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Childhood and Child Labor

Featured Sources

  Little Burden Bearers, from Helping the Helpless in Lower New York by Lucy Seaman Bainbridge.
"Little Burden Bearers" from Helping the Helpless in Lower New York by Lucy Seaman Bainbridge.
  This Photograph and Book
Little Burden Bearers
Helping the Helpless (1917)
Catalog record

More Photographs in Books
"Children Make Artificial Violets" in NCLC,
Children Who Work in the Tenements (1908?)
"Carrying Violets to the Factory" in Van Kleeck,
Artificial Flower Makers (1913)
"Young Spinner in a Cotton Mill" in McKelway,
Child Labor in Virginia (1912)
"Children Drag and Carry Sacks" in Clopper,
Causes of Absence from Rural Schools in Oklahoma (1917)

Texts
"The Children's Work" in NCLC,
The Child in the Cotton Mill (1916)

All child labor
 

The photograph (above) of real children bearing "burdens" on foot, and the illustration of "The Way it Should Be" (below) suggest, among other things, the distance that often existed between actual childhood and its idealized image. Click on the links in the right-hand column for more examples of each.


  Handy Wagon Co., Our Handy Wagon, excerpt, [18--?].   This Trade Catalog
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Catalog record
 
  Handy Wagon Co., Our Handy Wagon, excerpt, [18--?].
From Our Handy Wagon, by the Handy Wagon Co., Canton, Ohio.
  More Illustrations
Flexible Flyer: The Sled that Steers (1907)
More Trade Catalogs

"The Picnic Tea" (1896)
"The Charm of Childhood" (1903)
"Lawn Tennis" (1893)
"Gathering Wild Flowers" (1893)
"In Her Room" (1886)

Photographs in Books
Frontispiece, The Job of Being a Dad (1923)

Texts
"How to Make Blackberries" (1893)
"What is in Your Boy's Pockets?" (1893)
 

Click on the text excerpt above to expand the page and see another illustration, a "Child's Dream of a Wagon." Compare it with "The Farmer Boy," the photograph below. Again, click on the links in the right-hand column for more contrasting depictions of children and childhood.


  The Farmer Boy, from Causes of Absence from Rural Schools in Oklahoma by Edward N. Clopper.
"The Farmer Boy," from Causes of Absence from Rural Schools in Oklahoma by Edward N. Clopper.
  This Photograph
"The Farmer Boy"
Catalog record for book

More Photographs in Books
"Young Glass-Works Boy"
"Seven-year-old Bootblack"
"Fourteen-year-old Boy in a Cotton Mill"
"Four and six-year-old boys worming and suckering"

Texts
"Machinery and Manhood"
All child labor
 
  From The Burden of the City by Isabelle Horton, 1904.
From The Burden of the City by Isabelle Horton (1904).
 
This Text
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Catalog record

More Texts
"The Band Begins to Play" (1907)
"A Tenement Daisy" (1917)
A Federal Children's Bureau (1908)
 

The text above, where babies are described as having "wondering eyes" and "divine mysteries of life and character hidden in their unconscious hearts," and the two strikingly similar yet different images below suggest some ways the idealization of childhood helped to shape both the concern and the offerings reformers developed for poor children. Click on the links in the right-hand column for more texts by reformers and more examples of new children's programs.


  May Pole Dance, from How to Amuse Yourself and Others, by Lina Beard and Adelia B. Beard, 1893.
"May Pole Dance," from How to Amuse Yourself and Others, by Lina Beard and Adelia B. Beard, 1893.
 
This Illustration
"May Pole Dance"
Catalog record

Photographs in Books
"Girls' Baseball Team," in:
Care and Training of Orphan and Fatherless Girls, [1915]

Texts
"The Children's Hour," in:
How to Learn and Earn, 1884

"A Day in Camp," in:
Campward Ho!, c1920.
 

 

  "The Children Play on Our Roof," from The House on Henry Street by Lillian D. Wald, 1915..
"The Children Play on Our Roof," from The House on Henry Street, by Lillian D. Wald, 1915.
  This Illustration
"The Children Play on Our Roof"
Catalog record

More Photographs in Books
"On the Playground," in:
Child Welfare Work in Pennsylvania, 1915

More Photographs
Children's Dances in Bronx Park
Social Museum Collection

People
Jane Addams
Florence Kelley
 

In the text below and in those listed in the right-hand column, different ideas about the nature of childhood underpin different positions on the question of child labor.


  Raymond G. Fuller, Child Labor and the New Day, 1920.
Raymond G. Fuller, Child Labor and the "New Day," 1920.
  This Text
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Catalog record

More Texts
"...Choosing My Own Birthday," in:
Through the Mill, 1911
"In Search of Bad Mill-Conditions," in:
The Child That Toileth Not, 1912
"Polishing Brass Rings," in:
Out to Win, 1917
"The Families," in:
Work of Children on Truck and Small-Fruit Farms in Southern New Jersey, 1924
"Who Opposes the Child Labor Amendment?," in:
Handbook on the Federal Child Labor Amendment, 1937

All child labor
 

 

Selected Bibliography for Childhood and Child Labor

Calvert, Karin. Children in the House: The Material Culture of Early Childhood, 1600-1900. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992.

Part III, "The Innocent Child: 1830-1900." Calvert traces (pp. 105-108) the 19th-century idealization of children and childhood which Zelizer (see below) says underpinned 20th-century reforms.

Carson, Mina. Settlement Folk: Social Thought and the American Settlement Movement, 1885-1930. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990.

In Chapter 6, "Immigrants and Culture," pp. 109-121, "The Second Generation," Carson says (among other things) that settlement workers' "first contribution to the busy dialogue on adolescence after 1900 was to insist that the solicitude reserved for middle-class youth should be extended to poor and working class young people." Also, her discussion of settlement workers' views on immigrants' national festivals (pp. 103-109) speaks to the "Children's Dances in Bronx Park" photographs.

Hunter, Jane H. How Young Ladies Became Girls: The Victorian Origins of American Girlhood. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

In Chapter 4, "Houses, Families, Rooms of One's Own," Hunter argues, "As girls became female adolescents, children's culture and domestic culture intermingled. Growing girls continued to inhabit a magical child's world but also began to join a mystified domesticity" (p. 121). In a section called "Moods: Daydreams," she notes that Jane Addams "made her case for theater at Hull House on the basis of youth's need for romance and dreams to stretch the narrow limits of their lives" (p. 166).

Zelizer, Viviana A. Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1985.

See especially the introduction; Chapter 2, "From Useful to Useless: Moral Conflict Over Child Labor"; and Chapter 3, "From Child Labor to Child Work: Redefining the Economic World of Children." Zelizer describes other interpretations of the child labor conflict, but focuses on the relationship between "the economic and sentimental value of children" (p. 12): "I will argue that the expulsion of children from the 'cash nexus' at the turn of the past century...was also part of a cultural process of 'sacralization' of children's lives" (p. 11).

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