Mary L. Marcy

Letters of a Pork Packer’s

(November 1904)

The International Socialist Review, Vol. 5 No. 5, November 1904, pp. 296–299. [1]
Transcribed by Matthew Siegfried.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Letter No. IV

Chicago, Ill., May 1, 190–

My Dear Katherine:

THE night is “cold and dark and dreary; it rains, and the wind is never weary,” and I am going to end one of the gloomiest days I have ever known by telling my woes to you. The sky was ominous and overcast all day long, and it was not much comfort to know that “behind” the clouds the sun was still shining, which reminds me of the “prosperity” cant the capitalist newspapers feed us working people – all on the other side.

The “Skin” Department was constantly lined with a stream of the Maimed, the Halt and the Blind, who came to throw themselves upon the mercy (?) of the company’s lawyers. “Our” assistant attorney spent the whole day at the County Hospital with one Peter Piper, a truckman, who was injured while crossing one of the chutes, which was so rickety that it gave way, precipitating him across one of the sheep pens, thirty feet below, and breaking his back. It is the fear of the Legal Department that if Peter shuffles out of this vale of tears without signing a release for the company, his wife or brother may bring suit, as the case is clearly one of liability.

And so Attorney Karles waits at Peter’s bedside, ready to greet his conscious gaze with a smile full of brotherly love, and a pencil, with which to have him sign away the only hope of the little Pipers for an education and the “higher life.” For compulsory education laws don’t do much good for the little boy who has no trousers. The demands of the small stomachs are apt to be considered more imperative than the development of their minds, and School Inspectors eluded that the children may earn clothes for their backs and a shelter over their heads. Poor little Pipers!

We received a call from the wife of the Hon. Phony Bumpkin, Alderman of the ––eenth Ward. About a week ago. it seems, while one of “our” guides escorted Mrs. B. and a friend, by whom she was accompanied, through the various departments explaining the wonders of the plant, a linen dress which she wore was spotted with lard by the bursting: of a pipe. The line of The Maimed, the Halt and the Blind was waylaid outside the Law Office, in order that we might sympathize in private with Her Ladyship, and our attorney-in-charge assured her deferentially that the check for $50.00 which the company presented to her was only to compensate for the inconvenience to which she had been subjected. She explained that while she did not need it and the gown could be cleaned, she deemed it no more than right, etc., etc., and drove majestically away in her carriage.

She was immediately followed by a young workman, who said he was twenty-eight, but who looked much older. Owing to the absence of gates on one of the freight elevators, his right loot had been mashed and consequently amputated two months ago. Immediately upon his appearance the attorney-in-charge became so busily engaged among his papers that it was some time before he noticed the young man at all. As the moments passed, the poor fellow grew more painfully timid and nervous, and finally, reduced to a pitiable state of subjection, signed a statement releasing the company from liability for the magnificent sum of $10.00.

This much have I learned positively, my dear; if you want to gain anything from a corporation, don’t say you need it, nor that it is right and just that you should have it; but rather that you have more money than you can use – and then demand it anyway, and in all probability you will get all you ask for – particularly if your father is an alderman or a railway official.

One cannot but observe that the old axiom applying to War has been altered in the minds of men to read “All is fair in business;” nor can one help noting the close relation between the two. After all, business is merely a more refined method of war, whereby men become the masters of their fellowmen, not by physical superiority, but through possession of those things whereon their lives depend. And surely no king is so powerful as he who holds the needs of men!

But as I was saying “our” unspoken motto is “All is fair in business.” It is the legitimate (?) occupation of getting something for nothing, and so everything is made for profit, instead of for use, or primarily for profit, and only secondarily for use. Profit, not money, it seems to me, is the root of the evil.

Perhaps you remember reading in the newspapers a few years ago, of the sudden exposure of underground pipes that a Chicago Packing Company had secretly laid and connected with the city mains, in order to obtain their water without paying for it, and in this way robbing the city of thousands of dollars annually. Of course you do not remember that anybody was punished for it! No? Well, neither do I; nor does anyone, for nobody was punished. There are a good many more thieves out of jails than there are in them; but they are among our most “esteemed citizens,” and none of them ever stopped at stealing a loaf of bread. As an observing writer said a short time ago,

“A man goeth to jail for stealing a loaf of bread,
And to Congress for stealing a Railroad”

But to continue the story I started out to tell you. There has been in the employ of Graham & Company for about five years, a young man called Franz Ellsworth, a collector, who called on our customers in certain Indiana towns. This young man has no father or mother. Three years ago he married a girl from one of these towns, and set up housekeeping on $12.00 a week. It does not take much bravery to make a man a soldier in our land of perfected man-killing equipment, but it takes a great deal of love, and a lot more of courage and ignorance to induce a man to try to keep house on $12.00 a week.

