When Marie was about fifteen years
old, her mother took her away from the factories and
put her into domestic service. Factory work was
telling on the girl’s health, and the night freedom
it involved did not please her mother. The young
woman for some time had felt the charms of associating
with many boys and girls unchaperoned and untrammelled.
She liked the streets at night better than her home.
“When I got into the street,”
said Marie, “I felt like a dog let loose.”
Of course, she hated to go into domestic service, where
the evenings would no longer be all her own, but her
mother was still strong enough to have her way.
“At that time,” Marie
wrote me, “I was a poor, awkward girl, somewhat
stupid, perhaps, but who would not be at my age and
in the same environment? I had received most
of my education in the factories and stores down-town,
which was perhaps beneficial to everybody but me.
Even my mother, who in some ways was stupid and hard,
noticed that this sort of education was likely to
have what is called a demoralizing effect on me.
So she induced a kind-hearted, philanthropic woman,
Mrs. Belshow, to take me as servant girl. Mrs.
Belshow was high in affairs of the Hull House Settlement
Workers, and generously paid my mother one dollar
and a half a week for my services.
“Mrs. Belshow had a beautiful
house. At first these fine surroundings, to which
I was entirely unused, made me more awkward than ever.
But soon I got accustomed to the place and became
very serviceable to my employer. I was lady’s
maid as well as general housekeeper, and my fine lady
duly appreciated my work, for she never asked me to
do service after half-past nine at night or before
half-past five in the morning. Besides, she allowed
me Sunday afternoon free, but only to go to church
or Sunday School. For the honourable lady told
me very kindly that she did not wish to interfere
with my religion in any way whatever. This advice
I accepted meekly, as I was greatly in awe of her,
though I should have much preferred to spend my half
holiday in my home locality and to dance there with
other stupid boys and girls in Lammer’s Hall,
where the entrancing strains of the concertina were
to be heard every Sunday afternoon. The young
folks out that way were not strong on religion; or,
if they were, they would receive all the soul’s
medicine necessary by attending church in the morning,
no doubt thereby feeling more vigorous and fit for
enjoying the dance afterwards.
“But I, poor stupid, had learned
from my mistress that dance-halls were vile and abominable.
Of course, I believed all that Mrs. Belshow told me.
I had not the slightest idea that she did not know
everything. Why, she belonged to Hull House,
that big place in Halsted Street, which had flowers
and lace curtains in all the windows, and big looking-glasses
and carpets and silver things on the inside; and many
beautiful ladies who wore grand silk dresses and big
hats with feathers came to see my mistress nearly
every day, and they all talked a great deal about the
evils of dance-halls and saloons and theatres.
I had always stupidly thought that those places were
very nice, especially the dance-halls, because I always
enjoyed myself there better than anywhere else.
I had never been in a theatre, but I had often been
in the saloons to rush the can for my father, and
I had noticed that people seemed to enjoy themselves
there. There were long green tables in the saloons
on which men played pool, and there were books scattered
about in which were jokes and funny pictures.
And the men played cards and told stories and danced
and sang and did about anything they wanted to.
This seemed to me good, and I felt sure at the time
that if I were a man I should like to be there, too.
“But now I learned that these
were terrible places, dens of vice and crime.
What vice was, I did not know, but crime meant murdering
somebody or doing something else dreadful. I
thought about what I heard the fine ladies say until
my poor little head became quite muddled. Left
to myself, I could not see anything so terrible about
these places, but if these finely dressed ladies said
they were terrible, why they must be so. They
knew better than I did. But I wondered dreamily
if all terrible places were as nice as dance-halls.
“After the novelty of the situation
wore away, life became rather wearisome to me, and
I sometimes wished I were again working in the old
factory. I thought of the evenings, when my day’s
work in the factory was done and I was walking in
the streets with my chums, telling them, perhaps,
of the small girls who worked with me in the factory,
and of the guys who waited for them on Saturday nights
and took them to the show. And one of the girl’s
guys always used to give her a whole box of the swellest
candy you ever tasted.
“Dreaming thus one day of all
the happy times I had known, I loitered over my work,
as I fear I often did, and was sharply reprimanded
by my mistress, the honourable lady, who wanted to
speak to me as soon as possible on a matter of grave
importance. I finished making the bed in a hurry
and went into the presence of Mrs. Belshow, who said
“‘My dear child, how old are you?’
