We cannot hope to do justice to this branch of our subject. To treat it properly would require a volume, for it is full of the saddest, sternest, and most truthful romance. A writer in Putnam's Magazine for April, 1868, presented an able and authentic paper on this subject, which is so full and interesting that we have decided to quote a few extracts from it here, in place of any statement of our own.

Where the Bowery runs into Chatham street, we pause, and from within our close-buttoned overcoats look out over our mufflers at the passing throng. There are many novel features in it, but let them pass. Note these thinly-clad creatures who hurry shivering past, while the keen wind searches, with icy fingers, through their scanty garments, and whirls the blinding snow in their pitiful, wearied faces. We count them by tens, by scores, by hundreds, as we stand patiently here - all bearing the same general aspect of countenance, all hurrying anxiously forward, as if this morning's journey were the most momentous one of their whole lives. But they take the same journey every morning, year in and year out, whether the sun shines or the rain falls, or the bleak winds whistle and the snow sweeps in their faces, with a pain like the cutting of knives. The same faces go past in this dreary procession month after month. Occasionally one will be missing - she is dead. Another: she is worse than dead - her face had beauty in it. Thus one by one I have seen them drop away - caught by disease, born of their work and their want, bringing speedy end to the weary, empty life; caught by temptation and drawn into the giddy maelstrom of sin, to come out no more forever.

To-morrow morning take your stand at Fulton or Catharine ferry, and you shall see much such another procession go shivering by. The next day station yourself somewhere on the west side, say in Canal street, a few blocks from Broadway; here it is again. If Asmodeus-like, you could hover in the air above the roofs of the town, and look down upon its myriad streets at this hour, you would see such processions in every quarter of the metropolis. The spectacle would help you to form some idea of the vastness of the theme now on our hands.

Let us define the poor girls as those who are forced to earn whatever food they eat, whatever clothing they wear, by hard toil; girls who do not receive one cent, one crumb, from the dead, helpless, or recreant parents who brought them into the world. It is, of course, impossible to give their number accurately; but there is a result attainable by persistent observation, day by day and week by week, at all hours, and in all sorts of places, which is quite as reliable and satisfactory as any that is obtainable through blundering census-takers; and I know this army of poor girls to be one of great magnitude. The sewing girls alone I have heard estimated at thirty thousand, by one whose life is in every day contact with them, and has been for years. This is but a single class among the poor girls, reflect. The estimate may be deemed an exaggerated one. Then we will disarm criticism by taking it at half its word. If, accordingly, we say thirty thousand for the whole - for all classes - it is still a vague figure.... Few persons ever saw thirty thousand people gathered together. But we all comprehend distances. If this army of poor girls were to form in a procession together, it would be more than ten miles long.

                     THE SEWING GIRLS.

There are two classes of sewing girls in New York. Those who work at home, and those who go out to work at places provided by their employers. Those who work at home are comparatively few. They stay there not from choice, but from necessity. Bodily deformity, or infirmity, or sickness, or invalid parents, or relatives, whom they are unable to leave, keeps them there.

The writer in Putnam, to whose deeply interesting statement we refer the reader for further information on this point, found a poor girl of this class, who was kept at home by the sickness of her consumptive father, living and working in a miserable tenement house in the upper part of Mulberry street. After a brief conversation with her, he asked:

'What rent do you pay for this room, Mary?'

'Four dollars a month, sir.'

"That," he continues, "is little more than thirteen cents a day, you will observe."

'What do you get for making such a shirt as that?'

'Six cents, sir.'

'What! You make a shirt for six cents?'

'Yes, sir, and furnish the thread.'

If my reader is incredulous, I can assure him that Mary does not tell a falsehood; for I know that this price is paid by some of the most 'respectable' firms in New York. 'Can't you get work to do at higher prices?'

'Sometimes, sir. But these folks are better than many others; they pay regularly. Some who offer better prices will cheat, or they won't pay when the work is carried home These folks give me plenty of work, and I never have to wait; so I don't look around for better. I can't afford to take the risk, sir; so many will cheat us.'

