Immigration History on Parade in South Philly

South Philadelphia JROTC, Columbus Day Parade, 2014. photo by Don Groff

South Philadelphia JROTC, Columbus Day Parade, 2014. photo by Don Groff

Living immigration and ethnic history in the October 12, 2014 Columbus Day Parade in South Philadelphia:  As expected, Mummers, high school marching bands, and ethnic heritage societies happily dominated the parade, proudly reflcting the event’s Italian American theme and long history in South Philadelphia.  The members of the South Philadelphia High School JROTC added another welcome story. The legacy of the post-1965 wave of immigration made possible by the 1965 Immigration Act. The faces of these kids reflect the new generation of immigrants coming to South Philly in recent decades. Recent immigrant families seek the same opportunities that Italian Americans drawn to South Philly in the late 19th and early 20th century sought and celebrate. Historical memory should make immigration reform easy. Unfortunately, political dementia too often overrides the lessons of history.

Columbus Day Parade, October 12, 2014. Photo by Don Groff

Columbus Day Parade, October 12, 2014. Photo by Don Groff

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The Baby Strikes and Ending Child Labor

By Larry C. Price

By Larry C. Price

Larry Price is a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist. His pictures of child miners in Africa are heart wrenching. In the early 20th century,  Lewis Hine used similar images of American child workers to advocate for child labor laws. Price’s photographs have the potential today. It is helpful, however, to look at the history of child labor reform in the U.S. to understand how change occurs. It takes more than empathy to protect children from exploitive labor. A comparison of 2 historic strikes by young workers in the U.S. offers some insights into what combination of factors may result in positive change.

Just before 1:00 in the afternoon on July 7, 1903, approximately 200-400 striking textile workers in Philadelphias’ Kensington mills district gathered at Torresdale Park. About half the group were children aged 10-15.  Observers described the other half as “adults,” although many were only 16 and 17. The strikers planned to march through the streets of Philadelphia and then make their way another 100 miles north to New York City. The idea was a publicity stunt conceived by labor activist, “Mother” Mary Harris Jones. She thought that putting the focus on children would help gain sympathy for the plight of the approximately 100,000 striking textile workers employed in the Kensington mill district, of which 16,000 were under age 16.[1]

Another strike by eastern Pennsylvania mill workers 30 years later looked very similar to the 1903 protest, but a closer look reveals important differences. During the spring of 1933, union workers at the Penn-Allen Shirt Company in Allentown, the D. & D. Shirt Company in Northampton, as well as dozens of other small contract shops in the region, went on strike demanding higher pay and shorter working hours. Since 1905, Pennsylvania state law prohibited factory employment for anyone under 14 and generally banned night work. In addition, the state’s 1913 Women’s Labor Law restricted the work-week for women and girls to 54 hours. The strikers charged that the onset of the Great Depression led employers, and desperate workers, to circumvent state labor laws.[2]

Had anything changed? The 1903 “March of the Mill Children” from Philadelphia showcased working children as abused waifs, denied an education, and “raked by cruel toil beneath the iron wheels of greed.”[3] Approximately 20 percent of American children 10-15  worked for wages in the first decade of the 20th century.[4] About 10 percent of all textile workers in the Kensington district were 8-15 and approximately 2/3rds of young workers were girls. Newspapers in 1903 noted the sensational image of children marching for workers’ rights, but most editors and journalists were hostile to the cause. A Cincinnati newspaper called Mother Jones and her marchers, “a gang of lunatics.” Public officials were generally more sympathetic, but still did nothing to end the strike or aid the workers.[5]

In 1933 the press was more sympathetic to the strikers and dubbed the mill workers’ protest a “Baby Strike.” The strikers did not claim this title for themselves, but its use by the press is especially noteworthy.  Somewhat ironically, few participants in the 1933 strike as young as the 10, 11, 12, and 13 year olds involved in the Mother Jones’ march. Still, almost 40 percent of the 1933 strikers were 14, 15, and 16.[6]  Government officials also showed more sympathy by launching an investigation and asking specifically for the young workers’ side of the story. These shifts parallel changing public attitudes about childhood and adolescence.[7]

