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Activity 3

Essential Question

Why was it necessary to pass laws to protect the lives of children in the United States and other industrialized countries?

Instructional Strategies

The three strategies of this activity will use Jigsaw, a cooperative learning strategy, to learn and teach about child labor. Each member of the home group will be assigned one of the following topics related to child labor:

  • The Campaign to End Child Labor
  • Songs for the Working Children
  • Political Cartoons and Cartoonists

Send the members of the group to their jigsaw expert group to develop expertise in this topic. The jigsaw expert group will answer the questions assigned to each of the topics and be prepared to teach the topic to their home group.

Strategy 1

The Campaign to End Child Labor

Reading Text Material

  • Have the students read The Campaign to End Child Labor. Give them a purpose question for their reading and review unfamiliar vocabulary terms prior to reading.
  • Tell the students to be prepared to discuss the Check for Understanding questions with their home group.

Printable Student View

The Campaign to End Child Labor
In 1900, approximately two million children were working in mills, mines, fields, factories, stores, and on city streets across the Untied States. The 1900 census, which counted workers aged 10 to 15 found that 18.2 percent of the country’s children between those ages were working. This census report helped to spark a national movement to end child labor in the United States. The National Child Labor Committee was founded in 1904.

This movement argued that it was morally wrong to subject children to this kind of abuse. In addition, they argued that children were losing their childhood. They compared child labor to slavery and said that this was as great a problem as slavery. The movement also said the industrial revolution was bringing progress in wealth, education, and increased leisure time. However, it was noted that poverty was increasing right along with this progress. It turned out that progress was creating huge fortunes for a few while the rest of society only received the crumbs from the table. The extent of child labor documented by the 1900 census was chilling evidence of the failure of technological progress to produce the American Dream of a better life for all.

The National Child Labor Committee began to take action. The members of this committee began to see that child labor was not only damaging to the child but hurt the nation as a whole. Child labor itself was an obstacle to the progress of the nation and to civilization in general. They said that if it was necessary to have child labor in America, then American society was not worth saving. More importantly they began to take some very important steps to change the situation.

First, they began to document how bad the situation of child labor had become. In 1908, they hired Lewis Hine, a photographer, to take pictures of children working in many different occupations in all kinds of conditions. These pictures were a powerful tool in convincing people of the evils of child labor. No longer could people deny that such conditions existed in America. The movement used these pictures in their efforts to lobby both state and national law-making bodies to enact legislation to address the problem of child labor. In addition, to arguing for an end to child labor, the movement also argued for improved working conditions for all workers and for compulsory education for children.

The first federal legislation concerning child labor was passed in 1916. Although, effective federal child labor laws would not really be in place until the late 1930s, this early legislation convinced Americans of the evils of child labor and ended much of the opposition to the prohibiting of child labor. It would take more time to convince the courts that legislating against child labor was not interfering with personal freedoms and was constitutional. In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act was based and this effectively ended the practice of child labor by not allowing a company to sell its products across state boundaries if they used child labor to produce it. This time the courts agreed with the law and said it was constitutional.

However, the National Child Labor Committee did not die. It is still active today. Although countless children and their children were saved from exploitation in mines, mills, and factories, new challenges have arisen both in the United States and abroad. There is still much work to be done and the young people today will have to be part of the solution.

The Campaign to End Child Labor, a summary of an article by Jim Zwick

Check for Understanding Printable Student View
  1. What impact did the census report of 1900 have on the movement to ban child labor?
  2. Why were people alarmed about child labor when it was evident that progress in technology was leading to increased national wealth?
  3. Why was the documentation of child labor practices by the photographer, Lewis Hines, such an important step in bringing about reform?
  4. Why is the National Child Labor Committee still in existence today?

Scoring Guide

Strategy 2

Songs for the Working Children

Read and analyze the following poems/songs and discuss them with the expert group. Use the questions at the end to guide your discussion. Return to your home group to teach how poetry and songs were effective tools when lobbying against child labor practices.

Printable Student View

“The Flower Factory” by Florence Willkinson

Lisabetta, Marianina, Fiametta, Teresina,
They are winding stems of Poses, one by one, one by
one – –
Little children who have never learned to play:
Teresina softly crying that her fingers ache today,
Tiny Fiametta nodding when the twilight slips in, gray.
High above the clattering street, ambulance and fire
gong beat,
They sit, curling crimson petals,one by one, one by one.
Lisabetta, Marianina, Fiametta, Teresina,
They have never seen a rose-bush nor a dewdrop in the
They will dream of the vendetta, Teresina, Fiametta
Of a Black Hand and a Face behind the grating;
They will dream of cotton petals, endless, crimson,
Never of a wild-rose thicket nor the singing of a cricket,
But the ambulance will bellow through the wanness of
their dreams,
And their tired lids will flutter with the street’s hysteric screams.
Lisabetta, Marianina, Fiametta, Teresina,
They are winding stems of roses, one by one, one by
Let them have a long, long play-time Lord of Toil,
When toil is done.


