Mary L. Marcy

Letters of a Pork Packer’s

(November 1904)

The International Socialist Review, Vol. 5 No. 5, November 1904, pp. 300–303.
Transcribed by Matthew Siegfried.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Letter No. V

Credit Department
Chicago, Ill., June 19, 190–

My Dear Kate:

Your letter came yesterday telling me of the nice little bank account your accommodating Uncle Benjamin left you when he said farewell to the troubles of his little grocery store – and I have been happy ever since. Five hundred dollars is a very comfortable sum to a young woman who is working her way through a course at the university, and I mean to see that you use it in smoothing the path to this darling ambition.

We have agreed that the laws of inheritance are ridiculous, and absolutely opposed to the principles of Democracy, and that for the daughter of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to be born three hundred times a millionaire is as foolish as for the people to permit the sons of kings to become themselves kings – born into the throne – in the “barbarous days of old.” Any sort of an unearned income is only another word for theft, for somebody sowed the seed, for another to reap the harvest – and represents somewhere an unpaid, unrecompensed worker in the world, defrauded of his rights!

But a young woman, like you, who has worked years for a wholesale hardware company that keeps fourteen spies in its employ to record the work accomplished, the social relations, the degree that an applicant for work needs, or does not need, work, a company that “docked” you for half an hour, when you were one second late in the morning, and kept you working two or three nights a week, with no extra pay, and used cyclometers attached to their typewriters, to make you work the faster, whose vice-president ushered you into a pew at church on Sunday, and couldn’t see you at all on Monday – and that declared 48 per cent dividends at the end of the year – certainly has, in the pocket of somebody else in the world, an unpaid income! And so, dear, do not feel any scruples about taking the few hundred that will mean so much in your struggle for an education. Don’t be foolish and stay through the summer unless you take botany, boating, and another course that will keep you out doors as much as possible. It don’t make much difference how many studies you take, but what you get out of them, that figures in the long run. A rounded life is the better life, and it is as unfortunate to run all to brains as it is to develop only in body. Mind and muscle should go hand in hand to make a perfect man or woman, and I only see my mistake since I have begun to lose the more precious of the two.

I am up in the Credit Department, taking the place of one of the girls who is sick to-day. And while I wait for my dictation, I will endeavor to get a few lines off to you.

I am in disgrace this morning, for I was ten minutes late in getting to the office. The timekeeper checked me in with a blue pencil; the office door was locked, and I was compelled to stalk through the Departments on the first floor and run the gauntlet of a hundred pairs of rebuking eyes. I will confess to you why I was so unusually remiss. Teddy took me to a Thomas concert last night, and I got home at about 12 p.m., and as a result am utterly worn out this morning. I rose, however, at almost the usual time, took my cold plunge, swallowed a bit of toast and coffee, and tore madly down to catch the first car. I caught it; leaned comfortably against the carpet cushions (?) in the corner and fell asleep. I forgot to get off at the proper corner, was roused by the jolting at the car barns, and had to walk back eight blocks to transfer. It is simply a physical impossibility for me to go out in the evening and work – as I have to work here – the day after.

Last week one of the girls fell asleep at the breakfast table, and Friday evening, when Teddy came over, Sally found me dreaming peacefully on my bed, where I had lain down to rest a few moments before dinner.

Mr. Ralston is getting his correspondence into shape to dictate to me, so no more for the present. I give you below a sample of his letters; also his manner of enunciating:

“ceipt-chur-favo-rof -fifth. We wan-tchu-t’dfotinctly-understan’-we’re- no-tin-buainess-f e-rour- ’ealth. ’fyou-can ’t-payf er-billsas-theycom-due, we’ll- C.O.D. lis-tor-refuse-to-fill-yer-rorders. WE-WAN-TOUB- MONEY, ’nd we WAN-TIT-QUICK! ’fwe-dont-ge-tour-money-by-return- mail, ’ell-put th’accoun-tin-th-handsof-you-rattorney. Free’t- Jones-Why don l tchu-wanswer-rour8-sof-the ...eenth f If yon-can’t answer-rour-letter- a we’ll-getta-manin-yer-place-thut-can. Follow-wou-rinstruction-sor-reaignen-that QUICK! We ’re-charging th’ F.E. Davi-saccount-tyou -because you won’t-c’llect. ’N-we’ve-puttchur-friend-Mister-Bazzol-lon-na-C.O.D.basia- He-was-zacorrd-the privil ’ge-g-of-buyin-f ro-mus- bu-twe-don ’twan-tis-sorder- sif -fee-cap t-pay- ’is-bill-spromptly.”

If you are able to make this out, you will have a fair sample of the way the Credit Department writes to its customers, and the kindly interest (?) it takes in the employees.

I wrote a letter for Mr. Ralston this morning to a man who complained at having to pay for fifty pounds of beef, when he only received 42 pounds, saying that when he sold cattle to the Packing Company, he not only had to pay the freight, but was only paid for what the cattle weighed here.

