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I HAVE spoken of the SURVIVAL OF THE STRONGEST, but the adjective in the
superlative degree must not here be taken in a strictly grammatical sense, for
that would imply that all the children who are born and die in the slums are
strong; that some of those who die at an early age are stronger than others and
that those who survive are the strongest of all, or, in other words, very
strong. But that is not so.
The children of the slums are nearly all more or less rickety, that is to say, they are nearly all more or less afflicted with that terrible disease called "rickets," which is, par excellence, a children's disease, although it remains in the blood and the bones through life, up to whatever age its victims may live. It is a disease brought on by impure air, insufficient or bad diet, defective drainage, defective light, overcrowding, and, in short, by such conditions of life as are to be generally found in the slums.
[-168-] The disease begins to show itself in very young children by an unnatural enlargement of the joints at the wrists and ankles. Then a softening of the bones takes place, and the legs, no longer strong enough to sustain the weight of the body, become bent in all sorts of directions, not unfrequently in a zigzag fashion. The child either wastes away and dies, or else becomes a cripple for life. I never go out without meeting many little cripples of this class. Some of them have their legs set in such a manner as to describe an almost perfect circle. Others have their legs bowed only as far as the ankles, but the feet sticking out almost at right angles from the ankle-joints. Others have legs which seem to be as pliant as whipcord and about the thickness of a cable; and at every step they take their legs bend under them, so that the poor children appear in constant danger of falling.
Then in addition to the countless number who are cripples from disease, there are in every street many who are cripples from accident. The following case, which came under my notice last year, will show how many of the children meet with such accidents.
Having been sent for to see a poor man who had just come to live in my district, I found him with his wife and two children occupying a small upper-room in Great Wild Street. He was then in the last [-169-] stage of consumption, and unable to move in his bed without help. But as they had nothing to depend upon but his wife's earnings, she was still obliged to leave her husband and children at an early hour every morning, in order to go out to her work, from which she did not return before one o'clock.
One of the children was a boy of four or five, so badly crippled that he could scarcely walk. He had had a dreadful fall through being left alone when a baby; both legs had been doubly fractured, and they had never been set.
The other child was a baby one year old, and she also, by falling out of bed, had broken one arm, which had never been set. Therefore the baby also will always be a cripple in one arm.
But what I desire more especially to call attention to in this case is the manner in which the mother disposed of her children when she went out to work.
She was afraid to leave the little boy in the room during her absence, lest he should worry his sick father and perpetrate acts of mischief; so she turned him out into the street every morning, and left him there until she returned home. He was too much of a cripple to get upstairs to their room by himself. Meanwhile, the baby had to remain lying on its back in a basket in the middle of the room with a feeding-bottle at its side to comfort it. As for the [-170-] poor sick man, he was as helpless as the baby, and could not do anything for himself, to say nothing of the child. But he also was left without a nurse.
In the course of a few weeks the man died, leaving his widow and children penniless. But as the woman was young and strong, and had regular employment, she was no worse off than when she had her husband to keep.
But what did she now do with the poor children? Well, she did with them exactly what she had done before. She turned the crippled boy every morning into the street, and left the little crippled baby lying on its back in a basket in the middle of the room. Only now, as there was no one to take care of the room but the baby, the mother carefully locked the door when she went out.
After stating these facts, is it necessary to say anything more as to the need of a creche in this district? Here is a work of real charity for a committee of ladies.