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EIU Teaching with Primary Sources

Childhood Lost: Child Labor During the Industrial Revolution

Childhood Header

Introduction | Primary Sources and Analysis Tools 
Library of Congress Resources | Primary Source Set

Choose a link below to access printable PDF versions of these materials including additional information, color images and citations.
Childhood Lost:Child Labor During the Industrial Revolution Resource Booklet  Primary Source Set

Library of Congress Resources


America's Treasures
highlights the National Child Labor Committee campaign for tougher state and federal laws against the abuses of industrial child labor. Lewis Hine was its greatest publicist. A teacher who left his profession to work full-time as investigator for the committee, Hine prepared a number of the Committee's reports and took some of the most powerful images in the history of documentary photography. The Library holds the papers of the Committee, including the reports, field notes, correspondence, and over 5,000 of Hine's photographs and negatives.
Accessed 9.30.08

When They Were Young
These pictures, selected from among thousands of images in the Prints and Photographs Collections of the Library of Congress, capture the experience of childhood as it is connected across time, different cultures, and diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Whether encumbered by poverty or born into privilege, boys and girls look unflinchingly at the lens and toward the future. Their honest gazes reveal who these children are and how they view themselves and their world-with implications of the vast roads that lie ahead.
Accessed 9.30.08

Prints and Photographs

Prints and Photographs Division National Child Labor Committee Collection Photographs by Lewis Hines
Working as an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), Lewis Hine (1874-1940) documented working and living conditions of children in the United States between 1908 and 1924. The NCLC photos are useful for the study of labor, reform movements, children, working class families, education, public health, urban and rural life in America in the early twentieth century.
Accessed 9.30.08

American Memory

Tending the Commons: Folklife and Landscape in Southern West Virginia incorporates 718 excerpts from original sound recordings, 1,256 photographs, and 10 manuscripts from the American Folklife Center's Coal River Folklife Project (1992-99) documenting traditional uses of the mountains in Southern West Virginia's Big Coal River Valley. Functioning as a de facto commons, the mountains have supported a way of life that for many generations has entailed hunting, gathering, and subsistence gardening, as well as coal mining and timbering.
Accessed 9.30.08

Chicago Daily News
This collection comprises over 55,000 images of urban life captured on glass plate negatives between 1902 and 1933 by photographers employed by the Chicago Daily News, then one of Chicago's leading newspapers. The photographs illustrate the enormous variety of topics and events covered in the newspaper, although only about twenty percent of the images in the collection were published in the newspaper.
Accessed 9.30.08

Touring Turn of the Century America
This collection of photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company Collection includes more than 25,000 glass negatives and transparencies as well as about 300 color photolithograph prints, mostly of the eastern United States. The collection includes the work of a number of photographers, one of whom was the well known photographer William Henry Jackson. This collection contains photographs of boys who worked in the coal mines of Pennsylvania.
Accessed 9.30.08

America from the Great Depression to World War II Black and White Photographs from the FSA-OWI 1935-1945
The photographs of the Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Collection are a landmark in the history of documentary photography. The images show Americans at home, work and play, with an emphasis on rural and small-town life and adverse effects of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and increasing farm mechanization. Photos of children working in onion fields and cranberry bogs are available in this collection.
Accessed 9.30.08

Working in Patterson: Occupational Heritage in an Urban Setting
The collection presents interview excerpts and photographs from the four-month study of occupational culture in Paterson, New Jersey conducted in 1994. Paterson is considered the cradle of the Industrial Revolution in America, founded in 1791 by the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures, a group that had Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton as an advocate. Paterson went on to become the largest silk manufacturing center in the nation as well as a leader in the manufacture of many other products, from railroad locomotives to firearms.
Accessed 9.30.08


Justice not Pity 
Julia Lathrop was an American social worker at the turn of the 20th century, a pioneer in the field of child welfare who investigated child labor, studied infant mortality and pushed for separate courts for juveniles. Lathrop faced many challenges when she assumed the helm of the Children's Bureau. Tichi said, "Congress was wary and watchful for missteps, and opponents of the new bureau were already massing, furious at governmental meddling in family life. Lathrop's credentials were no guarantee of success, and the first year's bureau budget was tiny. If she failed, her name would be synonymous with governmental waste and female incompetence. Worse, the children of the United States, the very future of the country, would needlessly suffer and die." Accessed 9.30.08

Wise Guide

Weekday Warriors a.k.a. the Labor Movement
Skilled craftsmen weren't the only ones laboring behind machines. Children tended them as well, especially in the textile industry. In 1870, the first census reporting child laborers indicated 750,000 workers age 15 or under not including family farms or businesses. Organizations worked to eliminate child labor, including the National Child Labor Committee. Not until 1938, with the Fair Labor Standards Act, did any attempt at child labor legislation succeed. This act requires employers to pay child laborers minimum wage and sets the minimum age at 16, or 18 if the occupation is hazardous.
Accessed 9.30.08

Children at Work 
Founded in 1904, the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) began a mission of "promoting the rights, awareness, dignity, well-being and education of children and youth as they relate to work and working." Starting in 1908, the committee hired Lewis W. Hine to carry out investigative and photographic work for the organization.
Accessed 9.30.08

Teacher's Page

Today in History is designed to help educators use American Memory Collections to teach history and culture.

Grace Abbott is Born: November 17 Assigned to the Children's Bureau, Abbott began implementing the first federal law restricting child labor. Abbott used her influence to ensure wartime contractors did not rely on child labor. Accessed 9.30.08

First American Cotton Mill: December 20 Textile worker Fannie Miles remembers her transition from farm to factory at the age of nine:
“I was just nine years old when we moved to a cotton mill in Darlington, South Carolina, and I started to work in the mill. I was in a world of strangers. I didn't know a soul. The first morning I was to start work, I remember coming downstairs feelin' strange and lonesome-like. My grandfather, who had a long, white beard, grabbed me in his arms and put two one-dollar bills in my hand. He said, "Take these to your mother and tell her to buy you some pretty dresses and make 'em nice for you to wear in this mill." I was mighty proud of that. Accessed 9.30.08

Lesson Plans
The Learning Page lesson plans below give a grade level for each lesson but with a little modification almost any lesson can be altered to any grade level.

Child Labor in America
(Grades 6-12) Students critically examine, respond to and report on photographs as historical evidence. Focus on the work of reformer/photographer Lewis Hine's photographs of child labor. /lessons/98/labor/plan.html

Who Really Built America
(Grades 6-12) Students examine child labor in America from 1880-1920 to gain a personal perspective of how work affected the American child within a rapidly growing industrial society.

Presentations and Activities

American Memory Timeline Rise of Industrial America, 1786-1900
This resource was developed to help teachers and students use the vast online collections of the Library of Congress. In the Rise of Industrial America there are subtopics on City Life, Rural Life and Work.

Themed Resources 

Labor in America
This section of the Learning Page will give you other areas on the Library of Congress website to explore. Because the topic is Labor in America, child labor has only a small part. You will find collections in American Memory, search terms and you can even read the transcripts from the live chat session.

Collection Connection

The African-American Experience in Ohio: Labor Movements
Although for African-American children slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation there were still those who remained in servitude against their will. An article from the February 6, 1904 Cleveland Gazette describes six children who were enslaved for six years after their father was killed. Editorials that are critical of other forms of child labor appear in a 1905 Cleveland Journal piece and an essay in the January 1913 edition of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Review, which notes, "This agitation on behalf of the mill and factory children (all white) is bound to react in favor of the black children of the South."



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