Lest the nature of the enterprise suggested by the term be misunderstood, it may be advisable to define it at the outset as an endeavour to promote the mental, physical, moral, and economic well-being of men and women, boys and girls, employed in factories and large works. Manufacturers are increasingly discovering that the best results and the most satisfactory balance-sheets are obtained from work done by employees whose well-being is as intimately the concern of the firm as is the arrival of large contract orders. Contented employees working in healthy rooms, receiving fair payment, living in sanitary dwellings, with opportunity for utilising their leisure time intelligently and wisely, are human factors of efficiency and an excellent advertisement for the firm.
Always a manufacturer secures work of the best quality and more of it if the highest interests of the employees are consulted. To do so in a practical way costs money, yet the far-sighted factory owner does not begrudge it, for he finds an ample return in the willing co-operation of the employees in what concerns his interests. Thus, even if he is acting purely from self-interest, it is to his own advantage to promote the comfort, happiness, and well-being of those who work for him. Add to that incentive philanthropic motives, which usually are active also, and the formation of a welfare department with a responsible head is only a work of time.
In this country this idea is still comparatively new, but in the United States some twenty-three years ago welfare work had become sufficiently organised to warrant the appointment by a certain firm of an official responsible for its management and working; and as many of the factory hands were women and girls, it was natural to select a woman for such a post, and to call her the "social" or "welfare" secretary.
Another incentive to the creation of such an official in this country is the fervour with which Government factory inspectors carry out their inspection in the interest of the workers. Thus it has come about that many more manufacturers during the last year or so have been following a wise example in instituting a welfare department, and seeking a woman fitted to supervise it.
At present there are insufficient competent workers to fill these vacant posts, so that a woman possessed of the right qualifications should find her services in request.
This field of labour appeals with strong attraction to a woman interested in the well-being of factory hands of her own sex, and desirous of standing to them in the position of a sort of mother, adviser, benefactor, protector, admonisher, and "good angel" rolled into one. She may be called matron, secretary, or assistant-secretary, but her aim is always to promote the true interests of the workers.
It is evident that such a post demands tact and self-reliance, ability to rule and influence others, knowledge not only of human nature at large, but of that type of human nature manifested by the factory girl. Every detail of her life in and out of her place of work must be known, and everything about her particular employment understood, as well as economic and legal problems of labour and wages as they present themselves for immediate solution, so that the welfare worker may bring all her knowledge, sympathy, and authority to act for the good of the employees and in the interests of their employers. She is, therefore, a well-educated, experienced woman, endowed with practical commonsense and social ideals for the betterment of the class to which she devotes herself. Very young she should not be, nor, on the other hand, should she start the work when past middle-age, for though the duties required demand physical and mental energy, the girls to be helped are more readily influenced by a woman of ripe years. Probably some age between twenty-six and thirty-three is most suitable for her to enter on the work. A qualification not to be omitted is that of a strong personality. It is a mistake to think business capacity and aptitude for secretarial work are the main desiderata.
There are women interested in girls' clubs and philanthropic work, well fitted to train for an occupation of this kind; but they should devote at least one year to special preparation for it at one of the social settlements where study of social and labour questions of the day is followed by practical work in the neighbourhood. Mention of a few settlements may be useful:
London: Bermondsey - 187, Bermondsey Street, S.e.; Bethnal Green - St. Margaret's House, 21, Old Ford Road, Bethnal Green, E. (cost, £50 to £55 a year); Camber-well - United Girls' Schools Settlement, 19, Peckham Road, S.e. (cost, 70 guineas), situated near School of Sociology, at which the year's course costs 12 guineas; Canning Town - Women's Settlement, Settlement House, Cumberland Road, Barking Road, E. (cost, 18s. to 21s. weekly); Lambeth - Lady
Margaret Hall Settlement, 129-135,Kenning-ton Road, S.e. (cost, £48 a year); Southwark - Women's University Settlement, 44, Nelson Square, Southwark, S.e. (cost, about £60 a year).
Birmingham: Women's Settlement, 318-319, Summer Lane, Birmingham (course for Diploma in Sociology followed at University).
Glasgow: Queen Margaret College Settlement Association, Glasgow.