You see, when a farmer ships to this point we pay him the market price (made by us), and when we ship back to his town, or to him, we weigh the meats, and he pays for what we think our weights are – here at the plant. If he refuses, we ship him no more meats – and naturally (or artificially) he goes out of business.

The Treasurer of the Company is in this Department, and known as the Financial Manager. In the last two days he has dictated letters to me borrowing at least $900,000.00 for four months at 5 and 6 per cent to conduct the business on. So you see when we buy a dollar’s worth of meat – and 6 cents goes to the banker, and – perhaps 10 cents to the railroads, and something as taxes – and profits – for the firm – there is little wonder that we don’t get so very much for our money!

Nearly all our customers are practically on a cash basis, because the highest legal rate of interest we dare charge on accounts would be only about one-fifth the rate we charge the Public – in profits.

I have also written to fifty or sixty employers this morning, whose names were furnished the company as references, by men applying for jobs. Some of these applications would make your heart ache. There is one from a teamster, aged thirty-five, who wants a place, and who is “willing to work for $6.00 a week”; who has “no other means of support,” but who has “a wife and four children.” The blanks he was required to fill out covered the history of his life – twenty years of hard work – and small pay. Is it any wonder that the factories are filling up with little children! For even the Poor Man must eat! Or is it any wonder that Poor Men steal! Six dollars a week, in a land of “Overproduction”!

We received a letter from our Branch House Manager at Birmingham, Ala., this morning, enclosing a request from the Ladies’ Aid Society of the Church, asking for a donation of two quarts of ice-cream, or some canned goods, for their Sociable, which will take place tomorrow evening. Our Branch House Manager advised the Ladies that he would refer the matter to Kansas City, who were, in turn, compelled to refer it to us. We will reply to our Kansas City Office tomorrow, to write to our Birmingham Manager, to say to the President of the Ladies’ Aid Society, that we regret that her request reached us too late to give us an opportunity of being of service to the Ladies, etc., etc.

I wish I could accept your invitation to spend a month with you during the hot weather, but I have had such horrible doctor bills resulting from my sickness this spring, that I can’t afford to take a vacation this summer, much as I may need it. If I had any faith in doctors, I might try to get a good tonic, but there would be sure to be cause for another big bill. My experience with a medical triumvirate for whom I worked last winter, was not calculated to increase my already waning trust in the profession.

There was an “Ear, Nose and Throat” specialist (?) – only respected because of his exorbitant charge; Dr. Meyers, out for all there is in it, and Dr. Jack, young and honest, who gained the usual reward of virtue by being frozen out shortly after I left.

When he couldn’t do anything for a woman, he told her so; and if he did not understand what was the matter with a man, he confessed his ignorance. To him measles were measles, and small- pox was smallpox, whether his patient was a pauper or a millionaire.

Dr. Meyers, on the contrary, called tonsilitis “sore throat” among the poor, and “incipient diphtheria” in the homes of the rich. He cured, or neglected the former, and quarantined the family of the latter for a week, called three or four times a day; apparently effected a wonderful cure – or prevented a serious illness – and sent in his bill for $150.00 at the end of the month.

Dr. Meyers used to give box parties at the theater every few evenings – with suppers afterward at Rector’s or the Annex, and confide to us how he made his patients pay for them – and he generally did.

One morning a pale, weary looking woman came into the office, in a faded pink waist and a shiny figured black skirt hiked up about three inches in front, and sagging painfully in the rear. She looked just about as I would very likely look in ten years from now, if I married Teddy on $15 a week. Doctor Meyers seemed to take little interest in her case. He said he had half a notion to turn her over to Dr. Jack – and I wished afterward he had – because she would have gone out just $85.00 richer than she did after Doctor Meyers held her up.

At first he truthfully diagnosed her case; sent the drug clerk out to put up her medicine; made out her bill for $5.00, and then Shifty Sadie handed him a hundred-dollar bill – and waited for her change. And right here was where Dr. M. got in some of his best work. He asked her additional questions, and seemed to grow more concerned and alarmed at each of her replies. He grew so grave, in fact, that the poor woman, unable to endure the suspense, asked if she was worse than he had thought and whether or not he could cure her. After he had worried her into a few tears, he grew sympathetic and soothing; said he thought he could bring her through with an operation (Mon Dieu! Of course!), insisted that she must come in to be “treated” twice a week, and took her into the Chamber of Horrors (the operating room), laid her on the table, and gave her four or five electric shocks with a marvelously ominous apparatus then and there – to clinch the scare.

Convinced of the gravity of her case, he persuaded her to buy a small battery and a set of Dr. Meyers’ Ills of Women, gave her enough medicine to kill an army, and sent her home – or work more likely – with just $10.00 in her pocket.

This, Doctor Meyers says, is one of his favorite “roles.” So, you see – added to my own experience – this leaves me little faith in doctors – barring dear old Doctor Buckley – of course. The lunch bell has rung – so no more for to-day. A great deal of love.


From your own, Mary E. Marcy

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