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Labor and Child labor

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years ago





by: Jennifer Wing and Rachel Tangard





      When you think of child labor, you think somewhere along the lines of "what a horrible crime!" The truth is, in Victorian Era, a child participating in child labor was about as common as a child in 2008 participating in public schooling. 


     The Victorian Era most commonly refers to the reign of Queen Victoria that took place from approximately 1837 to 1901.  In 1870, near the midst of her reign, about 750,000 children were engaged in child labor. That only includes children less than fifteen years of age, and excludes children who worked in their family's business, or on their family's farm.


    Family's may decide to send their young to work due to family poverty, industrial needs, or just to get their children in the habit of working for a living.  Family poverty explains itself; families were poor, so they put their children to work to get money.  Factories hired children usually because they didn't need to get paid as much money as adults.  Also, a lot of the machines were more easily handled by tinier people.  People in the Victorian Era believed that if children realized what responsibility and hard work was at a young age, they would soon adopt to it and be very great workers when they get older.


    The underlying problem was that sometimes the children who worked were in poverty and away from adult supervision.  In life, when opportunity arises, some may take it.  Therefore, when the opportunity to steal or do criminal acts for a benefit was up for grabs, it was most likely taken.  Lots of children then ended up as thieves.  Without adult supervision, their innocent ears and minds were exposed to some drastic ways of getting money. Living as deprived and desperate children, some ended up becoming anything from prostitutes to gamblers.


 In the following reading, some jobs a child might have obtained during the Victorian Era are listed and explained.  There are also some of the many people who fought strongly against child labor.  Plus, there were organizations, acts, and laws for support to defeat child labor.












Being a blacksmith was a tenacious job that was a hard job for adults, let alone a child from ages 5-15. It required a lot of hard work and effort to mold metal into usable utensils and objects. Although being a blacksmith was not very easy, the economic and social position of it was much higher than compared to working on a farm or in a factory.




Textile Mills  

Working in Textile Mills is one of the worst places for a child to be, let alone be there around the clock. This laborious job causes children in the Victorian Era to have bad physical growth. Standing in an enclosed heated atmosphere for hours of not moving around is like telling a child to stand outside all day when its 110 degrees outside.





Working in mines during the Victorian Era was very dangerous. In the mines, they are told to break walls open and search for any valuable objects. The walkway in a mine is very narrow and short, making it perfect for children to drag carts of coal through. A five year old dragging something that weights more than himself is an extremely difficult task, especially for a child that was underfed and weak. It was not a surprise to see a child accidentally slip. These kinds of events were common and fatal.



 Chimney Sweeping


Before mines, chimney sweeping was the most difficult and most dangerous job there was. Children were apprenticed and taught how to get inside a chimney and clean out all the soot and creosote. Young children were used for this because of the small opening. It was quite often that children would get burnt, fall, or suffocate from the debris.



 Farming/ Agriculture


Farmers in the Victorian Era were very common, especially within family members. Children started working in the field at around age five. Being a farmer during this era was risky because of the unpredictable weather conditions. They had to be very careful with soil and watering. Even though people work for many hours on the field, the effort would be easily lost if the crops weren’t fresh and healthy. Farming was not as easy at it seemed because being outside in the beaming sunlight all day isn’t very comfortable. 







Prostitution in the Victorian Era was considered "a fate that's worse than death" to women. Men with money were willing to pay a standard pricing of about twenty pounds for a healthy working-class girl between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. Men were willing to pay a hundred pounds for a middle-class girl of the same age; and as much as four hundred pounds for a child from the upper class under the age of twelve. It was very common for a young girl to experience their first sexual experience this way. Not only that, but it was also common to get a sexually transmitted disease because of no safe treatment.



 Child Maids    

At around the age of twelve, children were hired to work as maids or nursery maids. Maids were normally girls that helped take care of children or clean around the house. When older maids were hired, they were expected to cook food for their master. Life as a maid wasn't very good, but it was considered alright because your master would provide food for you to eat.







Being a thief in the Victorian Era was a risky job. It took a lot of time to become a skilled thief. They were usually taught techniques to use to take someone's belongings. For example: in the book Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens uses the character Fagin to show us how he taught his “students” to steal.  When you were a thief, your boss expected you to come back with money or something of good value.  Therefore, if you came back empty handed, you would have most likely been punished.








Piecers were children that worked in linen factories. They inspected all threads to make sure they were connected. If the reel of threads was broken, they had the job of piecing it back together. That is where they got the name of piecers. This job was very time consuming and boring.





A scavenger's job was to get under the factory’s machines, and get all the bits of fluff that got caught there. Being a scavenger was a hazardous job for children because they could easily get caught under the machinery and die, or get seriously injured.








In the Victorian Era it was common to see cheap labor. At the brick yards, children were used to re-stack bricks. They would toss bricks to each other in a line to shift the piles of bricks to another side of the yard.






















1) The Children’s Aid Society (1890). It was organized/ created in 1890 by Charles Loring Brace to provide homes for orphaned children.


2) The National Child Labor Committee (1904).  It was founded in 1904. Its mission is "promoting the rights, awareness, dignity, well-being and education of children and youth as they relate to work and working." The National Child Labor Committee did much to prevent child labor, and still does today. They make sure children of farm workers still have great opportunities for life by making sure they get good education and have good health. Most importantly, they raise public awareness of child labor.