Approximately 100 children and 100 adults joined the march to NYC in 1903. Consequently, the Kensington strike’s focus changed from a protest over hours and wages for “workers” to one highlighting the abuse of children.  Marchers literally draped themselves in patriotic regalia and some children wore costumes made to look like soldiers’ uniforms from the American Revolutionary War. One boy played a drum and others blew fifes as the group walked and rode in wagons on the way to NYC (Mother Jones stayed in hotels along the way).  Sympathetic observers offered the marchers shelter.  Ninety-degree heat, an uncertain food supply, and other difficult conditions took a toll. The drummer boy complained to a reporter, “I’d like to trade that drum for a good sandwich.” By the time the group reached its destination, “what started out as about two hundred dwindled to several dozen, partly by design, party by attrition.” To make matters worse, petty disputes arose among the marchers and outside contributions were not as generous as anticipated. The New York Times took particular pleasure in describing the march’s disappointments.[11]  Newspapers that depended on young newsies to sell papers to the public generally condemned any attempt to gain child labor restrictions or enforcement of existing laws.[12]

It is not clear how many youngsters stayed with the march until the end (reports also vary as to whether both boys and girls group were included in the group). Nonetheless, the youngsters that stuck with the protest must have felt a sense of personal commitment to the cause. Many came without a parent, so parental coercion was not as important as might be expected. All participants had at least some degree of personal commitment. As one adult marcher bitterly complained, “I would rather work sixty hours a week than to endure this torture.” Danny James, “a very thin and short child” headed the march by carrying a sign identifying the group: “We are Textile Workers.” Other youthful protestors’ placards proclaimed, “We Want to Go to School”…. “More School, Less Hospitals”…. “We only Ask for Justice” …. “We ARE protected by a tariff” …. and “We Only Want Our Share”.[13] The signs were obviously prepared by adults, but child strikers clearly let the statements speak for them. Some on-lookers were surprised that children would assert themselves as strikers. Many people learned about the abuses of child labor for the first time from the young marchers.[14]

On July 23rd, 1903 about 60 children and adults reached Manhattan. Thousands of New Yorkers watched the demonstrators walk up Second Avenue by torch light, and 600 police stood by to maintain order. Mother Jones decided to continue the demonstration  by next taking the group to President Theodore Roosevelt’s vacation home at Oyster Bay. The U.S. Secret Service unsuccessfully tried to convince Jones to abandon the idea, but she did tone down the protest by only taking only 3 child strikers and 2 adult organizers on the quest to speak with the president. Roosevelt ignored the group, and did not respond to a deferential letter Jones had sent on July 15th.  The textile strike was broken within the next few weeks. In the end, the 1903 “March of the Mill Children” looked like a complete failure. Despite its failures, as historian Elliot Gorn argues, the 1903 March of the Children was “an early moment in the long change of consciousness that led to the abolition of child labor in America.”[16]

The 1933 Allentown-Northampton strike highlights those changes. Pennsylvania, similar to most other states, had only nibbled away at the issue of child labor. In 1915, Pennsylvania’s Governor Martin Brumbaugh signed a bill linking education to employment by prohibiting anyone under 14 to work for wages until completing the 6th grade. For children that qualified for work certificates under the new law, work schedules were limited to 9 hours a day and 51 hours per week. The same legislation forbid night work for children and made it illegal to hold jobs in certain “hazardous” industries. In 1925 the Pennsylvania legislature created a Bureau of Women and Children within the Department of Labor and Industry to monitor compliance with the state’s existing child labor law. Children’s participation in the workforce declined throughout the 1920s.[17]

