Thursday, 18 December 2014

Paying Dressmakers' Bills

From The Times, 18th December 1914.

A Word to Some Ladies.

We have received, and continue to receive, letters on a subject which we wish to bring to the notice of our feminine readers.  It is appropriate to Christmas and the end of the last quarter in the year.

They are pathetic letters, appealing on behalf of a struggling class which has been very hard hit by the war and can find no help in any quarter.  We refer to the dressmakers, and particularly those who work for themselves or for small employers, who have no financial resources to carry them over a prolonged period of depression and no alternative lines of business, like the large houses.  Such small employers have struggled to keep their establishments going, but have been compelled to dismiss the girls they employ one after another because there was nothing for them to do.

They appeal not so much on their own behalf as for the girls who have been discharged.  These workless girls—and the dressmakers who work at home on their own account are in the same plight—go to the committees which are administering public funds for the relief of war distress, but they go in vain.  They are sent from one committee to another, with the same result.  There is no work for them, although there may be ladies there doing for nothing work which they would be thankful to do for a very modest wage.  They naturally ask why they should not be employed if the object for which the money is subscribed, and the organisation exists, is to help persons in their position.

We do not suggest that any committee or other organization should give them work, because it would be futile.  What we suggest is that their former customers should rouse themselves for a moment from the absorbing pursuit of war activities and remember the existence of the unfortunate dressmaker.  She is not a person of whose existence it is necessary to remind them in normal times.  They remember her very well indeed, think of her very often, and demand her aid with an importunity which is bestowed upon few other people.  It is not kind or fair to forget her altogether when a superior interest supervenes.  To forget her bills, too, is something much worse, deserving a different description.  We are informed that ladies whose names have appeared in the lists of one or other of the war funds for large subscriptions have not paid their dressmakers' bills.  This is not charity or patriotism; it is affecting both at someone else's expense.  A good resolve for Christmas would be to pay what we owe and to pay the smaller people first

[It was a long-standing practice for well-off people to receive goods from tradespeople before they paid for them, and to run up a bill which would be paid later.  In many situations, the tradespeople were in a very weak position if they were not paid - they could not afford to antagonise their customers by making a fuss.  And there are many references  in literature to people owing large sums and being very slow at paying.  

The article also mentions again the problem of volunteers doing work for nothing when there were women who could be paid to do it. ]  

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