The first year a baby came, and another six months ago, since when the young father has divided his attention between taking care of Baby No. 1, who had the whooping cough, and devising ways and means with which to meet the new and necessary expenses. He had already given $50.00 out of money collected for the company to the matron of the Mercy (?) Hospital, who demanded payment in advance, hoping that a little care might save his Mary’s life. But she grew better and worse, arid worse and better for six or seven weeks, until her husband’s resources were completely exhausted. He had appropriated over $100.00 of the company’s money, and was forced to send false reports to the house. But "Murder will out," and he was bound to be caught between the press for funds at home and our demands for payment from our customers, before he could possibly pay it back. The blow fell to-day, when he was summoned to appear before the Fates. His wife then learned the situation for the first time, and spent the greater part of the afternoon in boring the treasurer of the company with a recital of her woes. There were doctor bills, and baby clothes, and rent, and the "Poor Man’s Friend," who had loaned her husband $40.00 at the rate of $10.00 a month, and for which she had receipts showing payments amounting to over $60.00. But the "Poor Man’s Friend" was in- sistent in demanding his principal. She deluged the attorney with her tears, while I sniffled in silence over my Remington, over the sorrows of the Poor!

Yes, I know. It sounds as though I were upholding crime and extravagance. Of course. Poor people have no business in hospitals! Nor in having babies! Or wives either, for that matter! All a poor man ought to want is work.

I am not as strong as I was five years ago, Katie, dear, and I am usually a rag by five o’clock. You know how hard I have struggled ever since I was a little girl, to reach the Heights; how I addressed envelopes during the day, and practiced my music in the evening; made out bills while I studied stenography hammered my Remington all day, and prepared myself for the university at night, and how I worked my way through two years’ study there. And you know, too, that it was because my life has been one long, never-ending effort to progress that I have been able to gain a few rounds—a very little of learning, the world would say. And the price that I have paid is health and strength.

I am tired in the morning, often, Katie dear, and only more tired at the close of the day. And now that I have so little strength to add to the treasure stores I have gathered at such cost, I fear to see them slowly slipping from my grasp.

It is not the loss of fortune that constitutes tragedy; not Death, nor the defeat of an army; nor kings overthrown! It is the toiling man and woman, old at twenty-five; the daily death of sweet desires, of natural impulses; of longings crushed; the growing soul, without room for growth; the mechanical effort; the forgetfulness of everything, save work and bread and sleep; and work, and bread, and sleep, until the final curtain falls!

Something is wrong somewhere, dearie! Something is wrong! I cannot tell you what it is; but the ignorance, and poverty, and misery in the world, prove to us that the wrong is there! Show us that there is something better, nobler, happier than the society of to-day, and the society of yesterday. Harmony and happiness crown all efforts made along natural laws, and a society that produces wars, prisons, poverty and prostitutes, in a land of plenty, is not based upon those laws.

If there is plenty for all, surely the man and woman who toil should have enough! Something is wrong somewhere, dearie; but I am too tired this evening to try to think it out. This much only do I know. They tell us the country is “afflicted with over-production,” and I, who have worked always, have need of many things.

You may overlook a dismal letter this time, but I have a bad headache; and throbbing temples would make anybody pessimistic.

Teddy was over last night, and we read Browning together. Browning was right, after all:

“What is the use of the lips’ red charm, The blood that blues the inside arm, Unless we use, as the Soul knows how, The earthly gift for an end divine!”

Had he ever heard of the women who toil, of the women machines, who work until they are thrown to the junk pile, I wonder?

“A Lady of clay is as good, I trow!”

It is not riches I want; nor power; nor yet fame! It is to make work a means, and not the end of living; to have a little play among the toil; to watch the sun rise in the freshness of the morning; to see the spreading of leaves, and the growing of flowers; to progress a little, instead of losing a little: to be able to pause, amid our hurry-ever, to rest and dream awhile!


A thousand tender wishes, and a thousand tender kisses,
from Your loving Mary.

* * *

Editorial Note

1. Comrade Marcy’s insightful, empathic intelligence, and compelling, combative personality are on early and full display in this, her fourth Letter of a Pork Packer’s Stenographer. The letters would bring her to the attention of the Socialist movement she would help to define the following decade and a half. In 1902 Mary E. Marcy, then recently married and in her mid-20s, moved from Chicago to work as an assistant to the treasurer of the Armour meat-packing company in Kansas City. While there she began writing letters back home. Mary’s career was muckraking career exposing that industry’s dirty secrets was born as Charles H. Kerr printed Marcy’s letters over as a year-long series in 1904. Gaining her national notoriety, the exposure, and her public testimony against her bosses at a Chicago grand jury, cost Mary her job in 1905. However, less than five years later Mary would be the editor International Socialist Review. The collected letters are a treasure and will, each one, be posted here.

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Last updated on 27 January 2023