“The Machines” by Ernest Crosby

What are the machines saying, a hundred of them
in one long room?
They must be talking to themselves, for I see no
one else for them to talk to.
But yes, there is a boy’s red head bending over one
of them, and beyond I see a pale face fringed
with brown curly locks.
There are only five boys in all on this floor, half
hidden by the clattering machines, for one
bright lad can manage twenty-five of them.
Each machine makes one cheap, stout sock in five
minutes, without seam, complete from toe to
ankle, cutting the thread at the end and
beginning another of its own accord.
The boys have nothing to do but to clean and
burnish and oil the steel rods and replace the
spools of yarn.
But how rapidly and nervously they do it – – the
Slower hands straining to accomplish as much as
the fastest!
Working at high tension for ten hours a day in the
close, greasy air and endless whirr – –
Boys who ought to be out playing ball in the fields
or taking a swim in the river this fine summer
And in these good times the machines go all night,
and other shifts of boys are kept from their
beds to watch them.
The young girls in the mending and finishing
rooms downstairs are not so strong as the
They have an unaccountable way of fainting and
collapsing in the noise and smell, and then
they are of no use for the rest of the day.
The kind stockholders have had to provide a room
for collapsed girls and to employ a doctor,
who finds it expedient not to understand this
strange new disease.
Perhaps their children will be more stalwart in the
next generation.
Yet this factory is one of the triumphs of our
With only twenty boys at a time at the machines in
all the room it produces five thousand dozen
pair of socks in twenty-four hours for the
toilers of the land.
It would take an army of fifty thousand hand-
knitters to do what these small boys perform.
What are the machines saying? They are saying,
“We are hungry. We have eaten up the men
and women (there is no longer a market for
men and women, they come too high) –
We have eaten up the men and women, and now
We are devouring the boys and girls.
How good they taste as we suck the blood from
their rounded cheeks and forms, and cast
them aside sallow and thin and care-worn,
then call for more!
Br-r-r-r-r-r-r-r! how good they taste; but they give
us so few boys and girls to eat nowadays,
altho there are so many outside begging to
come in – –
Only one boy to twenty of us, and we are nearly
We eat those they give us and those outside will
starve, and soon we shall be left almost alone
in the world with the stockholders.
Br-r-r-r-r-r-r-r! “what shall we do then for our
food?” the machines chatter on.
“When we are piling up millions of socks a day for
the toilers and there are no toilers left to buy
them and wear them.
Then perhaps we shall have to turn upon the kind
stockholders and feast on them (how fat and
tender and toothsome they will be!) until at
last we alone remain, clattering and chatting
in a desolate land,” growled the machines,
While the boys went on anxiously, hurriedly
rubbing and polishing, and the girls down-
stairs went on collapsing.
The devil has somehow got into the machines.
They came like the good gnomes and fairies of
old, to be our willing slaves and make our
lives easy.
Now that, by their help, one man can do the work
of a score, why have we not plenty for all,
with only enough work to keep us happy?
Who could have foreseen all the ills of our factory
workers and of those who are displaced and
cast aside by factory work?
The good wood and iron elves came to bless us all,
but some of us have succeeded in bewitching
them to our own ends and turning them
against the rest of mankind.
We must break the sinister charm and win over the
docile, tireless machines until they refuse to
shut out a single human being from their
We must cast the devil out of the machines.

“Child Labor” by Benztown Bard

You going to put that boy to work,
That little bit of a kid,
Whose heart is out where the daisies are
In the dew and the grasses hid?
Going to put that boy to work,
Whose soul is way out there,
Dreaming of meadows and streams and bridge,
And the joy of the summer air?
You going to put that boy to work
Who is old enough, you say,
To be out helping you get along
With his little pittance of pay?
You going to put that boy to work
Who belongs to God awhile,
Out in the green of the boyhood sheen
Where the hills and meadows smile?
May be your business, and that I’m blind,
Or a fool to be butting in,
But putting a kid like that to work
Is an economic sin;
Stunting and putting him back so long
From the glory he should know
In the good green spell of the wood and dell
Where a kid like him should grow.
You going to put that boy to work
Because he can help you bear
The burden of grocer and clothes and rent,
And he ought to be doing his share?
You going to put that boy to work,
That little kid whose eyes
And heart and soul are hankering for
The blue of the summer skies?
You going to chain him in a mill,
Who all day longs and longs
For the playtime life on the good green hill
And the cheer of the robins’ song?
You’re going to put him in prison, eh,
That he’ll never get out again – –
For the dreams, the dreams, of the open day
Can never come back to men!

Songs for the Working Children,
a selection of poems used to protest child labor,
edited by Jim Zwick

Check for Understanding Printable Student View
  1. How has the view of the world changed for girls who spend the day winding stems of poses, one by one?
  2. What are the machines saying?
  3. Why should little boys be dreaming of meadows and streams and bridges instead of working in a factory?
  4. How would you feel if you were standing in a small crowd listening to a singer(s) putting these poems to song?

Scoring Guide

Strategy 3

Political Cartoons and Cartoonists

Use the cartoons below or select and analyze other cartoons at:

Cartoon Analysis Worksheet

Printable Student View

Cartoon 1

Early investigations of conditions in southern cotton mills made it appear to be a regional problem until it was discovered that many of them were owned by northern capitalists.

Citation: “White Slavery: Northern Capital and Southern Child Labor.” New York American and Journal; rpt. Literary Digest 28 (Oct. 18, 1902). In Jim Zwick, ed., Political Cartoons and Cartoonists. (Sept. 25, 2004).

Cartoon 2

PARENT: “No, Sir, I don’t send ’em to work from greed, but because I’ve got to. But if I done it from downright Selfishness, what do you think of the Social conditions of a Republic that would turn parents into something worse than brutes?”

Uncle Sam holds a document labeled, “Land Monopoly System, High Tariff, Trust Rule.”

Citation: Bengough, John Wilson. “The Child Labor Question.” The Public 6 (May 16, 1903). In Jim Zwick, ed., Political Cartoons and Cartoonists. (Sept. 25, 2004).


Check for Understanding Printable Student View
  1. What is the message of each of the cartoons?
  2. What more can you learn about child labor by studying each of the cartoons more carefully?
  3. How does a cartoon differ from a picture?
  4. Which cartoon affected you the most and would make you want to do something to help ban child labor?

Scoring Guide

Updated December 31, 2019 10:07am