We’ll talk about child labor today because I think it’s important to understand where debates over children’s entertainment came from, vis a vis the difference between a nineteenth-c chidhood and a 20 th -c one. You’ve got a good sense from the reading about the way this debate split people’s opinions in the first third of the 20 th c: on the side of regulation were reformers and middle-class do-gooders who argued that children should be kept out of the workplace; unions were also opposed to child labor for reasons of their own. On the other side were many businessmen, immigrant parents who wanted their children’s wages, and people who simply argued that the state had no business telling people how to handle their children’s lives. These days there’s a fairly universal understanding about the shape of younger children’s lives, one which defines “labor” in terms of constructive play and educational activities, and resists the idea of people making money off of their children; today we’re going to talk about how this understanding came about. Here we’re going to look at some of the images that the American middle class saw of children in the early 20 th c, and talk about the way that these images might have affected people’s understanding of the standardization of childhood experience.
Steven Mintz argues that the mid-nineteenth c through the midtwentieth C are some of the most confusing times to think about what children actually did all day, because larger social and economic changes – growth of cities, industrial strength, immigration, expansion of commercial agriculture and tenant farming (aka sharecropping) – meant that you would have a totally different experience of work and play depending on where you lived, how much your parents made, ethnicitiy, gender, race. Mintz argues that one of the only commonalities was that regardless, you had a one in six chance of dying before your fifth birthday (in 1895). During this time, people who were middle class took their children out of the adult sphere. At the same time, working0-class and farm kids became all the more important to the family economy. Mintz says “The earnings of children between ages of ten and fifteen often amounted to 20 percent of a family’s income and spelled the difference between economic well-being and destitution.” Pic of kids and potatoes: Library of Congress, 1940.
Jacob Riis, “Street Arabs in Sleeping Quarters,” c 1880s – they’re obviously pretending.
Today we’re quite used to the image of kids being used in ads for things. Feminist critiques of the use of adult females in ads for unrelated products are quite common; what about the use of kids? Situations of “typical childhood” are supposed to tug at the heartstrings, but also end up solidifying ideas about what “typical childhoods” should look like.
Green and Smith, longtime friends, were both illustrators who contirbuted to mass-circulation magazines during the first theird of the 20 th c. Good Housekeeping, Harpers, Collier’s, Century, Scribner’s, Ladies’ Home Journal. Their illustrations were also featured in many ads. Partly because as women they weren’t welcomed in fine arts circles, they often painted children; children were their bread and butter.
Ad for Ivory Soap, 1902 (Smith)
Hine was a teacher of nature study and botany before quitting his job to become an investigative photog with the Natioanl Childr Labor Committee (advocacy group you read about a bit in Zeliser). They would investigate child labor conditions and then exhibit photographs with text and stats in order to publicize the problem.
Hine started by investigating conditions of home work in NYC. “Angelica, who is three years old, pulls apart the petals, inserts the center, and glues it to the stem, making 540 flowers a day for five cents”
What was “breaking”? They picked out impurities from coal – had to sit astraddle mining equipment inside the mine and look for it Hine knew the height of every button in his vest from the floor, and would use it to estimate the height of children – and, from that, their ages
Spinners watched the bobbins for breaks in threads, and mended those breaks by tying ends together 11-12 hour days, 6-day weeks
“ Manuel is five years old but big for his age. When the whistle blows at 3 o’clock in the morning, he pulls on his clothes and hurries to the shrimpa nd oyster cannery where he spends the day peeling the shells off iced shrimp. He has been working as a shrimp-picker since he was four.” Hine faced a lot of trouble making these pictures – foremen and factory police would threaten him –he lied and siad he was a fire inspector, selling insurance, or an industiral photographer - he would interview children on a pretext and take notes on a piece of paper hidden in his pocket.
One Foxconn worker Mike Daisey interviewed, outside factory gates manned by guards with guns, was a 13-year old girl. She polished the glass of thousands of new iPhones a day.The 13-year old said Foxconn doesn't really check ages. There are on-site inspections, from time to time, but Foxconn always knows when they're happening. And before the inspectors arrive, Foxconn just replaces the young-looking workers with older ones.In the first two hours outside the factory gates, Daisey meets workers who say they are 14, 13, and 12 years old (along with plenty of older ones). Daisey estimates that about 5% of the workers he talked to were underage. Other instances besides NG: Republicans in WI and ME are trying to ease restrictions. &quot;How come it's OK, even exemplary, for teenagers to spend 40 hours a week in sports, glee club, chorus, debate society or any other select activity sanctioned by the social elite, but if you are a teenager who wants to work or needs to work, there are limits?&quot; Dick Grotton, president of the Maine Restaurant Association, said. &quot;Kids working is not a bad thing.” In Maine, Republicans lawmakers rolled back child-labor laws this year, with backing from Gov. Paul LePage. Legislation increased the number of hours teenagers could work and let companies pay them a &quot;training wage.&quot; Under the pay measure, workers younger than 20 would earn $5.25 an hour, less than the state's $7.50 an hour minimum wage. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, the top Democrat on the House Labor and Workforce Committee, said that attacks on child-labor laws are about &quot;demonizing the poor.&quot;&quot;A kid with a parent working two low-wage jobs to pay the rent knows what a work ethic is,&quot; he said. &quot;She doesn't need any more hard knocks from the likes of Newt Gingrich. What she needs is access to great education and her parents need a vibrant job market. You get neither when you repeal child-labor laws and replace Mom and Dad with underage children.”
Kids at Work
Zelizer: “The conflict over the propriety of child labor between 1870 and 1930 in the US involved a profound cultural disagreement over the economic and sentimental value of young children” (emphasis mine).
Today we’ll look at some key images from this “cultural disagreement,” and talk some more about its parameters.
In a pluralistic society, who decides the shape of an “ideal childhood”?
Farm labor in the 19 th c: pulling weeds, tending livestock, milking cows, churning butter, feeding chickens, harvesting crops
City labor: Errands, scavenging, newsboys, “outwork”