Respectability is a good thing, you see. Let me whisper a few other prices to you, which respectability pays its poor girls. Fifteen or twenty cents for making a linen coat, complete; sixty-two cents per dozenfor making men's heavy overalls; one dollar a dozen for making flannel shirts. Figures are usually very humdrum affairs, but what a story they tell here! These last prices I did not get from Mary. I got them in the first place, from a benevolent lady who works with heart and hand, day after day, all her time, in endeavoring to better the condition of the poor girls of New York. But I got them, in the second place, from the employers themselves. By going to them, pencil in hand, and desiring the cheerful little particulars for publication? Hardly! I sent my office-boy out in search of work for an imaginary 'sister,' and to inquire what would be paid her. Having inquired, and got his answer, it is needless to say that James concluded his sister could live without taking in sewing.

So, you see, that in order merely to pay her rent, Mary must make two shirts a day. That being done, she must make more to meet her other expenses. She has fuel to buy - and a pail of coal costs her fifteen cents. She has food to buy - but she eats very little, her father still less. She has not tasted meat of any kind for over a year, she tells us. What then does she eat? Bread and potatoes, principally; she drinks a cup of cheap tea, without milk or sugar, at night - provided she has any, which she frequently has not. She has also to buy (I am not painting fancy pictures, I am stating facts, which are not regulated by any rules known to our experience) 'a trifle of whiskey.' Mary's father was not reared a teetotaller, and though I was, and have no taste for liquor, I am able to see how a little whiskey may be the last physical solace possible to this miserable man, whose feet press the edge of a consumptive's grave.

"Perhaps you think it cannot be any of our first and wealthiest firms that pay poor girls starvation prices for their work. But you are mistaken. If my publishers did not deem it unwise to do so, I should give the names of some of our best Broadway houses as among the offenders against the poor girls."

                     A LIFE-STRUGGLE.

"Let us follow one of these poor girls," says the writer we have quoted, "as she comes out of the den of this beast of prey, and moves off, wringing her hands in an agony of distress. Day and night, with wearying industry, she had been working upon the dozen shirts he had given her to make. She had been looking forward - with what eagerness you can hardly realize - to the hour when she could carry him her work and get her pay, and recover her deposit money or receive more shirts to do. Now she is turned into the street with nothing! She dares not return to her miserable boarding-place in Delancey street, for her Irish landlady is clamorous for the two weeks' board now due. Six dollars! The sum is enormous to her. She had expected that to-night she could hand the Irish woman the money she had earned, and that it, with a promise of more soon, might appease her. But now she has nothing for her - nothing. Despair settles down upon her. Hunger is its companion, for she has had no supper. Where shall she go?"

Night has come down since she left Delancey street, carrying the heavy bundle of new-made shirts. The streets are lighted up, and are alive with bustle. Heedless what course she takes, unnoticed, uncared-for by any in the great ocean of humanity whose waves surge about her, she wanders on, and by-and-by turns into Broadway. Broadway, ever brilliant - with shop windows where wealth gleams in a thousand rare and beautiful shapes; Broadway, with its crowding omnibuses and on-pouring current of life, its Niagara roar, its dazzle - is utter loneliness to her. The fiery letters over the theatre entrances are glowing in all the colors of the rainbow. Gayly-attired ladies, girls of her own age, blest with lovers or brothers, are streaming in at the portal, beyond which she imagines every delight - music, and beauty, and perfume of flowers, and warmth. She looks in longingly, hugging her shivering shoulders under her sleazy shawl, till a policeman bids her 'move on.' Out of the restaurants there float delicious odors of cooking meats, making her hungrier still. Her eyes rest, with a look half wild and desperate, on the painted women who pass, in rustling silks, and wearing the semblance of happiness. At least they are fed - they are clothed - they can sit in bright parlors, though they sit with sin. It is easy to yield to temptation. So many do! You little know how many. In Paris, she might perhaps go and throw herself into the Seine. In New York, such suicides are not common; but there is a moral suicide, which is common. Thousands on thousands of poor girls have thrown themselves into this stream, in the last agony of desperation; sinking down in the dark current of sin, to be heard of no more.

