We forget too quickly what it was like in the United States before the Child Labor Laws and women won the right to vote.
Middle class? What was that in America before the labor unions arrived? While doing research yesterday on a history of the American Middle class, I learned that about 700,000 children worked in factories and coal mines and that explains who so few graduated from High School in 1900 (16,000 and there were almost a million 17-year olds). The rest were already working as young as six or seven. About 5% of the population had enough money to live comfortably without money worries.
I always feel a bit sorry for myself on Labor Day weekend, as it’s back-to-school time and usually I am engaged in a mad dash to get my course syllabi done. Of course this is ridiculous, as I have the cushiest job ever and most of the summer I’ve been free to do as I liked. It’s good to remind myself what labor really is, and nothing does that better than the photographs of Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940), who transitioned from educator to social activist, all the while armed with a camera. In 1908 Hine became the official photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) and began his life’s work: documenting child labor across the United States. This was a time when one in six children between the ages of five and ten worked outside the home in “gainful occupation”, and the percentage increases dramatically for children over the…
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