From the Washington Post of September 7, 2018 . . . these early-20th-century photos by Lewis Hine (1874-1940) shocked the conscience of the nation, and led to creating laws governing child labor in America. Hine wormed his way into the factories to take photos by convincing factory owners he was distributing bibles.
In 1900, 18% of factory workers were children under 16. In the early 1900s, people generally viewed and treated children as “hands” such as farm homesteaders, to be sent to work to earn money. Courts took the position that such an employment relationship was contractual and protected by the Constitution from interference by the state. The same principle was used to preclude workers’ compensation laws, although 35,000 lives per year were lost, not to mention hundreds of thousands of injuries, including loss of limbs.
The March 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York–one of the deadliest in US history, with 146 deaths and 71 injuries–gave rise to New York child labor laws. The fire was witnessed by Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor. Several child labor laws passed by Congress in the early 1900s were, however, found unconstitutional by SCOTUS.