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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Where Do the Children Play? Re-membering

Updated: Jun 12, 2021

Child Labor, Exhibit Panel - Library of Congress
Child Labor, Exhibit Panel - Library of Congress

The Angels' Lament takes place in the 1870s, long before the United States Congress enacted a short-term statute for Children's Rights. While researching the textile mills in Fall River, MA, I became startlingly aware of the children. Hence, they are well represented in the narrative. The book that I am currently writing, The Crows' Path (Book Four), also addresses another dilemma of children lost in time. We may think of these individuals as long gone, but that is incorrect. In one way or another, we all leave an imprint of our earthly existence. This happens in many ways — through DNA, historical and cultural memory, and more. Read the notice. Children under fourteen? There were children in the textile mills as young as five. They could reach their little arms into tight-fitting spaces to operate machinery. Many lost their limbs and lives.

It took this long to get a bill into congress to attempt to protect the children. And then, it was a very long road before it came into effect. What don't we know? Where are we now? Yes, there are bills protecting workers, children included. However, we can have a clear conscience (sort of) because the labor laws do not protect those who live in other countries, enslaved to manufacture and farm products sent to the United States. We do not witness the atrocities connected to most of what we consume in our daily lives. So, have we addressed these human rights issues? Are we moving in the right direction? ... Mending our ways? In some ways, but overall I think not. We have just shifted the burden elsewhere. It is safely hidden. The average citizen need not worry about such a wretched, tangled mess. Back in 1916, this is what happened — a picture of humanity that has yet to be repainted, only placed on another wall, out of plain sight but not really.


The Keating–Owen Child Labor Act of 1916, also known as Wick's Bill, was a short-term statute by the United States Congress attempting to address child labor.

Its purpose was to address child labor by banning the sale in interstate commerce of goods produced by factories that employed children under the age of fourteen, mines that worked children younger than sixteen, and any facility where children under fourteen worked after 7:00 p.m. or before 6:00 a.m. or exceeded eight hours a day. After its initial failure to pass legislation, the bill was revised and re-submitted to Congress and finally accepted. The foundation for this action was the constitutional clause giving Congress the responsibility of governing interstate commerce. The Act stipulated that the U.S. Attorney General, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of Agriculture would periodically convene a caucus to issue uniform rules and regulations to comply with the Act. To enforce the Act, the Secretary of Labor would assign inspectors to perform inspections of workplaces that produce goods for commerce. The inspectors would have the authority to make unannounced visits and would be given full access to the facility in question. Anyone found in acceptance of this Act or who gave false evidence would be subject to fines and/or imprisonment. (1)

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed it into law. He lobbied intensely for its passage, and it went into effect on September 1, 1917. Unfortunately, within nine months, in Hammer v. Dagenhart, 247 U.S. 251 in 1918 (2), it was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Addie, Lewis Hine Collection   (3)
Addie, Lewis Hine Collection (3)

 Sources Cited: (1) Wikipedia (2) Abbot, Grace. Encyclopædia Britannica. I: A-Ak - Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, Illinois: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 2010. (3) US Stamp Gallery


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