Child Labor - Summary

When Europeans first came to America, their social values require children to work. In 1641, the Massachusetts Bay court orders “all hands” to be employed in “the working of hemp and flaxe and other needful things for clothing.” At that time, “all hands” specifically includes children.

The Colonies also adopt “poor laws” similar to those in Europe. Working-class children, as young as three, can become apprentices.

By the turn of the twentieth century, American children regularly work in mines, fields, mills, canneries and other such places. The census of 1900 reports two million children are employed. That is roughly half the number of slaves reported in the 1860 census.

Child labor is so widespread, at the time, that no one clamors for its abolition. But when long workdays prevent children from even getting a modest education, people become concerned.

Lewis Wickes Hine quits his teaching job in New York City so he can photograph the plight of working children and the poor. His photographs shock the nation and, in 1916, Congress passes its first child labor law. The U.S. Supreme Court finds the law unconstitutional.

In 1924, Congress tries a different approach, proposing a constitutional amendment allowing the federal government to regulate child labor. The states do not ratify the amendment.

More years pass before effective child-labor laws allow children to be children instead of workers.

In this story about child labor, step back in time to see what life is like for America’s working children. Examine Hine’s photographs. Meet youngsters who work in the country’s fields, mines, canneries and mills. See how they live, dress and play as they help to support their families.


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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Mar 01, 2004

Updated Last Revision: Nov 09, 2016

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"Child Labor" AwesomeStories.com. Mar 01, 2004. Jan 20, 2020.
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