Telling It Like It Is
Most Americans in the Gilded Age were better off than people anywhere ever before. They were buying sewing machines, kitchen appliances, and factory-made furniture and clothing. Some working people were enjoying a luxury that only the rich had enjoyed: leisure time. They were going to ball games, and riding bicycles, and a few were even playing tennis. But others were left out. They worked long hours for little money and had no time for play. Some were children and they worked twelve or fourteen hours a day. A tiny, feisty, white-haired woman named Mary Harris Jones decided she was going to do something about it.
Mrs. Jones had four boys, and they got malaria. In those days before modern medicine there wasn't much anyone could do. All four boys died. Then her husband died. So Mary Jones moved to Chicago and opened a sewing business. But in 1871 Chicago had a great fire, and Mrs. Jones's sewing shop burned along with most of the city. Mary Jones had nothing left. She decided she would start over again and do something important with her life. She would help children who needed help. She introduced little James Ashworth and Gussie Rangnew to a group of prosperous New Yorkers. James's back was bent from carrying heavy loads. "Here's a textbook case in economics," Mary said. "He gets three dollars a week working in a carpet factory ten hours a day. And this is Gussie Rangnew, a little girl from whom all the childhood is gone." Gussie, whose tired face was like an old woman's, packed stockings all day long, day after day, summer, winter, spring, and fall. The prosperous New Yorkers were moved to tears.