John Arthur Phillips

(1842-1907 / Canada)

The Factory Girl


She wasn't the least bit pretty,
And only the least bit gay;
And she walked with a firm elastic tread,
In a business-like kind of way.
Her dress was of coarse, brown woollen,
Plainly but neatly made,
Trimmed with some common ribbon
Or cheaper kind of braid;
And a hat with a broken feather,
And shawl of a modest plaid.

Her face seemed worn and weary,
And traced with lines of care,
As her nut-brown tresses blew aside
In the keen December air;
Yet she was not old, scarce twenty,
And her form was full and sleek,
But her heavy eye, and tired step,
Seemed of wearisome toil to speak;
She worked as a common factory girl
For two dollars and a half a week.

Ten hours a day of labor
In a close, ill-lighted room;
Machinery's buzz for music,
Waste gas for sweet perfume;
Hot stifling vapors in summer,
Chill draughts on a winter's day,
No pause for rest or pleasure
On pain of being sent away;
So ran her civilized serfdom --
Four cents an hour the pay.

"A fair day's work," say the masters,
And "a fair day's pay," say the men;
There's a strike -- a rise in wages,
What effect to the poor girl then?
A harder struggle than ever
The honest path to keep;
And so sink a little lower,
Some humbler home to seek;
For living is dearer -- her wages,
Two dollars and a half a week.

A man gets thrice the money,
But then "a man's a man,
"And a woman surely can't expect
"To earn as much as he can."
Of his hire the laborer's worthy,
Be that laborer who it may;
If a woman can do a man's work
She should have a man's full pay,
Not to be left to starve -- or sin --
On forty cents a day.

Two dollars and a half to live on,
Or starve on, if you will;
Two dollars and a half to dress on,
And a hungry mouth to fill;
Two dollars and a half to lodge on
In some wretched hole or den,
Where crowds are huddled together,
Girls, and women, and men;
If she sins to escape her bondage
Is there room for wonder then.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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