Liverpool: Victoria Women's Settlement, 1 and 2, York Terrace, Liverpool (training at School of Social Science, Liverpool University).
Belfast, Sheffield, Middlesborough, and Stoke-on-trent also have settlements useful to the intending welfare worker. Investigation of the women's social work carried on by the Salvation Army would be profitable to a student in her study of the practical working of the Poor Law and other laws affecting women and girls. Discovery of the extent to which work is still "sweated," and the need for remedy of abuses, will add fuel to the fire of her enthusiasm, and nerve her for the work ahead.
It is to the women's settlements that employers of labour turn for their welfare workers. Having completed her year's training there, the woman ready for work may expect to obtain a post as welfare secretary or matron at an initial salary of £80 to £100 a year. She may think it advisable, for the sake of experience, to start as assistant-secretary, a desirable beginning if she is young and wishes to be further trained under the responsible secretary. In that case her salary might start at about £50. In at least one large firm there are several officials carrying on allied work at the head of social institutions concerned in welfare work, and into one such branch the welfare secretary might be diverted.
The duties of the welfare worker vary according to the limits set by individual firms. In some cases the power to engage and dismiss a girl is in her hands - a strong lever of influence over every girl from the moment she is engaged. But with the old hands, the new well are worker has to win her way to trust and confidence; especially so when she introduces innovations.
Among recurrent duties is that of acting as mediator between workers who are aggrieved at some real or imaginary wrong. Every complaint must be sifted at once, whether it concerns the factory workers alone, or workers and a foreman or forewoman.
A girl quick to take offence may think she is being unfairly treated by the firm; a few minutes' talk with the welfare worker shows her the matter in a new light. Or it may be a girl - a new one - breaks one of the rules of the firm, not from wilful disregard, but through misunderstanding. The welfare
Woman's Work worker discovers the true reason, and intervenes in her favour.
Another girl may be suffering under some physical defect, her hearing, eyesight, or teeth may need attention, but without the observant eye of the welfare worker, such defects receive no medical care.
Coming to a new firm to organise welfare work, a woman will concern herself about the following matters: provision of sanitary work-rooms, lavatories, cloak-rooms and dining-room; dinner menus that shall be inexpensive and nourishing; healthy amusement and recreation in the dinner hour; the institution of a sick club, in connection with which the welfare secretary visits girls who are ill, and sees to the attendance of the firm's doctor at the girl's home or at the works. At least one firm has the benefit of a lady doctor's services as well as those of a dentist.
Another important duty on the physical side is the encouragement of recreative exercise - drilling, dancing, outdoor games, swimming, tennis, indoor games, acting, and needlework. In some works there is a reading-room, much appreciated as a rest-room during leisure time; but even when that is wanting, the institution of a lending library is of great importance. The attendance of the girls at evening continuation classes is urged upon them.
For the benefit of the girls, thrift is encouraged by the formation of a savings bank or by persuasion to deposit savings in the Post Office Savings Bank.
The woman interested in her charges keeps a motherly eye on the heedless, dilatory, or weakly girl, and gives her a kindly word of warning about careless work, lapses into un-punctuality, or disregard of some law of health. She encourages pride in good work, and at every turn shows her keen interest and sympathy. It may come within her province to keep statistics concerning the work, wages, and attendances of the girls under her care.
Naturally, the more liberal the firm in the matter of funds for welfare work, the bigger the opportunity in the hands of the welfare worker. To see this branch of a firm's work carried out to perfection, the intending welfare worker can hardly do better than visit Bournville Works, near Birmingham, where the factory girls rejoice in a recreation ground of eleven acres, and pass their days in pleasant, healthy work and amusement.
It must not be imagined that the welfare worker's normal lot is cast in a bed of roses, in "a factory in a garden," either in actuality or imagination, for it is inevitable that she should meet with difficulties that will tax her powers, her feelings, her self-control, her patience, and her temper; but entering her new sphere - the sphere which at present is only being explored by pioneers - with high aims and expert knowledge, she can do so in the cheering consciousness that she is much wanted where she is going, and that the sort of work before her is exactly one that will engage all her womanly and motherly powers. Nor need she fear for her own prospects when once she is in a firm which regards an able worker as deserving of its gratitude.