Today is Labor Day. Here’s what our fellow Americans were focused on 100 years ago.
Labor Day had its roots in the late 19th century and grew to become a national holiday in the early 20th century. Its coincidence with the communist revolution in Russia is no coincidence. In that context I hope the irony of a day celebrating labor by not working is not lost on you.
100 years ago the women’s suffrage movement was in full swing but the talk of the day was child labor. Here’s a cartoon from 1917 showing a workman picking away at the foundations of American Progress. The chipped away stone says: “Free Speech and Tolerance.” Next on the base of the statue are “Child Labor Laws”; “Hours of Labor”; and “Temperate House Laws.” It’s unclear to me whether this cartoon was advocating for child labor or opposing it. Context is everything when reviewing history and this era has a very opaque mantle around it.
From Margaret Sanger and the eugenics movement to President Wilson and the great experiment to bring progressivism to the United States — I feel that this era is a mix of stupendous failures all built upon the best-intentioned intellectual thoughts of the day. As Jonah Goldberg has documented — careful what you wish for.
For all the craziness that pervaded national and local governments the National Child Labor Committee provided a compelling set of documetation around child labor in the United States which eventually lead to serious legislation on the matter.
Lewis Hines, a teacher and amateur photographer, was hired by the NCLC to provide photographic evidence of child labor. It was far from a scholarly unbiased portfolio but the images are truly moving. Here are some select photos taken 100 years ago in 1917 with captions by Hines made for the committee: