Little Laborers Of New York City, continued
ous classes" enough in the English cities, whom no reformation or legislation could reach, without adding to them this immense mass of children, enslaved, as it were, in their early years. The interest of the state was evidently in education, even if production were diminished. A greater evil than poverty was widespread ignorance.
It was clear, too, that this great class of children would produce all the more hereafter if their minds could be trained in childhood. The best condition for popular wealth is popular education. Moreover, it was not believed that the exclusion of the children from the factories would drive the families to the almshouse. There was no difficulty, evidently, in arranging half-time schools and half-time work. The one would help the other. The young laborer would be better for his school, and the young scholar for his toil.
After incessant discussion and a long contest, the English "Factory Bills" were carried through Parliament, were repeatedly amended, improved, and enlarged, until they form now a ponderous Blue-Book.
These acts have been rigorously executed, and their effects have been that hundreds of thousands of little "white slaves" have been redeemed from slavery, saved from premature toil and sickness, and that a new class of English laborers are growing up, better educated, healthier, happier, and of more value to their employers. The reform was one of the most glorious and beneficent ever carried out in Great Britain.
This terrible evil of the overwork of children was early felt in the State of Massachusetts. A great manufacturing population had concentrated there, and some of the economical conditions of the Old World were repeated. Children were found in various parts of the State enslaved to labor from their earliest years, without proper education, and weakened in bodily power. No thorough effort, however, was made to check the evil till 1866, when the Legislature passed an act "restraining the employing of children of tender years in manufacturing establishments." This was subsequently repealed, and a more thorough and stringent law passed in 1867 (Chapter 28). By this act no child under ten years of age could be employed in any manufacturing establishment in the State. Of children between the ages of ten and fifteen years no one was allowed to be thus employed unless he had attended a day school at least "three months of the year preceding" or a "half-time school" during the six months. And if this amount of education be not secured, the employer is obliged to at once dismiss the child. It is necessary also that the school should be a suitable one, and approved by the school committee of the town where the child resides. The "ten-hour provision" is also made applicable to children, and no child under fifteen can be thus employed more than sixty hours per week. If ever the "Eight-hour Act" was reasonable, it would be as applied to children, and forty-eight hours per week seems to us quite enough for any working boy or girl. The penalty for the violation of this act in Massachusetts is fifty dollars both to employer and parent.
The phraseology of the Massachusetts law does not seem as careful as would be desirable, and is not made sufficiently yielding in cases of hardship among the poor; neither is sufficient power given to the executive officer to enter manufacturing establishments, and no sufficient school certificates or forms of registration for the factory children are provided for.