Nonetheless, it took the onset of the Great Depression with its soaring unemployment rate for adults to raise new calls to eliminate child labor. In this atmosphere, the textile workers in Allentown and Northampton went on strike in the spring of 1933. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the strike involved more than 40 separate facilities employing 3,200 workers, 25 percent of whom were 14 and 15 years of age. Like the 1903 Kensington strike, young workers brought their cause to the public by marching, this time in Pennsylvania’s state capital. However, unlike the 1903 Kensington strike, the workers gained support from some of Pennsylvania’s most powerful government officials, especially Governor Gifford Pinchot. Pinchot established a special “Sweatshop Commission” to investigate the strikers’ charges of low pay, abuse, and long hours. The governor stepped into the fight after the mayors of the two communities involved had very different responses to the strike. The mayor of Allentown, Fred Hart, established a sweatshop commission composed of the town’s “leading citizens.” The mayor of Northampton, Charles Fox, blamed the walkout on “agitators” and promised the factory owners “police protection.” Despite Fox’s opposition to the strikers, other Northampton officials criticized the factory owners, noting that if they paid “decent wages,” police protection would not be “necessary.”[18]

In another change from the 1903 strike, newspapers across the county ran articles sympathetic to the strikers. The Toledo, Ohio Leader featured an in depth article on April 28, 1933 with the headline, “Sweatshop Conditions Force Children’s Strike” and the subheading, “Pennsylvania Boys and Girls Are in Revolt Against Bosses; Pay Below Chinese Standards.” The article went on to charge, “Child labor exploited to unbelievable limits by unscrupulous bosses during the depression, has revolted. And America—the richest nation in the world—is witnessing its first strike of ‘baby workers.’”[19] The newspaper correctly identified the high adult unemployment rate during the Great Depression as a significant boost to child labor reform efforts. The article went on to shamelessly promote the strikers’ cause,

“…hundreds of underfed, overworked, and grossly underpaid children, employes [sic] of the shirt and pajama factory sweatshops which infest that district are on strike against wages as low as 15 cents a week and working condition [sic] which would make the overseer of a Soudan slave camp blush with shame.”

Interestingly, the reporter also noted that “the children are engaged in active and effective picketing, and are receiving the support of decent-minded citizens.” He judged the strikers’ demands as “modest, very modest. . . .All they are asking for is the ‘prompt payment of wages,’ a 10 percent increase in piecework schedules, restoration of a recent pay cut [rates had been cut from 6 cents a dozen to 3 cents], and recognition of ‘a union.’”[20]

Pennsylvania newspapers offered more subdued coverage, but were still sympathetic to the strikers’ cause. On April 29th, the Philadelphia Record ran with the headline, “Sweatshop Probe Hears of Hardships of ‘Baby Strikers’.” Even the Winston Salem, North Carolina Sentinel featured a story entitled, “Forlorn Parade of Sweat-Shop Children Protests $1 Week Wages.” The article told the story of “Mildred Sweeney…a thin, snub-nosed little Irish girl, who ought to be thinking of nothing more serious than basket ball [sic]. But Mildred, at 15, has been the sole support of a family of ten for the last year. From 7 o’clock in the morning until 5 in the evening, Mildred trimmed shirts in a factory in Allentown. The highest wages she made in one week for all her long hours of work was $1.10…One week she made just five cents.”  The paper went on to describe how Mildred often came home too tired to eat, with only 50 or 75 cents to show for the week’s work. Owners got away with paying such low wages because workers’  compensation was based on piece work; one-half cent to 2 or 3 cents a dozen trimmed shirts. The piecework system meant that employees like Mildred were often idle during the many hours they spent in the workshops.  “The week that I just got a nickel,” Mildred reported, “I had to go everyday, just like always, and wait to see if there was anything to do. Sometimes we’d wait all day and go home at night without earning anything. But if you don’t come everyday, they fire you.”[21]