“‘Past fifteen, ma’am.’
you’re quite a big girl for your age. I’m
astonished that you have no more self-respect, or
your mother for you! How is it that she allows
you to go about with such short dresses? Why,
it is shameful; I am surprised, for your mother seemed
to me a sensible sort of a woman. I declare,
I never would allow my daughter to expose herself
in such a shameless manner, and I certainly will not
allow anyone in my employ to do so. Only the
other day my attention was called by some of my friends
to your most careless condition. They said they
could not help noticing it, it was so dreadful.
It is this kind of thing which causes a great part
of the vice and immorality with which we are surrounded.
Unless a mother has common decency enough to clothe
her child properly, it seems hopeless for us to accomplish
anything. Now, my dear child, I want you to go
home this very night and tell your mother you must
positively have some long dresses, or no self-respecting
person would care to associate with you. And
you must try to have at least one respectable garment
by Sunday, for I am ashamed to have you seen going
out of my house in your present condition. Run
along now and don’t be home later than ten this
“During this long harangue I
stood gazing on the floor, blushing painfully.
I wanted to tell my mistress why I had no longer dresses,
but could only stammer ‘yes, ma’am’
and ‘no, ma’am,’ and was very glad
to escape from the room as soon as my lady had finished.
“When my mother heard about
the affair, she was very indignant, and demanded why
Mrs. Belshow did not buy the dresses for me. ‘For
my part,’ she said, ’I have no money to
waste on such trash. I’m sure, what you
are wearing now is all right. It’s not so
short, either, nearly down to your shoe tops.
But I suppose I must get you something, or she will
fire you. I’ll give you a dress that’ll
be long enough all right one that goes
right down to the floor, and if Mrs. Belshow doesn’t
like it, she’ll have to lump it. I can’t
afford to get you new dresses every year and you not
through growing yet. Gee, that Mrs. Belshow must
think we’re millionaires!’
“When I made my appearance the
next Sunday morning in a neat long skirt, the honourable
lady praised me very highly, saying that now I looked
like a respectable young woman. ’Why, you
actually look pretty, my child,’ she said.
’You must get a nice ribbon for your neck, and
then you will be fine.’ This remark made
me very happy, for I had been secretly longing for
a dress of this kind. Now, at last, I was a real
grown-up lady. Perhaps I might soon have a fellow,
who would take me to the show, just like the girls
in the factory. I thrilled with joy. Later
I looked into the mirror a long while, admiring myself
and dreaming of the afternoon, when I would be free.
I decided that I would go to the dance, and pictured
to myself how surprised and envious the other girls
would be, when they saw me looking so fine. I
would certainly not miss one single dance the whole
afternoon, for I was sure the boys would be fascinated
and that the swellest among them would see me home
in the evening.
“These joys made the morning
an unforgettable one; but soon it was time to get
ready to go. I went to my room and curled my hair,
and then was more pleased with myself than ever.
I really looked pretty! Oh, the joy of it!
I do not need to explain, even to a man. Briefly,
I looked sweller than ever. The only thing needed
to complete my toilet were some bright ribbons to
fix in my hair and around my throat. I recollected
having seen some very pretty ribbons in my mistress’s
scrap-bag which would do admirably. So I brought
the scrap bag from the store room and dumped the contents
on my bed, and soon found just what I wanted two
beautiful bits of silk. I hastily stitched them
together, and was all ready to go. I could return
the silk to the bag the next morning and my mistress
would never know they had been gone. I thought
regretfully what a shame it was to throw such beautiful
things into a scrap-bag.
“Poor, vain little me!
I came home later than usual, that never-to-be-forgotten
night! very tired, but very happy.
And I had been escorted all the way by the grandest
young man I had ever known. I lay awake for a
long time, reviewing everything that had happened.
I had never dreamed it was possible to be so happy.
It was because I was now a grown-up lady! I should
never forget that all my happiness was due to my mistress,
for it was through her that I had my long dress.
I decided to be more serviceable than ever, not dream
and dawdle over my work, and never to be angry when
my mistress scolded me. I would disobey her only
in one thing about going to Sunday School.
At least, I would not go every week, perhaps every
other Sunday, so she would not notice. In the
midst of these good and delightful thoughts I fell
asleep, and slept so soundly that the alarm bell in
the clock did not awaken me at the usual hour.
