The Rise of Child Labor (1877-1910)

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“Children Bought and Sold In Italy and Greece”,Chicago Tribune, Page F4, July 1904

Newspaper article showing a woman and children laboring In 1904 the Chicago Daily Tribune published this newspaper article, titled “Children Bought and Sold In Italy and Greece”, that exposed the abusive padrone system operating in the city of Chicago. The article explains how young boys were sent to America from Italy or Greece by their parents and instead of earning an honest living as promised, they were treated like slaves with their earnings being taken by their masters and their every action controlled by the Padrones. With no money and confined to their Padrone the young boys had no other choice but to wait until they were old enough to escape their masters and find work elsewhere. The intended audience were the inhabitants of Chicago and the surrounding areas and the aim of the article was to make people aware of the exploitative system in hopes of preventing its continuation.  This source reveals the concern that Americans displayed for white immigrant children laboring in the early 1900s as opposed to the apathy shown to their black peers laboring in the fields.

“A Georgia Cotton Field”, Marcus L. Brown, Photograph (1907)

young African American women working in a cotton field

Marcus L. Brown took this photograph of nine African American sharecroppers picking cotton in Georgia in 1907. Although the exact circumstances surrounding the photographer and the sharecroppers are unknown, it is likely that the intended audience was the American public as the aim of the photograph was likely meant to expose the harsh conditions under which sharecroppers, including young children, were exposed to. Children working as sharecroppers were exposed to the same hazardous and  long working days as older members of their families. A young girl, appearing no older than six years old, stands by herself off to the left seeming to work just as hard as those older women around her. Sharecropping put African American children at risk for exploitation from a very young age and although often forgot about, their struggles were just as intense as those put to work in factories. Children working in the agricultural sector often received little to no schooling and if given the chance to go to school they would be pulled out of their classrooms during harvest seasons [1].

“Six members of Slebzak family in field, five of whom are working on Bottomley’s farm near Baltimore, Maryland”, Lewis Hine, Photograph (1909) 

This  photograph, taken by the famous photographer known for capturing captivating images of child labor, Lewis Hine, displays young children of Polish immigrants laboring in a field in 1909 on a summer day in Maryland. The intended audience of Lewis Hine’s photographs was the American public, with the aim of the photographs being to expose people to the harsh realities of child labor in the United States. This image shows children of Immigrants working in the agricultural sector with the youngest child appearing no older than four years old. Children of immigrants and those working in agriculture were often forgotten about and as the 1900s progressed they failed to gain the same protections from labor as children working in industrial sectors did. With a lack of supervision from outside child welfare and protection agencies such as the National Child Labor Committee, these children were among the least likely to be protected from long hours toiling in the field. During harvest seasons children in agriculture were often kept out of school to extend working hours on the farm. For these children their first priority was earning a wage and then attending school, not because they did not have a desire to be educated but because their wages were vital to help sustain living expenses for their families.


  1. Pearson, Susan J. “Age Ought to be a Fact: The Campaign Against Child Labor and the Rise of the Birth Certificate.” Journal of American History 101, no. 4 (2015): 1144-1165.