By 1910, about 2 million children under the age of 15 worked in industry, according to National Archives and Records Administration data.
Some states had started passing child labor laws in the 19th century. Yet other states still allowed children to toil in textile mills, factories, and mines for 60 or more hours per week. Laws also had loopholes. Some laws accepted a parent’s word about a child’s age, so many poor parents lied. Other laws only punished “knowing” violations. Employers often found ways to claim that they didn’t know the true ages of their young workers.
School attendance laws were likewise not strictly enforced. A 1907 Alabama law said children aged 12 to 16 years must attend school for at least eight weeks per year. But school certificates weren’t required.
Laws in northern states were generally more protective of children than those in the South. However, companies competed across state lines. Since child labor was cheap, companies looked for ways to remain competitive and resist or avoid stricter requirements. They might relocate businesses from northern to southern locations.
The Push for Federal Law....
The National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) began pushing for a national law soon after its founding in 1904. Its leaders couldn’t get President Theodore Roosevelt to back a child labor ban introduced by Indiana senator Albert Beveridge in 1906. But, with the president’s support, Congress did order a large-scale study of child workers by the Bureau of Labor. A 1912 law also set up the Children’s Bureau to report on “all matters pertaining to the welfare of children.” The newly formed Department of Labor assumed those agencies’ work and some other responsibilities in 1913.
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