“It did awaken Mrs. Belshow,
however, who was just about to drop off to sleep again,
when it occurred to her that she had not heard me moving
about as usual, so she went to my room and aroused
me in the midst of a beautiful dream about the handsomest
boy you ever saw just as he was paying me the greatest
“Jumping out of bed, I was horrified
to find it was six o’clock, fully half an hour
late. I rushed about my work, dreading the moment,
yet wishing it were over, when my mistress should
summon me for the scolding I was sure would come,
for if there was one thing Mrs. Belshow hated more
than anything else, it was being late. All too
soon came the dreaded moment. Breakfast was scarcely
over, when I was requested to go to my room.
That was rather surprising, for, as a rule, I received
my scolding in the lady’s room, while I was
assisting her to pull on her stockings or comb her
“I had scarcely crossed the
threshold of my room when my knees knocked together
and I nearly fell over, for there, standing in the
centre of the room, with a piece of silk in her hand
and an ominous frown on her face, stood my mistress.
She pointed an accusing finger at me and asked coldly,
‘Where did you get this?’ Receiving no
answer, she continued, ‘Don’t tell any
lies, now, to add to your other crime.’
I stood there, as if glued to the floor and could
only gaze at her dumbly and appealingly. I tried
to speak in vain; but even if I had been able to,
she would not have given me a chance. She brought
all her eloquence to bear upon the stupid girl before
her; she wanted to make me see what a very evil act
I had committed.
“‘Oh, how sorry I am!’
she cried, ’that this thing has happened.
But you are very fortunate that it has occurred in
my house, rather than in somebody else’s, for
I know what measures to take to cure you of the propensity
to crime which you have so clearly shown. I shall,
of course, have to send you away immediately; for
I could never again trust you in my home, for although
it is only a trifle that you have stolen, yes,
deliberately stolen, yet anyone who takes
only a pin that belongs to another, will take more
when the opportunity offers. So, in order to
cure you of this tendency, I myself will conduct you
to your mother and impress upon her the necessity
of guarding and watching you carefully, as a possible
young criminal. I never should have expected this
of you, for you have quite an honest look. Now,
dress yourself quickly and bundle up whatever belongs
to you. I will remain in the room while you are
packing. Are you sure you have taken nothing else
which does not belong to you?’
“This question loosened my tongue,
which hitherto had clung tightly to the roof of my
mouth. Dropping on my knees before my mistress,
I fervently swore that I had taken nothing, that I
had not meant to take anything. I had meant to
wear the pieces of silk only once and then put them
back where I had found them. With tears rolling
down my face, I begged her not to tell my mother.
“‘I will work for you
all my life without pay,’ I cried, ’if
you will only not tell my mother. Indeed, I did
not mean to steal, so please don’t tell my mother!’
“This I urged so vehemently
and with such floods of tears that finally my kind-hearted
mistress said: ’My dear child, if you will
promise me faithfully never to do anything like this
again, I will not tell your mother. But let this
be a lesson to you; never to take anything again,
not even a pin, that does not belong to you. You
can never again say, with perfect truthfulness, that
you have not stolen. I am glad to see that you
have such respect for your mother that you do not want
her to know of this, and for your sake I will not
tell her. I have a meeting at Hull House to attend
in half an hour, and before I leave I wish you would
scrub up the kitchen and your room and then you can
“So saying, the honourable lady
left the room quite satisfied with herself for having
(perhaps) rescued another human being from the paths
of vice and crime. I went about my work with a
heavy heart. Forgotten were all the joys of yesterday!
Now, just as I was becoming used to my place, I must
leave it. And I must tell my mother some reason
for it. But I could not tell the truth.
Ah! yes, I would say that my mistress was about to
close up the house and go South for the winter.
That would be a fine excuse. I had heard and
read that many rich people go South for a time in
the cold weather, so surely my mother would not doubt
it. I went away, feeling easier in my mind, and
never saw my honourable mistress again.
“Many days have passed since
then, and I have been serving several different ladies.
I learned a lesson from each one of them; but I shall
never forget what I learned from the kind-hearted,
philanthropic Mrs. Belshow, a prominent settlement
worker in a large city. It’s a lesson that
Mrs. Belshow will never learn, or could never understand.
All of which shows, perhaps, that I was simple at
the time rather than stupid; for I find that I am
still receiving my education not from books,
but from the way people treat me, and from what I
see as I pass through life.”