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JAMA 100 Years Ago
October 26, 2005


JAMA. 2005;294(16):2105. doi:10.1001/jama.294.16.2105-c

Since every one is a purchaser, directly or indirectly, it is a problem of universal interest as to how one may be sure that the goods purchased at any time or place were prepared for the market so as to be free from disease. In an interesting article2 on this subject, Mrs. Florence Kelley, secretary of the National Consumers’ League, gives an insight into the problem. Goods supposed to have been made in a department store’s “own factory” have been found to come from squalid, filthy sweat-shops. It was found to be impossible to depend on the statement of many stores concerning the origin of goods. A woman in the last stages of consumption was found making little boxes for wedding cake, moistening gummed edges with her tongue. A man with tuberculosis, and whose son had an external cancer, earned money by cracking walnuts. A $60 overcoat, supposed to have been made to order by a merchant tailor in Helena, Mont., was really made in an eastern city in a tailor-shop where a case of smallpox existed. Mrs. Kelley remarks: “It would seem an obvious right of the purchaser that the food which he buys at the price asked should be pure and clean; that the garment purchased of an entirely reputable dealer should be free from poisonous dyes, vermin and the germs of disease; and that both food and garments should leave his conscience free from participation in the employment of young children or of sweaters’ victims. Yet these seemingly obvious rights were perhaps never farther from attainment than to-day, in the opening years of the twentieth century. Adulteration of foods has never in the history of the human race been carried on on a scale so vast as at present. The sweating-system, with its inevitable accompaniment of filth and disease conveyed in the product, persists and increases in spite of sixty years of effort of the philanthropists and the needle-workers to check it.” A few individual inspections of such cases as are referred to in the article will do more to convince one of the way in which the rights of purchasers are ignored than volumes of argument.

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