Margaret Sanger, "With The Girls in Hazleton Jail," 13 Apr 1913.
Source: " New York Call, Apr. 20, 1913 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Document Series C16:0065."
When eighteen girls of the Duplin Silk Mill of Hazleton, Pa., were put into a patrol wagon and thrown into filthy cells a week ago last Tuesday morning, we all questioned ourselves closely to think what we had done. We had been on the picket line, walking along quietly, when two mounted policemen called out to us: "Stop!" Then they added: "We'll take them all in."
The acting Mayor tried the cases, and charged us with "loitering on the streets." The officer said we had loitered after he had told us to stop. However, we all took our time to serve from three to eight days--those walking with me got five days, like myself, while second offenders got eight days.
We were placed in filthy cells, two and three together.
The cells are about eight feet long and five feet wide. Half of the length is taken up with a sheet-iron bench on which the inmate sleeps. In the corner is a toilet, which is flushed once a day. The walls are sheet-iron, covered with paint.
Through the bars every morning at 11 o'clock comes the lone loaf of bread, which must serve until the next morning at the same time. Two cups of water must serve as washing and drinking water. No basin is provided for washing purposes; no blankets or covering of any kind; no comb, brush, soap, towel or anything for the ordinary decency of the prisoner is allowed her. Nor may any food from outside be carried within.
Before being tried before the judge, we were all thrown together in the cell corridor. The girls pounded on the gates for a drink of water. The keeper gave a pitcher of water to the girls and they all drank it hastily, until one of them spied a large dead roach in the bottom of the pitcher. Closer examination showed the pitcher to be filthy inside as well as outside.
One girl held it high over her head and said:
"Girls, do we drink from a pitcher like this?"
"No!" shouted the rest in chorus.
Bang! on the stone floor went the pitcher, crashing into dozens of pieces.
The spirit of the girl was beyond everything ever known in that town before for cheerfulness and defiance. Heretofore, it has been a terrible disgrace to go to the "lock up." But all this has changed in these few weeks, and the girl who serves her time on bread and water is considered a full-fledged fellow worker.
All night long, the boys and girls pounded upon the iron walls of their cells and sang revolutionary songs for the benefit of the Mayor, police and political bosses, who lounge about in the adjoining room.
They did not miss their mark, either, for the papers printed glaring accounts of the abusive and revolutionary language of the prisoners.
An influential lawyer was now called upon in Wilkes-Barre. No lawyer in Hazleton would take the strikers' case, except a socialist lawyer, and the authorities ignored his every act. When the tools of the mill bosses heard this, they decided to keep their dirty work hidden by freeing all those who had been arrested.
Before doing so, McKelvey, the political boss, detective and Alderman in one, went to the girls and boys to ask if their fathers were voters, and said he was using all his influence to have them freed. (He is up for Mayor.) But the girls told him they wanted none of his mercy, nor influence, and preferred to serve their time out rather than accept favors from him.
For that they were kept in the cells a few hours longer. In fact, they refused to come out until the lawyer came in for them and said they had committed no offense and were freed.
The next morning they were on the picket line again at 6 o'clock, but the authorities don't want them in jail again: they want money, and that is what the boys and girls won't give.
While we were locked up, the stench from the toilets became so strong that the girls called to an officer to flush them. He refused to do this, and so the prisoners decided to let the loungers in the adjoining room have some of the odors. They, accordingly, emptied the toilets with the assistance of their tin cups into the cell corridors which all run into the Mayor's office. The officers came running in and asked what in heaven's name they were up to now! Several officers at once cleaned out the place, scrubbed and disinfected the floors, and those of the girls who could sleep in the sheetiron beds turned in for the night.
Roaches and bugs infest the cells, and as you are about to get friendly with these a huge rat comes upon the scene to fight it out with you about that loaf of bread.
The girls decided they'd rather be friends with the rats and give up their bread than show any fear to the officers. Nevertheless, a rat is a rat to a woman.
The fight is still on. The girls know they have learned more in eight weeks than they learned in all their lives before, and they are not going to stop learning. Life in the silk mill was heretofore a bore and work was drudgery. It will not be so again. The girls say they see now that there is a fight on for the working class, and, they are in that fight. There is something now to work for, to live for. It is the fight to emancipate the worker from wage slavery.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project