A variety of factors affected which children worked. The most significant was of course social class. Most of the children that worked were children from poor families that had to work. Their parents could not afford to send them to school and often needed their maeger earnings just to provide meer sustanance. There were, however, other factors such as demographics. Rural children were needed to work on the farm. Urban children were more likely to be sent to school. A major factor in the United States was race. Note that in images of child labor during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, black children (especially the boys) are almost always only seen as agricultural labor.
The most significant factor affecting whether a boy would work or go to school was of course social class. One historian writes, "In general, urban lower-class and farm
parents tended to maximize immediate economic returns and scant their sons' schooling, whereas a schoolboy adolescence came to be characteristic of middle-class urban teenagers, particularly British-stock Protestants." [Macleod, p. 25.] Most of the children that worked were children from poor families that had to work. Their parents could not afford to send them to school and often needed their maeger earnings just to provide meer sustanance. Finances were not the only factor, another problem was life experience. Many parents who did not receive an educarion themselves did not always see the importance of making a financial sacrifice to ensure that their children received a basic eduaction. One major exceotion here was often Jewish immigrant parrents.
There were, however, other factors such as demographics. Rural children were needed to work on the farm. This is most apparent in poor sharecropper families, but some parents on prosperous farms often wanted the children to give more attention to chores than their books. Urban children were more likely to be sent to school. Not only were the children needed to work on the farm, but logistics complicated education in the days before busses were readily available. Most farm children were near a rural primary scools. Provisions for these schools were part of the Homstead Act (1864). Going to secondary school and university was much more problematical. My father in rural Indiana during the 1910s, for example, had to board with friends in Whinemack to attend high school. While his father helped with that, he was adament that my dad return home to help on the farm rather than enter university. It caused a rupture between the two as my father insisted on continuing his studies.
A major factor in the United States affecting children in the work place was was race. As is obvious from the above discussion, amy black children worked rather than attended school until after World War I. No only did their parents need the money, but many black parents were uneducated themselves and unavle to support themselves. In the ante-bellum South it was actually against the law to taech a black child to read. In the North, black children were often excluded or at best unwelcomed in public schools. Most balck children, however, lived in the rural South. Only well after the Civil War (1861-65) did the black migration to northern cities begin in significant numbers. Note that in images of child labor during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, black children (especially the boys) are almost always only seen as agricultural labor.
Well into the 20th century, most black Americans lived in the South. Gradually the Southern states established a segregated school system for these children. The quality of the education was poor and most parents could not afford to send their children beyond primary school. Many could not even afford that. Most of the children had to work in the fields chopin (picking) cotton or other crops. Jobs in mills and factories were normally reserved for white children. While these jobs payed poorly, they paid substantially more than could be eraned in agricultural labor.
After Federal troops were withdrawn from the South by President Hayes in 1877, the white power structure setvabout creating a legal system that perpetuated slavery in all but name. State by state black citizens were systematically denied the right to vote by a variety of supterfuges circuventing the 15th Amendment guaranteing the right to vote. Race baters like "Pitch Fork" Ben Tilden in South Carolina used vicious racial slogans to win elections. Segregation on Jiw Crow laws were passed separating black and white facilities and social services which in almost all cases meant that blacks received inferior access or were actually denied access to education and social services. Most became share croppers, ekeking out a meager exisence. This system was found to be constitutional by the Supreme Court in Plessy vs. Fergusson (1896). The economiv suppression of black aspirations was accopmpanied by a virtual reign of terror by the Klu Klux Klan and other vicious gangs, usually supported if not abetted by local law enforcement, to ensure that no black dare challenge the Jim Crow system. Lynchings became a common occurance. This system continued in the South until challenged by the Civil Rights movement in the mid 20th century. The economic limitations in the South accentuated by the vicioness of the local officials and the Clan resulted in a migration north to urban centers. While realtively small at first, by the early 20th century black populations were developing in most large American cities. This migration became much more pronounced begining with World War I (1914-18).
There was an interesting exception to the general pattern of poor children working rather than going to school. A historian writes, "There was one conspicuous exception to this dichotomy, however - the small number of black boys living in Northern cities by the late 1800s and early 1900s. Superficially, their lives resembled those of middle-class white teenagers who were developing a schoolboy adolescence." [Macleod, p.26] The number of established black families in the North were very small. The much larger number of new immigrants were mostly poor and uneducated. Like European migrants, howecver, they had great dreams for themselves and their children--few of which came to fruition. Some returned to the South in frustration, but most stayed because as poor as the conditiions they found--it was better than they left behind in the South.
Interestingly, urban black children, especially the boys, often stayed in school longer than white immigrants.
Urban black boys were also less likely to have paid jobs, even part-time jobs. Note in the photographic images of the day, black boys are virtually never pictured working in factories. Some boys are pictured as shoe shine boys. Even most newsboys were white boys, except in destinctly black neighborhoods like Harlem (New York). Here we can not at this time prove why. Some balck parents no doubt insisted that their children study. It is more likely, however, that many migrant families would have welcomed an added breadwinner. It is likely that many employers would simply not hire blacks, especially when many white European immigrant boys were available for low wages. Here there was a particular problem for black boys. There were often jobs available for girls as domestics. Another factor was that many of their parents were unemployed or employed in only the most menial jobs. Thus black fathers lacked the contacts and associations that could have helped their sons get jobs. A historian writes, " A major reason why black parents did not--indeed, could not--pack their children off to work to help the family was that unlike immigrant parents whose ethnic groups had established firm footholds in certain blue-collar occupations, black families could not readily guide guide their sons into secure jobs; racism and small numbers blocked the growth of black vocational enclaves." He concludes that black boys lacked the "familial vocational networks of established immigrant groups. Black boys were on their own." [Macleod, p.26] Unfortunately for many of the black boys that stayed in school, even with academic credentials, professional and other good paying jobs were often not available to them.
Urban black children also showed an interest in joining character building associations like the YMCA and Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts in America began organizing in 1910. These assocaiations and some of their members, however, did not always welcome black youth. The Scouts were most popular with middle-class boys. For the most part they had more diffuiculty with working-class boys. There was some interest among urban black boys.
Macleod, David I. Building Character in the American Boy: The Boy Scouts, YMCA, and Their Forerunners, 1870-1920 (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1983), 315p.
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