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Child Labor

In: Historical Events

Submitted By jesscummings04
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During the late 1800s and the early 1900s, child labor became popular and very common to the public. Even though it was common, only a few people knew the details of the punishment and pain children were put through to get a small amount of money to support their families. Children weren’t able to get an education and were forced to work at as young four. Many got diseases and sicknesses that affected them for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, many people listened to their heads and not their hearts. Many felt that child labor was wrong, but not very many fought to end it. The dangerous conditions and long hours negatively affected the children that lived it. Without the advocates tirelessly working to stop child labor thousands of children would have lost their lives. As the nation’s economy was expanding, many more factories were being built. As industries grew, the demand for workers also increased. Mill owners hired mainly women and children because they could pay them half the salary they would have to pay men. Children were also hired because of their size. Since they were normally smaller, it was easy for them to go inside and fix the machines or to change spindles. Soon, many businesses were using children as part of their regular work force. Since children could be hired cheaply and were too young to complain, they were often employed to replace adult workers. In industries where large numbers of children were employed, their low wages pulled down the earnings of everyone else. So adults could not earn enough money to support their families. As a result, poor families depended on children’s wages just to survive. Many people looked at child labor as cruel. Still, in the 1800s, boys and girls who worked on farms worked the same amount of hours as children who worked in factories or mills. Most people did not notice a difference between the children who worked on the farms and the children who worked in the industries. Families needed the support of their children’s salaries. At first, the conditions in American mills were much better than mills in Europe. However, as industries grew, competition increased. As a result, employers took less interest in the well-being of their workers. Conditions worsened and wages fell.
The conditions in the factories continued to worsen. Many children were abused and put to work for their life. Children’s daily routines consisted of waking up at Four thirty in the morning when the task-master’s whistle blew and eating a tiny meal of black coffee and corn bread mixed with cottonseed oil in place of butter. Then they were sent away to work for the entire day. Their working day began at 5:30 am and ended at 7:00 p.m. with a half-hour break at noon. Then they marched home, tired and exhausted. At home, they would eat dinner and talk for a while about their miserable day. Then they would lie down to sleep on a pallet of straw where they would be woken up again by their task-master’s whistle the next morning. The daily working routine was very tiresome to many of the young children. During the day, children were placed in factories, mines, or mills with hazardous and life threatening conditions. Factory owners did not care about the working conditions of their young employees. Those who worked in the textile industry breathed in dust and fibers that filled the air and damaged their lungs. In coal mines, cave-ins buried many workers alive. Sometimes people were killed by gas in mine shafts or by the coal dust that they inhaled all day. Steelworkers risked injuries working close to red-hot vats of melted steel. In one year, one hundred ninety-five workers died in the steel mills of Pittsburgh alone.
Thousands of young boys were placed in dark and dangerous coal mines every day or they worked aboveground in the dust of the coal breakers, picking slate from coal with torn and bleeding fingers. Girls tended machines in the spinning rooms of cotton mills. The humid, lint-filled air made breathing very difficult. Children were forced to work even if they were sick or wounded. Children without their fingers and hands were still forced to continue working. Sometimes children’s tiny hands would get crushed and disfigured during work and no one would care. In some cases, children who tended machines that were disabled and no longer useful, were thrown out and left to die. If they got sick, they would still come back day after day to work and earn money for their families. The Factory Investigating Commission of New York State in 1912 said,
“We have seen a girl with scarlet fever (when her throat was so bad she could not speak above a whisper) tying ostrich feathers in the Italian district. In another case, a child eight years of age, sent home from school because of tuberculosis, was found working. The Commission does not believe that the rights of parents permit them to require of their children toil for long hours to the injury of their health and the prevention of their receiving education.”
Many factories worried less about their workers and conditions and cared more about competition, the products, and the money. They didn’t realize the health risks to their young workers. Some children had no hands, their thumbs missing, and their fingers off at the knuckle. They were stooped little things, round shouldered and feeble. A photographer named Lewis Hine took photographs of young children who worked in factories and mines. His photographs showed children with filthy clothing and large machines behind them. His pictures of sooty-faced boys in coal mines and small girls tending giant machines revealed a shocking secret about the real conditions that most Americans had not seen before. Children were placed in many different jobs and worked many different occupations. In the year 1880, an estimated six percent of the entire nation’s children between the ages of ten and fifteen worked in some kind of industry. The textile industry was the country’s largest user of child labor. It employed 80,000 children, most of whom were young girls. In the cotton industry, thirteen and one-tenth percent of all workers in the United States in the year 1900 were under the age of sixteen. In the South, the figure ran as high as thirty percent. Parents would often not be hired unless they brought their children with them. A large number of children worked in the clothing industry as well. About twenty-five percent of the ready-made clothing was manufactured by tenement family homeworkers. It was quite normal for the whole family to be involved in the procedure with the children. Many reformers who tried to put an end to child labor said that tenement work was the worst of its kind. Tenement work combined long hours of labor with a filthy, badly ventilated, and