But this poor wanderer has memories of a home, and a mother, under whose protection she had been taught to shudder at sin. She cannot plunge into this ghastly river with wide-open eyes - at least, not yet. She walks on.

Her ear is caught by sounds of music and laughter, songs and bursts of applause, that come up out of these basement-haunting concert saloons. She has heard of the 'pretty waiter girls' - the fine clothes they wear, the gay lives they lead, their only labor to wait upon the patrons of the saloon, and chat with them as they sit about the tables listening to the music. 'It is a life of Paradise,' she murmurs, 'to this life I lead!' At least, she thinks, there is no actual sin in being a waiter girl. She perceives a wide distance between the descent of these basement stairs to solicit employment, and that other dreadful resource.

The poor girls who work in these underground hells do not get good pay, and their work is not light. They are confined in these noisome places, thick with tobacco smoke and foul with poisonous odors, till two o'clock in the morning; in some places till five o'clock. Their pay is four dollars to six dollars a week; higher figures, certainly, than thousands of working-girls get, but, for two reasons, lower, in effect. The first of these two reasons is, that the waiter girl must dress with some degree of attractiveness. The second, and the most weighty, is, that she must pay a high price for board. Going home long after midnight, she must live somewhere in the vicinity of the saloon. Then the woman who, having taken a girl to board, finds that she comes home after two o'clock every night, draws her own conclusions at once. That girl must pay well for her board, if, indeed, she be not turned out of the house without a word. It will scarcely help the matter, if the girl explains that she is employed at a concert saloon. The woman knows very well what 'pretty waiter girls' are. 'Those creatures' must pay for what they have, and pay roundly. The result is, that the waiter girl's occupation will not support her. The next result is, that there are no virtuous girls in the concert saloons of Broadway - unless they be such girls as this we are following tonight, as she wanders the streets, pausing to look down into this fancied half-Paradise, only to enter it at last, in search of 'good pay.'

Let us go down with her. She pushes open the green-baize door, and walks timidly to the bar. A girl who is passably pretty can almost always get a situation here. The big-armed prize-fighter-looking brute behind the bar reads our wanderer's history at once. 'Fresh' girls are rare in that quarter. She is assisted to improve her dress a little - in some cases these girls are provided with a fancy costume, a la Turque, which they don at coming, and doff at leaving each night - and she commences her work. A crowd of half-drunk rowdies enter, and call on her to serve them, attracted by her sweet face. The grossest insults are put upon her, her character being taken for granted; infamous liberties are taken with her person, and her confusion laughed at. She would fly from the place at once, if she dared; but she does not dare - she is afraid of the man behind the bar. Her experience with men has taught her to expect nothing but brutality from them, if she offend them in any way. When the weary hours have dragged along to the end, and the place is closed, she goes out into the street again, with a bevy of other girls. The street is still and lonely; the long lines of lamps twinkle in silence; the shop windows are all shrouded in darkness; there are no rumbling wheels, save when an occasional hack passes with slow-trotting horses.

Now she must decide upon her course. This is the critical moment. Will she adhere to her new-found employment? If she do, one of her companions will volunteer to take her to a boarding-place - and from that hour she is lost. But perhaps she breaks away: a policeman saunters by, and she appeals to him, begging to be taken to a station-house to sleep - a common resource with the homeless poor girl - and on the morrow resumes her deathly struggle for existence. How long it will last - how long she will fight her almost inevitable fate - no one can tell.

"But the poor girls who work in shops provided by their employers, fare better, you think. At least, they find shelter and warmth in the cold winter, while at work? At least, they are permitted to breathe and live."

