Such was the character of native American labor, less than forty years ago, and such, almost, it still remains in those, now few, centers of industry where it has been little diluted with a foreign element. Nowhere is this so conspicuously the case as in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and especially in the western valleys of the former State, where important mill-streams, such as the Housatonic, the Naugatuck, and the Farmington, are lined with mills still largely manned by native Americans.
Aside from wages, which will be separately considered, the housing, education, sobriety, and pauperism of any given industrial community form together the best possible test of its social condition. In regard to the housing of labor, there is no more important fact to be discovered than the proportion of an operative population who possess in fee simple the houses in which they dwell. This proportion among the wage-earners of Massachusetts is remarkably high, one working man in every four being the proprietor of the house in which he lives. Of the remaining three-fourths, 45 per cent. rent their houses, and 30 per cent. are boarders. With regard to inhabitancy, the average number of persons living in one house in Massachusetts is rather more than six, while the average number of the Massachusetts family is four and three quarter persons. Hence, lodgers being excepted, almost every operative family in this State lives under its own roof, while one fourth of all such roofs are owned by the heads of families dwelling therein.
I leave, for a moment, the agreeable task of describing one of these homes of native American labor, and pass on to the question of education, whose universality among native Americans is perhaps most vividly illustrated by the following facts. Of 1,200 persons born in Massachusetts, whether of native or foreign parents, only one is unable to read or write, while four Germans and Scotch, six English, twenty French Canadians, twenty-eight Irish, and thirty-four Italians, out of every 100 emigrants of these nationalities respectively are illiterate. The total number of public, elementary, and high schools in the United States is 225,800, or about one school for every 200 of the entire population, and one for, say, every fifty of the 10,000,000 pupils who attended school during the census year of 1880. Finally, referring once more to Massachusetts, there are nearly 2,000 free libraries in this single State, or one to every 800 inhabitants, and these, together, own 3,500,000 volumes, and circulate 8,000,000 of volumes annually.
With regard to sobriety, it is well known that local option succeeds in closing the liquor saloons in very many operative American towns, and with the happiest results. The county of Barnstaple in Massachusetts, for example, with a population of 32,000 souls, and having no licensed liquor saloons, yields a crop of only three convictions per annum for drunkenness. The county of Suffolk, on the other hand, with a population of nearly 400,000, and a license for every 175 of its inhabitants, acknowledges one drunkard for every 50 of its population. The labor in one case is nearly all native; in the other, largely foreign.
It is almost, if not quite, impossible to obtain the statistics of pauperism in America. The "indoor" poor, as paupers in almshouses are called, can be found and counted with comparative ease, but how can the outdoor paupers be found? It is no use inquiring for them from door to door, and the poor-master's disbursements are so limited in amount that his bills for pauper relief become mixed up with other items, so that they cannot be separately stated. The total number of paupers resident in American almshouses is 67,000, or about one in every 70,000 of the whole population. In England, we have still one pauper in every fifty thousand of the population. Such being the more important aspects of native American labor, as displayed by the statistician, it is time for the social observer to give his account of a typical American artisan's home.
We are at Ansonia, in the Naugatuck valley, one of the chief towns of "Clockland," where, within a radius of twenty miles, watches and clocks are made by millions and sold for a few shillings apiece. Our friend Mr. S. is an Ansonia mechanic who occupies a house with a basement of cut stone and a tasteful superstructure of wood, having a wide veranda, kitchen, parlor, and bed-room on the ground floor and three bedrooms above. The house is painted white, adorned with green jalousies, and surrounded by a well-tilled quarter acre lot. Its windows are aglow with geraniums, and from its veranda we glance upward to the wooded slopes of the Green Mountain range, and downward to the River Naugatuck, whose blue mill-ponds look like tiny Highland lakes surrounded by great factories. Within, a pleasant sitting-room is furnished with all the comforts and some of the luxuries of life, the tables are strewn with books, and the walls decorated with pretty photographs. Mr. S.'s wife and daughter are educated and agreeable women, who entertain us, during an hour's call, with intelligent conversation, which, turning for the most part on the events of the War of Independence, is characterized by ample historical knowledge, a logical habit of mind, and a remarkable readiness to welcome new ideas.
No refreshments are offered us, for no one eats between meals, and, in private houses, as in the public refreshment rooms, where native labor usually takes its meals, nothing stronger than water is ever drunk. Such are the homes of men whom I would distinguish as "American" artisans, and such, also, are those of many foreign workmen who have been long under native influence.
It is not in the valleys of Massachusetts, however, that the greatest manufacturing cities of the Union are to be found, the towns already referred to containing usually only a few thousand inhabitants, and being still, for the most part, rural in their surroundings. They are, indeed, the fastnesses, so to speak, to which the Yankee artisan has retired, after having been almost literally swept out of the great manufacturing cities by successive waves of emigrant labor, chiefly of Irish and French-Canadian nationality. To these great cities we must now turn for examples of a condition of operative society which contrasts most unfavorably with that which has already been sketched; it being, meanwhile, understood that a penumbral region, of more or less mixed conditions, graduates the brightness of the one into the darkness of the other picture.