Thesis In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, especially during the Industrial Revolution child labor consumed the lives of a significant portion of the child age population of the United States. Mary Harris Jones and many other labor activists were alarmed by the dangerous working conditions and low wages of children who were forced to perform heavy child labor in dangerous conditions. On July 7th, 1903 conflict between these activists and industry led to a march, which began in Kensington, Philadelphia and ended at Sagamore Hill in Long Island, NY, which was the former President Theodore Roosevelt’s home. This caused a nationwide agenda throughout the country. Many speeches and protests along the route of the march brought national attention to the issue. Government officials were forced to confront the issue and this began the start of the enforcement of child labor laws in the states. Textile mills, coal mines and other industries began to discontinue the heavy labor of children and adult workers so they could have a better life. In 1930 heavy child labor was abolished.Before Efforts to Abolish Child Labor Children in the early 1900s had a diverse line from rich or poor. If you were wealthy, you would have lived in a house with bathrooms, with running hot water and flush toilets. On the other side of the line were the poor, where families would live in farmhouses with an outhouse. A child would not have attended school until later years of his/her life. In 1810, about 2 million children were working 50 to 70 hours a week. Most of these children came from poor families. When parents could not support their children economically, they sometimes turned them over to a mill or factory owner. One glass factory in Massachusetts was fenced with barbed wire “to keep the young imps inside.” These were boys under 12 who carried tons of hot glass all night for a wage of 40 cents to $1.10 per night. This labor ran for most of the year. This eliminated school for children, which would last for 2-3 months when business was low. Why hire children and not adults? Children were much cheaper to hire than adults, which gave businesses more profit. Families at the time were desperate for any money they could earn, so many parents encouraged and sometimes forced the heavy labor on their child, which only helped to escalate the issue. There were many types of child labor including some of the following; agricultural , textile, mining, manufacturing, sweatshops, domestic work, laboring work, and street work. In 1900, 18% of all American worker immigrants were under the age of 16 . Child Laborers also made up 20% of the workforce. Also, according to the 1900 US Census, a total of 1,752,187 (about 1 in every 6) children between the ages of 5 and 10 were engaged in “gainful occupations,” also known as child labor. According to statistics in 1900 there were 25,000 – 35,000 deaths and 1 million injuries occurred on industrial jobs, many of these victims would have been children since child labor death was much more prominent than death to adults on sight. A schedule for a mill or coal mine child worker looked like this; at 5:00 a.m, the textile mill would blow a loud whistle or horn alerting the whole village that it was time to wake up and go to the textile mill. Children around the country were also woken up this way six days a week. At 5:30 a second whistle blew letting the children know the day would start in twenty-five minutes, and a half hour later was the final whistle blow and all workers were at their stations. At 12:00 noon, the whistle sounds and the machinery stops, signaling the 55 minute dinner time. At 12:30 pm, 12:45 pm, 12:55 pm the warning whistles sound. At 12:55 the machines are restarted, and at 1:00 pm the whistle sounds and the morning work process repeats in the afternoon. Finally, at 6:00 pm the final whistle is blown and the children are released to their families to go back home and repeat the process over again. An average “school year” was two months long and operated in the fall and winter months when business was slow at the textile mills and coal mines. If a child was late or not working hard enough for the owner’s satisfaction, the child could get whipped, hung by their legs and put in hot water head first by the business owner. Salary for the children was horrendous. Bertha Miller, who used to work in a textile mill says in an interview, “I was eleven years old when I went to work in the mill. They learnt me to knit. Well, I was so little that they had to build me a box to get up on to put the sock in the machine. I worked in the hosiery mill for a long time and, well, then we finally moved back to the country. But me and my sister Molly finally went back up there in 1910 and I went to work in the silk mill. Molly went to work in the hosiery mill. . . . We worked twelve hours a day for fifty cents. When paydays come around, I drawed three dollars. That was for six days, seventy-two hours. I remember I lacked fifty cents having enough to pay my board.” Even with the heavy labor and intense hours, workers were paid only enough to survive healthily, about $13.79 a day by today’s standards. In modern money-making standards, people earn money mostly by a salary, where you get paid for every hour. But in these textile mills and coal mines, people get paid by the day, which added up at the end of the week or month depending on the business owner’s preference. Another interviewee, Joseph Hebergam pointed out: “If we were five minutes too late, the overlooker would take a strap, and beat us till we were black and blue.” Even with the harsh working conditions and environment, coal mine and textile mill owners were not at all lenient towards the children in these conditions. Unfortunately, this was the only option for many families and children because of their financial states. The highest paying jobs at the time would include lawyers, judges, ministers, a bookkeeper (no accountants as such in those days) and railroad engineers. Even workers who had these high-class jobs would only get paid ranging from $2000 to $5000 per year. An average worker in the 1900’s got paid a shockingly low $300 per year. These bad lifestyles for children and adults turned around when a devoted labor activist, Mary Harris Jones, also known as “Mother Jones” stepped in. March of the Mill Children Why is Mary Harris Jones known as Mother Jones? She acted as a mother towards the hardworking men, women, and children suffering from the heavy labor. Again, most of these workers had no other option for a job, and the children were forced by their parents and other family members in need of money. Mary helped to end the heavy labor and long hours by being involved in the creation of laws to prevent circumstances like this to happen again. On July 7, 1903, Mary organized a march with more than 300 children labor workers in