We visited several tenement-houses where the occupants were all strangers, obtaining admission by making some simple pretense that we wanted information. Once we descried the figure of a man lying on the floor of an inner room, while the woman with whom we talked tried politely to keep us at bay at the door. We respected her pitiful reserves and came away uncertain of the cause of “his” alleged sickness. In another house, a dirty bed and a heap of quilts were huddled on the floor, unwashed dishes occupied a table, the walls were smeared with grime, and a ragged, wild-eyed boy, who looked as if he had been suddenly roused from sleep, came into the middle of the kitchen, and stood there, answering our questions, and eying us as if we had descended upon him from an unknown world. Through a dim window could be seen the mill building near by, where the boy’s father worked. His sister had “gone away,” he knew not whither, and there was no woman living in the den. There was something indescribably suggestive in the child’s appearance, as if he were created to be a type.
Mr. H. got us admittance to the hall of the Spinners’ Union. We were perhaps the only women of our class who had trodden its floors since it came into the possession of the work-people. There was, of course, no meeting in progress, and only one or two men were there. In an anteroom a small number of books were ranged on shelves. In the hall itself, what interested me most was a chalk drawing of a man’s figure, roughly sketched on a big blackboard. It was incorrect and rude, but it had grotesque character and vigor in its outlines. “One of the members is always trying to draw,” Mr. H. said. While we sat there, our guide told us some stories of violence offered by different parties in strikes that had lately occurred. He condemned all violence, but it seemed as though he felt, and it also seemed natural that he should feel, that it was worse for a “knob-stick” to throw a stone at a “striker” than for a striker to jostle a “knob-stick” off the pavement, or to commit some similar small outrage, especially if an element of rough humor mingled in the affair.
As we went about the town after dark, we saw the young factory boys and girls frolicking on the pavement. The girls were wilder and ruder than the boys, we were told. Possibly, if this be a fact, it may be because in such towns more recreations are provided for the lads than for the lasses; and the relaxation of amusement is what they both need, after the long, close confinement of days in the mill. It is probable that it is because they have no other way to vent their pent-up spirits that these untaught young women rush into the streets to jest and jostle with such companions as they find there.
We visited several fairs which were holding at that time by various temperance societies. These societies, in their ordinary sessions, afford opportunities to their members to play games and to take exercise, but their members are all of the male sex. Women, however, were present at the fairs, and we saw some dancing. The boys usually did not uncover when on the floor, but in one hall a notice was posted up requesting gentlemen to take off their hats while dancing. These temperance associations were both Protestant and Catholic, and numbered their members by the hundreds. One was called the Robert Emmett Society, and a nice young fellow, a weaver, showed us over its rooms. He said that he and about fifty other men formerly belonging to the Irish-American Society started this second organization, and induced a set of wild men and boys to join. “Those are the kind we want,” he added. He let us look into the gymnasium, where some lads were practicing. Cards, as well as some other games, were allowed on the premises. He thought cards “rather objectionable,” but, he added, “we had to let them in,” though all forms of gambling were prohibited. There was something pleasing and even winning in this young man’s appearance and manner, a certain naive sweetness and confidence which suggested that in such social circles as he moved he was probably a petted favorite.