The following is part of a series of articles on the condition of the United States of America for working class Scottish immigrants. One of the core tenants of The People’s Journal was to encourage self-improvement for the working classes. For these reason the paper would regularly promote emigration and provide news and publish correspondence from the major destination of Scots in the period (the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). This piece continues the discussion from the previous articles on work and wages.
Trade and Wages.
To the Editor of the People’s Journal.
Sir,—The tailor trade is quite different here from what it is at home. The tailors are something like the shoemakers, their work is cut up in sections, so to speak; for there are coat hands, vest hands, and pant or trouser hands. These are all made in large factories. But in speaking of tailoring we ought to call them tailoresses, as a great many women and girls work at the tailor trade here. A cutter has good wages. The women make from four to eight dollars per week, according to their experience and ability. Some women have apprentices, and with five or six of them the employer will make 100 vests per week. She will receive on an average for them forty cents each, then making forty dollars per week, but of course she has her girls to pay off this. The girls receive on an average for them forty cents each, thus making forty dollars per week, but of course she has her girls to pay off this. The girls receive from one dollar per week (beginners). Those who have been some time at the business will receive four, five, or six dollars per week, according to ability. When a girl can make a vest without any more teaching she generally takes home her work where she has a machine; then she gets full value of her work.
There is another industry here at which young women make good wages, viz., cigar and cigarette making. One of the largest tobacco manufactories in the United States of America is that in Rochester. They employ some hundred of girls of all ages making cigars and cigarettes. This is all done by piece work, their wages ranging from four to eight dollars per week, according to ability.
As for mill and factory operatives, this is not so good a locality as other places some hundreds of miles east of this. There is one large cotton factory here in which the girls make from six to eight dollars per week. In a small place about one hundred miles form this, where I was working last year, there is a factory for the fabrication of woollen and cotton goods which employs about eight hundred women, and four hundred men and boys. The ages of the female workers range from seven years up to seventy. Their wages are from eight to thirty dollars per month. They are only paid once a month. The first five days of the week they work from half-past six A.M. to half-past six P.M., with an hour to dinner at twelve o’clock noon; and on Saturday they work from half-past six A.M. to two P.M. A great number of the girls go and come to their work is machines. Those machines hold from 12 to 20 persons. For this they each pay one dollar a month. But I can assure the factory girls in Dundee that the women in that factory required it last winter, for in that place the ground was covered with snow to the depth of from three to five feet for nearly four months. I may tell the Dundee girls that I have never seen any girl go to work here of any kind unless she was dressed “up to dick,” for they all wear their bonnets, shawls, gloves, &c, no matter what they work at. The girls who work at the tailoring trade go to work as well dressed as any of Baxter’s or Gilroy’s girls are when they are walking out the Perth Road with their beloved ones.
The foregoing result concerning wages being arrived at, the subject of the cost of living becomes an interesting question. As there is a great deal of boarding here I will take that matter first, and as I have three years’ experience of boarding in different places, I know a little about it. Men will get good board for four dollars per week, some places four and a-half. This does not include washing; you have either to take your clothes to a private individual, or go and get your “checkie” from Johnny Chinaman; but there is no comparison with boarding here and boarding in Scotland. There are always two or three kinds of dishes set before you—roast beef, steak, mutton, or pork being always on the table. Potatoes, and tea or coffee are served at all three meals; all sorts of pies or tarts and custards, along with fruits and vegetables in their season. Porridge is not known; I have only got it once since I came here, and, as it turned out, once too often. It happened in this wise:—Going home from work one night my boarding mistress asked me if I would take mush for supper. I said if I knew what it was I would tell her. She replied you would call it porridge. I immediately answered “Yes,” thinking I was going to get a treat. She brought a piece on a plate with fork and knife. I cut a piece and put it in my mouth. But, O horror, the porridge had no salt among t. Spitting it out again, and asking her how there was no salt in it, she replied “There is both salt and sugar on the table, you can use any of them you please.” “Well,” I said, “take and give those to the hens, and make no more mush for me,” and she was quite indignant, and so was I. Continue reading “‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 3.’ by a Correspondent in New York (28 January, 1882)”