overcrowded room. The tenements in which homework was done were often filthy, with insufficient plumbing that spilled sewage into the halls and rooms. These children were also denied an education and were forced to work in a place of dangerous health hazards. Kelley of the National Consumers League said, “The only way to find the number of children in industrial homework was to have two inspectors to check each tenement in the city, one by day and one by night.” The role of the inspector was to help stop the homework that took place inside the tenements. Unfortunately, they were not very successful. One minute the children would be working diligently, but as soon as the inspector arrived, the children were playing or they were just standing around. As a result of tenement homework investigation, the Factory Commission suggested several new laws. In 1913, the tenement manufacture of food, dolls, dolls, clothing, and children’s clothing were banned. Homework in cellars or basements was prohibited also. Reformers worked hard to stop tenement homework, and many reforms helped pass laws that prohibited the manufacturing of goods in tenements. Among the women who took part in the labor movement, the most famous was Mary Harris Jones, also known as Mother Jones. After the death of all four of her children from yellow fever epidemic, she fought the hardest against child labor. Mother Jones called attention to the tough and terrible lives of children who worked in textile mills. She arranged publicity by holding an assembly that showed the helpless children who worked so hard to build mansions and earn money. A large crowd gathered in the public square in front of the city hall in Independence Park. In front of everyone, she showed the effects of child labor by displaying children with their fingers off, and their hands crushed. She explained that Philadelphia’s mansions were built by the broken bones, the drooping heads and the quivering hearts of the children. She lifted up young children and pointed out their puny arms and legs and hollow chests. Mother Jones spoke about the evils of child labor all over the United States. She informed the public about the working conditions of the children. In a speech given in 1903, Mother Jones questioned the future of children who worked. Her statement read: “What kind of citizen will be the child who toils twelve hours a day, in an unsanitary atmosphere, stunted mentally and physically, and surrounded immoral influences? Denied education, he cannot assume the true duties of citizenship.”
She also stated that the laws that should have regulate labor, were inadequate. She believed that there should be Federal laws to govern child labor with a penalty if violated. Mother Jones worked hard to get her message across. She was persistent and determined in her fight for children’s rights. She would not cooperate with police who tried to prevent her from speaking, but she did keep her protests non-violent. As a result of one of her marches to protest to the President, a number of states, including Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey adapted stricter laws within a few years after the march. However, an effective federal child-labor law would not be passed and declared child labor unconstitutional until 1941. Until her death on November 30, 1930, Mother Jones held an incessant fight for what she believed in. All she wanted in her life was for the public to call attention to the subject of child labor. At her funeral, Father Sweeney stated, “Her interest in the cause of labor can never be forgotten.” Since then, her fight never was forgotten. There were a few attempts to end child labor. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt persuaded Congress to pass the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. The act set up a minimum wage of forty cents an hour. It also set a maximum of forty-four hours a week for a majority of industries. It also banned children less than sixteen years of age from working in these industries. A bill passed by the Children’s Aid Society in 1872 required that “every factory worker that was under the age of sixteen was to file a teacher’s certificate with his employer, indicating that he had attended school for at least three months during the year preceding the start of employment.” Even though the bill failed to become a law, it foreshadowed later acts such as the Factory Act of 1886. In the earlier development of child labor, it was very difficult to try and end it. More often than not, the laws that were made were filled with loopholes and favored manufacturers. Some states failed to enforce even the weakest child labor laws; therefore child labor was very hard to control. However, when the reforms and acts were passed, child labor decreased through the years, although never completely eliminated. Child labor was very common even though many people were not aware of the dangers. Children were being forced to work in hazardous conditions. They not only worked in industries, but in tenements as well. The working conditions consisted of filthy, humid surroundings that made it very hard to breathe. Children caught life-threatening illnesses just by going to work. Since the late 1800s and early 1900s, child labor has greatly decreased. In the present, child labor still exists, but those who are trying to abolish it, have had great success. Unfortunately, child labor is an issue that has yet to disappear. People like Mother Jones and Lewis Hines brought public attention to the issues and harshness of child labor. Their works and protests forced the common people and the government to open their eyes and become involved. The laws that were formed after these revelations allow children to go to school and live easier, safer, and more successful lives today.

--------------------------------------------
[ 1 ]. Samuel P. Hays, The Response to Industrialism, 1885-1914 (The Chicago History of American Civilization) Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1994. Print.
[ 2 ]. Mary Harris Jones, "Mother Jones: Autobiography" Google Books. Google, n.d. .
[ 3 ]. Jones 20-22
[ 4 ]. Hays 551-552
[ 5 ]. Jones 20
[ 6 ]. "Fair Labor Standards Act: An Overview of Federal Child Labor Laws." Child Labor in the US. Child Labor Coalition, n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2011 .
[ 7 ]. Jeremy P. Felt, Hostages of Fortune Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1965. Print p.1
[ 8 ]. Felt 140
[ 9 ]. Felt 6
[ 10 ]. Felt 147
[ 11 ]. Ruth Robins Holland, Mill Child. N.p. Crowell-Collier Press, 1970 Print
[ 12 ]. Holland 75
[ 13 ]. Jones 72
[ 14 ]. Jones 73
[ 15 ]. Jones 77
[ 16 ]. Jones 206
[ 17 ]. "Fair Labor Standards Act: An Overview of Federal Child Labor Laws." Child Labor in the US. Child Labor Coalition, n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2011. .
[ 18 ]. Felt 126

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