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My Sisters in Toil

c. 1908


Listen my sisters! I have made up my mind to talk it over with you. I have toiled from morn to night, from week to week, from year to year, without any bright memories of the past or dreams for the future. Like you, I have lived to work. Every day brought forth the same dull program; the only variation being the time when work was slack, and then the fear of the morrow made matters still worse. We girls of the same workroom often rebelled against our nerve and body tearing tasks, often wishes for a glimpse of the clear sky and the bright sunshine, the green fields and shady woods, which very few of us ever got a chance to enjoy. But what was the use of complaining? We saw no remedy for it, and what was more, didn’t care to look for one.

It is true there was the possibility of marriage, but how many of us look for the married life as a relief from hard burdens, as easier living. What with the housework and small babies, that come soon enough, a few boarders or some homework, or the job of a janitress, there is little time for recreation, or thought for better things.

Toilers live the life of animals — that is work, and sleep, with short intervals for food. Now let us put our heads together and see if this is right; if things out to, and will, go on forever in this way.

I know you will say: “What is the use? We’ll not change the world. It’s our fate to work and struggle, and we might as well accept the inevitable. We are too tired to think, or read what others have brought out for us; when bones ache and the head reels, the bed, even if it is a hard one, is more inviting that then most attractive lecture room.

But sisters, let me tell you that this is only an illusion.

Just as the philosopher or scientist must once in a while occupy himself with manual labor, so it is necessary for working girls to have some brain work to relieve their physical fatigue. If we come home with no other thought but the grind that awaits us again tomorrow, the best thing for us to do is to find forgetfulness in sleep.

It is entirely different however, if you become absorbed in something which turns your mind into a different channel of thought, which makes you blood run faster in your veins, and makes life worth living. Try it, girls. I am talking from experience. Things will not go on forever as they do now, we will not always live to work. Some day we will work to live; there is a beautiful world ahead of us, a world with plenty for all. It is in your, in mine, in everybody’s power to bring it about, but we must all utilize our power, we must all put our shoulders to the wheel. We all realize that things are not what they ought to be; therefore, the very next thing to do, is to find a way to make wrong right; this requires careful thought and study. There are millions of men and women who give up what is best in them for that very purpose. Girls, why not join hands with them? Every atom of their breath is devoted to the cause of the working class. They, too, work for a living and are tired when night comes; but within them burns a holy fire which gives them the strength and energy to go forth and proclaim the message of truth, to sound the trumpet announcing the coming of freedom, and, take it from me, sister workers, it is glorious to be one of them. The daily grind becomes only an incident in your life, there opens a far broader field to absorb your entire being; with millions of comrades, ready to welcome you in any part of the world you cannot help feeling that you are higher than the mere tool, or band that you are supposed to be, from the boss’s point of view; instead of looking up to him, and often forgiving him his liberties with you, you learn to look down at him, and pity him for his ignorance and shortsightedness.

Again and again we will hear a despondent voice exclaiming: “What is the use? Life is too dull and empty; it is hardly worth living.” And yet there is so much to live for, there is so much to be accomplished in this wide, wide world, and neither father, brother, husband or sweetheart can do our art for us. She who wants to be free must herself strike the blow; and strike we will, my sisters. Not with swords and hatchets, as man was wont to do, but through our intelligence and energy, through our efforts to rise above the spirit of greed and exploitation.

Come, my sisters, let us shake off our fetters; let us rise and assert our rights. It is time! The bugle call sounds louder and louder; my toiling sisters of the world, arise!



Source: The Socialist Woman: A Monthly Magazine, Vol. II, July 1908, No. 14. (Chicago: The Sociality Woman Pub. Co.), p. 10.