems of great importance are arising because of the exportation of most objectionable American films. In Boston we have Mr. Mencken prosecuted for a harmless story in a magazine not widely read; in Chicago, one of our oldest and most respected booksellers prosecuted for selling obscene postcards found in his art department-postcards which were all reproductions of famous paintings hanging in European galleries; in Los Angeles, an attempt to suppress Desire under the Elms. These unfortunate prosecutions are heralded in the newspapers far and wide, and we are all made ridiculous by them, and all censorship begins to seem impossible and impractical.
We have arrived at certain generalizations. Laws and ordinances, without the support of intelligent public opinion and honest administration, are futile. No one group, private or official, can dogmatically determine what adults shall see or read or hear or say, but young people must not be exploited or subjected to demoralizing influences. We must compel commercial interests to help us avoid this by the sheer force of community opinion and idealism.
Other commercial corporations and individuals are producing recreation, art, literature, and music for our young people. These producers and distributors are not educators nor have they, for the most part, a consciousness of any personal responsibility. The local Community Research Committee of the University of Chicago has been making a map showing the recreational centers of Chicago. It shows the city has a total of 3,164 recreational centers. They are divided into three classes. Commercial recreational centers (those open to the public upon payment of an admission fee) were far in the lead, with 2,020; private centers, including settlements, clubs, and private museums, were second, with 881; public institutions, including parks, public libraries, and playgrounds, were third, with 263. Classified by type, billiard and pool halls won first place with 1,098; boys' clubs, including Scout troops, second, with 463; the movies, third, with 381; dance halls fourth, with 264.
We have our dance halls, cabarets, pool rooms, our so-called "closed" dance halls, and now, our roadhouses, so easily reached and so often outside the jurisdiction of any community-all of them patronized for the most part by young people. Commercial interests are quick to supply the demand, to see an opportunity, and they always will be. We go through long processes of law attempting to legislate against and close dangerous places of amusement instead of
meeting the demand ourselves or prohibiting places that are dangerous and demoralizing from ever being opened. I do not believe that laws and ordinances, even when enforced, will ever make of commercialized recreation an asset to the recreational life of the city, but public opinion and education can do this. Mayor Dever in Chicago has recently organized a Recreation Commission, inviting representatives of civic organizations, clubs, settlements, the Boy and Girl Scouts, the Urban League, and many others who are trying in one way or another to do constructive work and who are in a position to know what the problems are. We are now urging that all those men and women who represent commercial interests in recreation be invited into this group so that we may exchange experiences with them and that they too may have a glimpse of the future which our Mayor ideally plans, when we shall have wholesome recreation for all children in all parts of the city. As long as we take all the responsibility onto ourselves we will make recreation safe and available for only a comparatively small number.
There are those other serious, menacing conditions involving the sale of liquor, gambling, commercialized vice, resulting in crime, disease, and demoralization. What are we doing about prohibition, cabarets, houses of prostitution, assignation hotels, street solicitation, and roadhouses? Are we developing better methods in our police departments, or continuing with the traditional raids and fines? Are we keeping intact the protective measures, medical, legal, and social, instituted during the war to make our boys "fit to fight"? Shall we leave the great and old problem of prostitution to the police? The other day a woman came to see me who is a notorious keeper of houses of prostitution in Chicago. When she was a mere child thirteen years old she was left pretty much alone and was placed in a house in our old Federal Street red light district, and her life ever since has been that of a prostitute or a manager of other prostitutes. Her attitude today reflects the only side of our community life which she has ever known: the demand which makes prostitutes possible and profitable; the inconsistency of legislating against it and then accepting it without intelligent protest; the graft that may protect from prosecutions and may not; the futile, senseless raids of the police; the hounding of one person and the immunity of others; the feeling that you are an outcast and at the same time a necessity in our community life. Is not such a life a challenge to us all?
A short time ago in Chicago, after the ninety-second murder in two and onehalf years attributed to gang war over beer and alcohol traffic, according to figures issued by the Chicago Detective Bureau, the Chicago Tribune had an editorial beginning with this impressive statement: "It has become apparent that there is a relationship between politics and crime in Illinois." Do you think for one moment that the boys in Chicago, especially those in certain districts, have been two and one-half years coming to this conclusion? What relation do you suppose the alliance of politics and crime has to the increasing lawless daring crime of Chicago today; the confidence of immunity from convictions, and of