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Working-Class Life (1891)

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Supplemental income came from the work of women and sometimes, though not too frequently, from that of older children. It is impossible for me to speak in greater detail about this, all I can do is say that this women’s work was of the most varied kind: tailoring, sewing for a shop, washing and scrubbing, peddling or hawking greens or other goods; it was probably not often that they went into factories, instead, socks were knitted at home on the knitting machine.

Moreover, the keeping of night-lodgers and lunch boarders, with all the work falling once again on the woman, was seen as a way of boosting the factory wage – which was hardly justified. For as far as I was able to observe, given the additional, heavy toil that this imposes on the women and the sacrifice of domestic comfort, leaving aside other, more serious harm (which is rather the exception), it rarely yields a pecuniary advantage.

Living conditions
It is hard to call the rooms that the people tended to inhabit a family dwelling. Or can one really give that name to a room with two windows and a windowless closet next to it? Yet it is precisely this, and nothing more, that – if my observation was accurate – constituted the home of a very large part of our workers’ families. That is why people down there also spoke only of rooms [Stuben]: “I want to rent a new room” and “What are you paying for your room?” were very common statements.

The dwellings that consisted of a room and two such closets, falsely referred to by the people as “alcoves,” or even of two heatable rooms and one alcove, already seemed so much better, roomier, and cozier. But they, too, often lacked a kitchen, as the rooms always did, though all the dwellings I have mentioned regularly included a so-called attic room, that is, a cramped wooden partition under the roof, each of which was equipped with a small hatch.

Most of the houses built in the urban style, especially the modern ones, had a number of each of the apartment categories I have described. But they had nothing but these – and in oppressive uniformity. Larger dwellings were not to be found at all in such workers’ apartment blocks. For the few who asked for them, there were specially constructed houses in between the apartment blocks, and also a few villas or villa-like garden houses.

The rents for these apartments were high compared to both their value and to the income of most workers, though probably lower than the rent for comparable places in the city.

But the sad thing about the living arrangements of these people was something else, something already so often lamented: the disparity between the cramped rooms and the number of those inhabiting them. The dwellings I have just described are probably sufficient for young, newly married people with one or two children for reasonably healthful, contented living. But where another one, two, three, or more children appear, and where people are even forced to take in strangers in exchange for room and board for the sake of a better livelihood, conditions are created that are easy to imagine but difficult to describe. And this was, needless to say, the rule. The vast majority of families had a gaggle of children, night-lodgers, and tenants.

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