A DIFFERENT WORLD FOR KIDS — Were the boys in this photo playing on the barrels or trying to earn a living with them? Child labor played a big part in the Industrial Revolution, no pun intended.
Not until 1881, for instance, did Florida make it illegal to hire someone under fifteen for more than 60 days without his or her parent’s permission. Fifty percent of Florida’s kids didn’t go to school during the later 1870s, and Florida didn’t make school attendance mandatory until 1915. This was the same year that Alabama, Texas, & South Carolina adopted compulsory education, but one year before Georgia.
Many children who didn’t go to school went to work instead. Kids of middle & upper income families were often exempt from outside labor. The opposite was often the case, however, for children from less-advantaged families. This went for both blacks and whites.
Americans had an ambivalent attitude about kids. Many believed that children were innocent, angelic creatures that should be protected from the harsh realities of the world. A number of Americans, though, also assumed that juveniles above the age of nine should help make ends meet. By the year 1900, eighteen percent of American kids (ages 10 to 15) had jobs. They toiled in mills, mines, fields, factories, stores, & on city streets for as long as 10 hours a day. Some workers, moreover, were as young as three years old.
After the year 1900, however, newspapers & magazines began to publish an increasing number of photos. These included shots of children at work. Readers saw dirty, unhealthy youngsters with sad, empty expressions staring out from grimy factories. These kids hardly looked like kids.
Eventually, states passed effective laws for compulsory school attendance and against child labor. These were part of a movement to preserve childhood as a special time in life. Other results included the construction of playgrounds and the establishment of a separate justice system for juveniles.
Not everyone, nevertheless, shared in the benefits equally. In Jacksonville, as in numerous other places, educational & recreational opportunities for African Americans lagged behind those for whites for many years. The number & quality of their facilities remained grossly inadequate.