                    THE WORKSHOPS OF THE POOR GIRLS.

There are hoop-skirt manufactories where, in the incessant din of machinery, girls stand upon weary feet all day long for fifty cents. There are photograph galleries - you pass them in Broadway admiringly - where girls 'mount' photographs in dark rooms, which are hot in summer and cold in winter, for the same money. There are girls who make fans, who work in feathers, who pick over and assort rags for paper warehouses, who act as 'strippers' in tobacco shops, who make caps, and paper boxes, and toys, and almost all imaginable things. There are milliners' girls, and bindery girls, and printers' girls - press-feeders, bookfolders, hat-trimmers. It is not to be supposed that all these places are objectionable; it is not to be supposed that all the places where sewing-girls work are objectionable; but among each class there are very many - far too many - where evils of the gravest character exist, where the poor girls are wronged, the innocents suffer. There are places where there are not sufficient fires kept, in cold weather, and where the poor girl, coming in wet and shivering from the storm, must go immediately to work, wet as she is, and so continue all day. There are places where the 'silent system' of prisons is rigidly enforced, where there are severe penalties for whispering to one's neighbor, and where the windows are closely curtained, so that no girl can look out upon the street; thus, in advance, inuring the girls to the hardships of prison discipline, in view of the possibility that they may some day become criminals! There are places where the employer treats his girls like slaves, in every sense of the word. Pause a moment, and reflect onall that signifies. As in the South 'as it was,' some of these girls are given curses, and even blows, and even kicks; while others are special favorites either of 'the boss,' or of some of his male subordinates, and dress well, pay four dollars a week for board, and fare well generally - on a salary of three dollars a week.


Until you have lived the life of the working girl, lady, reading this page, you cannot know what their temptation is - how hard it is to keep away sin and shame. By all the doors at which temptation can enter to you, it enters to them; and by many other doors of which you know nothing by experience. It comes in the guise of friendship to them, who are utterly friendless in the world. It comes in the guise of love - and do you think the poor girl never yearns for the caressing touch of love's palm on her aching brow? never longs to be folded in the comforting embrace of love's strong arms? Ah, she knows the worth of love! It comes, too, through womanly vanity, as it does to her happier sisters, who sit higher in the social scale. But in addition to these, temptation comes to the poor girl through the tortures of a hunger which gnaws upon the vitals - of a cold which chills the young blood with its ice - of a weariness under which the limbs tremble, the head reels, the whole frame sinks prostrate.

"If you were starving, and could not otherwise get food, possibly you would steal it. I would. If hunger will rouse strong men to active crime, how easy must it be for it to lead the poor girl to a merely passive sin! Yet she struggles with a bravery which few would give her credit for - with this, as with all her temptations. There was Agnes - , a beautiful girl of seventeen, who resisted the temptation that came to her through her own employer. He discharged her. Unable to pay her board, she was turned into the streets. It was a bitter day in January. For four days she wandered the streets, looking for work - only for work. 'I envied the boys who shoveled snow from the sidewalks. I would gladly have done their work for half they got.' Hungry, she pawned her shawl. When that was gone, she went twenty-four hours without a crumb, shivering through the streets. At night, she slept in the station- house - without a bed, thankful for mere shelter. Again and again she was tempted; but she did not yield. She found work at last, and leads her cruel life still, patiently and uncomplaining. There was Caroline G - -, who came from the West to New York, fancying the great city would have plenty of work to give her. She, too, wandered the streets, and slept at night in the station-house. On the third day - which was the Christian Sabbath - mercy seemed to have found her. A gentlemanly appearing person spoke to her, and learning her want, offered to give her a place as seamstress in his family. He lived a short distance in the country, he said, and took her to a hotel to stay till next day, when they would take the cars for his home. The hotel was an elegant one; the room given her was hung with silk and lace; but she preferred the hard floor of the station-house, that night, to its luxurious state - for her 'protector' was a wolf in sheep's clothing."