Child labor - History of Business in the U.S.
Definition: Employment of girls and boys, often under the legal age to work
Significance: Children were a cheap, submissive source of labor for textile, mining, glass, and other industries in the United States until the early twentieth century, when social reformbegan to produce legislation that protected children from unfair or unsafe working conditions and from other forms of exploitation by employers.
Child labor, in one or another form, has been part of the American economy since the founding of the United States, when labor shortages encouraged the use of children in agriculture, domestic service, home-based businesses, and industries. During the earliest years, children primarily worked on their families’ farms or served as indentured servants and apprentices. Children’s rights issues usually did not extend to agricultural labor, because children usually worked without wages for their parents on family farms, where activists thought of them as safe from harm.
- Greene, Laura Offenhartz. Child Labor: Then and Now. New York: FranklinWatts, 1992. This simple overview of American child labor fromthe beginnings of the country until the early 1990’s provides information on the history, reformation, and legislation of child labor.
- Hindman, Hugh D. Child Labor: An American History. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 2002. Provides excellent historical and theoretical commentary through both primary and secondary sources on the subject. Though the focus of the book is on child labor history, the author connects the history to twenty-first century problems in America and beyond.
- Levine, Marvin J. Children for Hire: The Perils of Child Labor in the United States. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003. Levine challenges the idea that there are no longer major problems with child labor. He argues that child labor laws have become too lenient and that not enough has been done to keep American children safe in the workforce.
- Manheimer, Ann, ed. Child Labor and Sweatshops.Detroit, Mich.: Greenhaven Press, 2006. Addresses political, economic, and social aspects of child labor through a series of articles that are reprinted from a variety of sources. The simple format is easy to follow and provides a strong overview.
- Trattner, Walter I. Crusade for Children: A History of the National Child Labor Committee and Child Labor Reform in America. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1970. Overview of the relationship between the National Child Labor Committee and the child labor reform movement beginning during the early twentieth century. Focuses on child labor legislation and its progress in making changes in the lives of working children in the United States.
- Zelizer, Viviana A. Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children. New York: Basic Books, 1985. Provides a synopsis of the way adults have valued children over the last few centuries, including how children’s labor has varied between a moral and an economic issue.