1) Several Factory Acts (1819-1878).  Those were laws that were created in England that increased the age children had to be in order to work.


2) Ten-Hour Movement (1844).  The "Ten-Hour Movement" stated that a children's shift may only be ten hours, and could not work more than fifty-eight hours a week.


3) The Coal Mines Act (1843). This Act followed Lord Ashley's Mines Commission (1842). This act made it illegal for all boys under thirteen (and all women) to work in the mines.


4) Keating-Owen Act (1916). This act was created in America by President Woodrow Wilson.  It stopped the selling of things produced from child labor between states. This act was named unconstitutional because the government claimed it took away their authority over the selling of goods. 


5) Revenue Act of (the Child Labor Tax Law) 1919. This act tried to help stop child labor by collecting taxes. This Act was also found to be unconstitutional. It was named unconstitutional because it was said that the power of the congress shouldn't over power the states ability to regulate trade.


6) Fair Labor Standards Act (1938). This Act changed the age of employment to sixteen, or to eighteen if the job was hazardous.  It also created a national minumum wage. (children of fourteen and fifteen we able to work under certain conditions after school hours)













Lewis Wickes Hine. Lewis Wickes Hine was a photographer that used the camera not solely for amusement, but also as a tool to familiarize and change the thoughts of people about child labor. He was a photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. Throughout the next ten years, he took pictures of child labor occurring at that time to help the National Child Labor Committee in trying to end the practice of child labor.  He then became a photographer for a magazine called "The Survey".  With his photos, he also showed the cruelness of child labor.


(One of Lewis Wickes Hine's photos that was taken in an attempt to portray the sadness of child labor)



"John Howell,

An Indianapolis Newsboy

Makes $.75 some days.

Begins at 6 A.M., Sundays.

(Lives at 215 W. Michigan St.)

Location: Indianapolis, Indiana."   



Michael Sadler - Sadler was concerned about the conditions of children working in factories near by. He soon became "Newark" in the House of Commons. He published many pamphlets, most of which emphasized the dreadfulness of child labor. He was trying to get the word out that something should be done about it. On March 16th, 1832, Michael Sadler proposed the idea to limit the hours of all people less than eighteen to ten hours a day.  After Sadler tried hard to pass the bill, Parliament denied it. In April of 1832, it was agreed there would be interviewing to gain further knowledge of child labor. Sadler, along with his parliamentary committee, interviewed eighty-nine witnesses.

On July 9th, Sadler found out that some of these interviewed workers had been "sacked" for giving information to the parliamentary committee.  He didn't want further suffering for factory workers, so he started interviewing doctors that had worked with the factory workers instead. 

Sadler published a report on child labor in January of 1833. The report enraged the British public and in a way forced Parliament to protect children in the factory business. 



Charles Dickens - Dickens grew up in a big family in poverty. That, combined with his childhood experiences, mostly influenced his writings.  In his writings he used satire, irony, sarcasm, and symbolism to express evil vs. good in the world, most of the time pertaining to child labor.  Since Dickens was already a popular writer from his previous novels, people wanted to read Oliver Twist.  Therefore Charles Dickens really helped spread the idea that child labor was truly evil.

     As you can see, children were forced to do some things that would be unbearable for adults now-a-days.  In Victorian times, anything from working in the mines to working as prostitutes was bearable as long as they (somewhat) "paid the bills", helped the industries, or got children into the "labor life" habit.  There were many organizations, laws, acts, and people trying to change the views of society about child labor.  There was a slow but gradual increase in feelings towards abolishing child labor, and by now the number of children being forced to participate in child labor has decreased dramatically.

1.) "Child Labor in Victorian England" Free Essays
     3 March 2008.

2) "Child Labour in Victorian Times" North South Schools Programme


       EU Peace Program. 3 March 2008




3) Col, Laura Del "Testimony Gathered by Ashley's Mines Commission" The Victorian Web.


      26 September 2002. West Virginia University. 28 Febuary 2008.





 4) Dickens, Charles Oliver Twist


     United States of America: Globe Fearon.1988



5) Gibbs, Jennifer "Children At work: Looking at Child labor in the Victorian Age" Ezinarticles


       07 April 2005. 18 Febuary 2008.





6) "Keating-Owen Child Labor Act of 1916 (1916)" Our Documents


       1 March 2005.


      < http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=59>.



7) "National Child Labor Committee; NCLC Fact Sheet" Kapow


      27 Febuary 2008.





8) Stoddard, W.H. "Victorian Vices: Prostitution" The Heliograph


      26 June 2007. Gurps Steampunk. 3 March 2008.





9) "The Observer and the Observed, child labor photographs by Lewis Wickes Hine" Farlane.blog 


      3 September 2007. WordPress. 2 March 2008.





 10) Wikipedia "Lewis Hine" Wikipedia


      2 March 2008. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. 2 March 2008.


    < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Hine>.



 11) National Archives Learning Curve. 


     3 March 2008.





12) Joseph, Cathy "Victorian Prostitution" Scholarly History


      Humboldt Historical Prostitution Web Site. 3 March 2008.









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