History Of Child Labor Laws In The U.S.

The photo above was taken from today’s MSNBC PhotoBlog. As you can see, the photo features a young boy in Kabul, Afghanistan waiting to sell popcorn from a rolling cart as evening settles in. I found the photograph to be poignant, and despite its relative darkness, visually stunning. The photograph also got me to thinking about the topic of child labor, a topic that has not yet been covered here at CRW. So, I have included below a brief outline of the history of U.S. child labor laws.

1832 New England unions condemn child labor
The New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics and Other Workingmen resolve that “Children should not be allowed to labor in the factories from morning till night, without any time for healthy recreation and mental culture,” for it “endangers their . . . well-being and health”
1836 Early trade unions propose state minimum age laws
Union members at the National Trades’ Union Convention make the first formal, public proposal recommending that states establish minimum ages for factory work
1836 First state child labor law
Massachusetts requires children under 15 working in factories to attend school at least 3 months/year
1842 States begin limiting children’s work days
Massachusetts limits children’s work days to 10 hours; other states soon pass similar laws—but most of these laws are not consistently enforced
1876 Labor movement urges minimum age law
Working Men’s Party proposes banning the employment of children under the age of 14
1881 Newly formed AFL supports state minimum age laws
The first national convention of the American Federation of Labor passes a resolution calling on states to ban children under 14 from all gainful employment
1883 New York unions win state reform
Led by Samuel Gompers, the New York labor movement successfully sponsors legislation prohibiting cigar making in tenements, where thousands of young children work in the trade
1892 Democrats adopt union recommendations
Democratic Party adopts platform plank based on union recommendations to ban factory employment for children under 15
1904 National Child Labor Committee forms
Aggressive national campaign for federal child labor law reform begins
1916 New federal law sanctions state violators
First federal child labor law prohibits movement of goods across state lines if minimum age laws are violated (law in effect only until 1918, when it’s declared unconstitutional, then revised, passed, and declared unconstitutional again)
1924 First attempt to gain federal regulation fails
Congress passes a constitutional amendment giving the federal government authority to regulate child labor, but too few states ratify it and it never takes effect
1936 Federal purchasing law passes
Walsh-Healey Act states U.S. government will not purchase goods made by underage children
1937 Second attempt to gain federal regulation fails
Second attempt to ratify constitutional amendment giving federal government authority to regulate child labor falls just short of getting necessary votes
1937 New federal law sanctions growers
Sugar Act makes sugar beet growers ineligible for benefit payments if they violate state minimum age and hours of work standards
1938 Federal regulation of child labor achieved in Fair Labor Standards Act
For the first time, minimum ages of employment and hours of work for children are regulated by federal law

The outline above was obtained from The Child Labor Education Project. Below are some additional photos on the subject that readers may find interesting or useful.

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