Kensington, Pennsylvania striking against textile mill and coal mine owners’ labor. Although there were so few kids in the march, there were over 10,000 textile mill child laborers on strike in Kensington, Pennsylvania. Mother Jones observed that many of the children were very malnourished and missing hands or fingers from the intense labor conditions. The workers and children laborers walked from Pennsylvania to Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, NY, the hometown of President Theodore Roosevelt. This took the marchers more than 30 hours and 90 miles to walk to their destination, nonstop. This time is not including the many speeches Mary made along the way and stops for food, water, and sleep. There were four main goals Mary and the workers wanted to achieve. One, to draw national attention towards the problem of child labor. Two, to meet with former President Theodore Roosevelt to discuss child labor. Three, to pass national legislation which made it illegal to employ children under the age of fifteen or to require more than fifty-five hours a week from any textile worker. Finally, to raise money to support the strike in Kensington. Along the way at major cities, Mary wanted to draw attention to the issue by giving speeches and dramatizing the fact that the children were malnourished throughout their childhood, and presented this in speeches and the march. When the marchers reached Oyster Bay, the children along with the rest of the adult marchers protested around the city holding banners stating, “We want to go to school and not the mines!” Mary was devoted to solving this issue. She tried to publicize the issue in the newspaper but the coal mine and textile mill owners owned most of the newspaper companies which prevented her from progressing. Then Mary remarked, “Well, I’ve got stock in these little children and I’ll arrange a little publicity.” Mary reached New York City on July 23, as sixty marchers paraded up Second Avenue by torchlight. On Coney Island three days later, Jones put children in animal cages to dramatize what she labeled bosses’ attitudes toward workers. She requested permission to see President Roosevelt but was denied by his secretary, and it was suggested that Jones address a letter to the President requesting a visit with him. Even though Mother Jones wrote a letter asking for a meeting, she never received an answer. Although Mary was refused her visit with the President, the incident brought the topic to the public agenda and began to be nationally known. This is when things got started for the archers and Mary. At some of Mary’s speeches, she was very much disliked and people disagreed which threw the devoted activist in prison a few times. Mary was facing charges of libel, slander, and sedition. In 1925, Charles A. Albert, publisher of the fledgling Chicago Times, won a $350,000 judgment against Jones. Even with Mary’s struggles she never gave up on the issue and carried on fighting for the workers.After the March After creating attention and controversy, in 1904 the National Child Labor Committee formed for advocacy and action. By then 28 states passed laws regulating child labor. A year later Pennsylvania re-enforced and toughened up their child labor prevention laws. U.S. Congress passed two laws, in 1918 and 1922, but the Supreme Court declared both unconstitutional. Then in 1924, Congress proposed a constitutional amendment prohibiting child labor, but many states did not enforce it. After a few years, most states recognized the child labor laws and started enforcing it among their people. In 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act. It fixed minimum ages of 16 for work during school hours, 14 for certain jobs after school, and 18 for dangerous work. This act helped to control the labor which appropriated each type of work for a certain age group. This liberated the children from their labor. Children then got to have a more normal life, closer to what we see in the modern world. Other factors also contributed in a major way to the decline of child labor. New types of machinery cut into the use of children in two important ways. Many simple tasks done by children laborers were mechanized, and multiskilled adults became necessary for the most efficient use of the equipment. This cut out the use of children if adults could complete the tasks better. In addition, jobs of all sorts increasingly required higher educational levels, which these children did not have because of the limited school time, around two months. The states responded by increasing the number of years of schooling required, lengthening the school year, and enforcing laws more effectively. As time went on, more and more children were able to graduate from secondary and tertiary education. Child Labor In Developing Countries Today The United States of America has made a lot of progress in the past century with child labor laws, children’s rights and, child safety laws while working. Although in other countries around the world are still at the stage of child labor as we once were in the early 1900s. China said that it was investigating whether hundreds or even thousands of children from poor areas in the southwest part of China had been sold to work as slave laborers in booming coastal factory cities. Authorities in southern Guangdong Province, near Hong Kong, said they had already rescued more than 100 children from factories in Dongguan, a huge manufacturing city known for producing and exporting toys, textiles, and electronics.The children, most of them 13 to 15 years old, were often tricked or kidnapped by agencies working in a part of the western Sichuan Province, and then sent to factory towns in Guangdong, where they were often forced to work as much as 300 hours a month for very little money, according to government officials and accounts from the country’s media which is blocked from the outside world from its citizens. This shows how other countries even in today’s world still has bad child labor, and some worse than we used to have over a century ago. Conclusion Labor activists alarmed by the dangerous working conditions and low wages of children who were forced to perform heavy child labor in dangerous conditions. The 1900 US Census demonstrated that at least one in six children performed heavy labor. Through the efforts of labor activists such as Mary Harris Jones attention was brought to these conditions and national outrage brought about new laws to restrict the age of child laborers and to improve conditions under which they worked. Textile mills, coal mines and other forms of child labor began to discontinue the use of children for heavy labor. Laws were passed to improve conditions for adults workers as well. Despite progress in America over the past century, the issue of child labor continues today in developing countries around the world.
August 6, 2019 0 Comments