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Child Labor 1908-1912, Research Paper Example

Pages: 1

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Research Paper

The Industrial Revolution swept from the United Kingdom around the mid point of the 19th century to Europe, America, and eventually to throughout the world. Machinery, powered by steam and conveniences, fueled by electricity, made that which had previously thought impossible, possible. A sad by-product of this meteoric development of technology was the thousands of children who were conscripted into factories and mines where they endured work hardships that ravaged their health and destroyed their childhoods.

Manufacturing was high, making rich those who owned textile mills and other facilities that relied on production. Misery prevailed among the ranks of the poor, making them powerless to refuse work for any family member who was able, even preschoolers, in order to provide a meager existence. Children worked 16-hour days and were beaten for going to sleep on their jobs (Russell, 1953). Those who began working in the coal industry rarely lived to see adulthood. By the dawn of the 20th century, 1.7 million children worked as paid laborers in the United States; ten years later, that number ballooned to 2 million (Web Institute, 2010).

William Howard Taft won the Presidential Election of 1908. His administration worked tirelessly to affect changes in the practices that enslaved America’s urban children as a workforce. Toward the end of his single term, Congress passed a bill that started the Federal Children’s Bureau. Chosen to lead the efforts of this watchdog group was Julia Lathrop, who became the first woman to direct a federal agency. Her group took the denial of an education for children as one of its focuses for reform.

Two of the depressing issues that enveloped child labor during this period were health and safety. Working children in the early 1900s had prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals, pesticides, and hazardous machinery. Most of them lived in squalor, and their personal hygiene and preventive medical care suffered.

The US Department of Labor is the sole administrator of the Fair Labor Standards Act, a law that protects the employment abuse of children, but this Act did not come into being until 1938. Three decades before that, employers were reluctant to report their working children, much less report any accident, maiming, or death that befell them. In the initial decade of the 20th century, social reformers began to rise up to challenge such management neglects and abuses of minors (Derickson, 1992).

Not all was awful about the period. It was a heady time, filled with rapid advances in society. Government was growing. Discoveries in science occurred. During the period 1908-1912, children were not the only ones in need of all of the rights that should come with US citizenship. Women also petitioned the government during this time for the right to vote. Their efforts finally paid off when the United State ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution (Women’s Suffrage).

One of the most telling statements of Child Labor maltreatment came, not in words, but in photographs. During this time, Lewis Hine used his camera as a tool for positive social change as he documented child labor. His reporting through photojournalism stands as inspiration to subsequent generations of journalists who understand the power of the camera’s lens. He found adolescents who could not read. He discovered children who never got the chance to play. He interviewed children in the seafood industry who began work at 3:30 am and ended at 5:30 pm (Hine, 2005).

It is important to remember that Hine’s work came at a time when there was no television. The information he provided to the American people gave them insight to the issue of child labor –an issue of which many of them had no knowledge. Often, Hine put his own life in jeopardy, taking pictures of situations that adult supervisors wanted hidden from prying eyes (Freedman, 1998). As the thousands of images he captured began to filter through the heartlands of the United States, people began to demand reform.

The National Child Labor Committee formed in 1904, outraged by the abuses it witnessed and determined to do something to correct them. Prominent political leaders, sociologists, and philanthropists got on board with the work of this committee, giving it much needed exposure and a groundswell of support. The group managed to get one piece of legislation passed by Congress, only to see it struck down as being unconstitutional two years after its implementation. The work of the group continues to this day as a non-profit organization.

Stemming from the abuse of children in the work force, in 1924, Congress passed along a proposed Child Labor Constitutional Amendment to the states for ratification (Fuller, 1939). Congress did not put a time limit on such ratification. To date several states have ratified it, but ten more need to follow suit in order for its inclusion as an amendment.

Child labor abuse is not outdated. Most contemporary abuses of children as workers comes from the farm sector, known nationally as the second most dangerous occupation in the country. Presently, farm children 12 and older can work on farms before and after school. Human rights groups say that thousands of American boys and girls work ten or more hours a day (Human Rights Watch, 2010).

References

Derickson, A. (1992). Making human junk: Child labor as a health issue in the Progressive era. American Journal of Public Health, 82(9), 1280.

Freedman, R. (1998). Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor. New York: Clarion Books.

Fuller, R. (1939). Child Labor and the Constitution. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company.

Hine, L. (2005). Child Labor in America, 1908-1912. School Library Journal, 51, Oct., 70.

Human Rights Watch (2010). Child labor. Retrieved April 6, 2010 from http://www.hrw.org/en/search/apachesolr_search/child+labor

Russell, B. (1953). The Impact of Science on Society. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Web Institute for Teachers (2010). Child Labor. Teacher Institute, The University of Chicago.  Retrieved April 6, 2010 from http://www.webinstituteforteachers.org

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