Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

Columns

November 14, 2013

Will we lock down generations with bigotry?

Ann Shazer gave me a 1913 Christian Herald Almanac that has made for some mighty good reading. A story about Child Labor and “recent legislation” (100 years ago) caused me to wonder what people will think of us after another 100 years. Especially what will people think of those we elected to office? Something that seems so simple to us today apparently wasn’t so 100 years ago.

The move in Indiana to amend the Indiana Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage caused me to wonder if people will think about that as strongly as most of us think about child labor today. Rep. Sean Eberhart (R. Shelbyville) said recently that, “For us to put that amendment in the constitution and to lock down generations with bigotry is wrong.”

According to a report prepared by the American Association of Labor Legislation, there were more laws relating to child labor passed in 1911 by a greater number of States than in any preceding year. That sounds great doesn’t it? Hardly anyone wants to see eight-year old working in mines or sewing clothes for 14 hours a day.

The thing is, it wasn’t that simple. Of 41 states holding legislative sessions in 1911, 30 enacted child labor laws, a total of 59 such laws were passed. For the first time five states prohibited all children working (outside the home and for money) during the school term. The hours for labor for children were shortened in 10 states. The eight-hour work day for all children under 16-years was established in 10 states.

Children under 16 were excluded from all night work in six states, while California excluded all under 18 working after 10 p.m. Night work was prohibited for children in 31 states. It was noticed that the more advanced industrial states passed the greatest number and the most through going child labor laws, whereas the Southern States as a rule were slow to accept it.

Those opposed gave some pretty good excuses for not voting to pass these improvements for the lives of children, as Congressmen have been known to do, and the main one was disguised as concern for widowed mothers who would be reduced to poverty by such laws. Several cities met this opposition with ideas of their own. Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, Louisville and a few more wanted to give a small sum weekly to the family of the widow when practically dependent on the earnings of a child prevented from working by law. Ohio, Oklahoma and Michigan followed that plan to give aid to the needy widows.

Manufacturers were opposed to the end of cheap child labor too but Illinois did pass a law for child labor to be only eight hours. Wisconsin and Indiana allowed a child to work 10 hours per day.

During 1911 the plan to exclude children from dangerous trades also got a boost. There had been many industrial accidents and occupational diseases. That was before OSHA. Nine states excluded children under 16 from a rather extensive list of occupations that included mines in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. The age limit for working in mines and quarries was put at 17 in Texas and 18 in Wisconsin.

There seemed to be a feeling overall that the exclusion of children from dangerous or immoral trades would be desirable. Boys and girls working in cheap theaters, selling matches or newspapers, working as messengers and bootblacks were found to be dangerous for children. At one reformatory school for boys in Massachusetts, it was shown that out of 336 inmates, 110 were former street peddlers, 160 had been newsboys, 72 bootblacks and 56 had been messengers. Those averages were confirmed in other parts of the country.

But a national law protecting children took longer. The Child Labor Amendment was approved by Congress in 1924, giving Congress authority to enact child labor regulations that had previously been rejected by the Supreme Court. Only six states had ratified the amendment by the beginning of 1933, the total rose to 28 by the end of 1937, leaving the amendment still eight states short of the number then required. (Indiana ratified the law in 1935.) In 1941, the Supreme Court overturned its earlier rejection of federal child labor regulation giving Congress the power to establish and enforce labor standards for the manufacture of goods for interstate commerce.” That decision has been described as making the Child Labor Amendment unnecessary. That last part is a bit over my head but I did find the story of Child Labor laws in the Almanac most interesting.

I’ll share more from this almanac later maybe even “Jesus Christ’s Ideal Woman.”

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