Child Labor, March 16, 1905

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The labor of little children has never been so valuable to the business world as in the past twenty-five years, fifty, or 100 years, if you choose. The heavy work which formerly required a man's strength is now done by machinery which a child may guide, and so we have the temptation to use the labor of little children, because they can be obtained at less wage. Gradually in England there have been made, since 1832, simple legislation against the evils of child labor. The evil has gone on into the third generation now, and child labor is almost 100 years old.

Many of our states have very defective laws, if any at all, with regard to child labor. In Pennsylvania they are inadequate; children over thirteen years can work all day and all night. There are more children under the age of sixteen at work in the Pennsylvania mines and factories than in all of the cotton states of the south.

We wonder why the public conscience is so slow to take up this question. There are many reasons. One line of responsibility lies with the educators. So rapidly as the children have left the schoolroom the educators have lost all interest and responsibility, and have turned the children over to the business world. If they do their full duty to the children within the four walls of the schoolroom they feel they have no further responsibility.

Industry is constantly wearing our children at the period of their lives when they possess abnormal strength, a strength that should naturally go into growth and development. The state furnishes vastly expensive public school buildings and systems of education, and then, when the child leaves school, merely because the state laws offer no protection to the child against this premature labor, the state must afterward resume their care when they are worn out and thrown aside. And the factories are constantly saying to the schools: "Give us more; we have worn out and used up that which you gave."

It is a fact that children employed in these heartless factories, if they live at all, are broken, absolutely crippled, and unable to work and support themselves after they have reached years of manhood and womanhood, and must be supported in the public asylums and hospitals. Children are commercially most advantageous between fourteen and eighteen years, for most employments.

If this great body of public school instructors had been interested in the children as citizens, they would have asked, "What becomes of the children after they leave the schoolhouse door?" Is there such a thing as regulating hours of labor, such a thing as continuing instruction, preparing them for citizenship? What are we doing to protect them?

Teachers are only one factor in the problem, but we have a right to expect more help from them than the past child labor campaigns have shown. In Virginia the children cannot go to work until they are thirteen, are guarded then and allowed to work but certain short hours, and prohibited from injurious industries until twenty-one.

There is getting to be a strong sentiment in the United States that we have banked too long on the quantity of our products, and that we will soon be required to judge our work by its quality instead. We must protect and educate our children in order to raise up the trained, skilled workmen necessary to the product of fine qualities.

The child is waked up when he leaves the routine of the school and begins to earn money. When that takes place prematurely, we have a boy-man, without the initiative of the man, or his reliability, but with an aggressiveness born of his pride in being an earner. He is unable to make the connection between what he learned in school and what he sees in the factory. If we could only get hold of him when the amount earned is all his pride, if the schools could only assume that many of the children are going into the factories, and give them a little of what the factory life means!

We have allowed industry to modify education more than education has modified industry. We are cowards if we will not acknowledge the effect of premature labor on premature child workers. The compulsory education and factory laws are coming together more and more, and in some places where both are good and well enforced they are working marvelously together. Thus we get a faint idea of what would happen if educators would remain interested in the child until he tumbled into his grave, and if he tumbled into his grave prematurely would feel in a measure responsible. It is too true that factory inspectors in many states are but too easily influenced by commercial interests.

The enthusiasm of the American school master would carry him over into the child labor agitation for the protection of the child very quickly if he were once interested.

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