The practice of hiring adolescent workers at very low wages became more common as the economic depression worsened. Factory owners escaping high rents in the cities like Philadelphia moved to small towns and hastily set up shop. Local families, hurt by the depression, sent sons and especially daughters to the new factories for jobs. Labor unions and government officials throughout the country blamed child labor for at least part of the nation’s unemployment problem and low wages among adults. In December, 1932 at the U.S. Children’s Bureau’s emergency conference on child labor held in Washington, D.C., out-going Secretary of Labor William K. Doak, worried that children were being employed at the expense of adults. The in-coming Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins agreed.[22]

The Great Depression proved fertile ground for the 1933 “Baby Strike.” On April 28 and 29, the governor’s “sweatshop hearings” were held in Northampton and then Allentown. The scene in Northampton included a dramatic moment when one of the owners of the D. & D. Shirt Company, Nathan Dashefsky, “boasted that he was armed. [Officials] required [him] to unswing his pistol and keep it unloaded during the rest of the hearing.” Dashefsky then told the investigators that he did not believe “employees had the right to bargain … collectively on any matter.” He called all the young workers “liars.” Hale A. Guss, a Northampton borough manager, added further to the hearing’s excitment by charging that the factory owners, Nathan and his brother Harry Dashefsky, used language in front of their young female employees that “only the scum of the earth would use.” Charlotte E. Carr, Deputy Secretary of the State Department of Labor and Industry agreed and noted that several of the girls were embarrassed to tell their stories. Officials decided to hold a separate hearing conducted solely by women investigators, including the governor’s wife, Cornelia Bryce Pinchot.[23]

Cornelia Pinchot and Charlotte Carr summarized the young strikers’ testimonies for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry Industrial Board. Carr told the board that the strikers’ picketing “was followed within complete conformity of the law and that both adults and minors cooperated in this effort.” A controversy arose when Carr noted that factory owners had illegally fired the striking employees. As a result, school authorities in the area took the position that the state’s compulsory school attendance law required that fired workers (strikers?) under 16 return to school, thereby making the strikers truant. The board concluded that since the strikers were involved in a legal labor protest, the state’s compulsory school attendance law should not be used to break the strike. Doing so placed young workers at a disadvantage compared to adults, but board members lamented that they had to take this position, praising the idea of even tougher school attendance laws. The board voted to continue dealing with the issue during the next month’s meeting.[24]

In the meantime, Cornelia Pinchot marched with the young strikers in Harrisburg on May 11th. She also gave speeches in support of the strikers that were littered with sad stories about the girl workers.[25] Throughout the 1930s Cornelia Pinchot acted as a champion for organized labor’s efforts to end sweatshops and the employment of 14 and 15 year olds. During its next meeting, the Pennsylvania Industrial Board heard testimony from education officials arguing that the state’s main interest should be to keep children in school. Members of the board agreed, but were bound by law to protect the rights of workers. On July 12, 1933 the board passed a resolution prohibiting the hiring of young strike breakers at the shops and ordering that minors engaged in a legal strike would not lose their work permits.[26] The board unofficially sympathized with education officials.

In the end, the Dashefsky brothers broke the strike at the Northampton factory. But even before the governor’s sweatshop hearings, workers at the Penn Allen Shirt Company signed a contract including a 10 percent pay increase and recognition of the Clothing Workers Union.[27] At least some of the strikers achieved their goals. But pressure from labor unions and unemployed adults continued to push government officials to do something about the employment of 14 and 15  year olds in the nation’s factories. It is reasonable to assume that the young Allentown-Northampton strikers were caught by surprise when the Pennsylvania legislature passed a new law in 1935 raising the minimum working age to 16. The law also limited 16 and 17 year olds to an 8-hour a day, 40-hour work week. The act also placed restrictions on the kinds of employment for those 16-21. About the same time the state passed a new compulsory school attendance law to age 16. Clearly attitudes had changed, and the scarcity of jobs for adults fueled new pressure for reform at the national level as well. In 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act. This significant legislation included the first federally enforceable restrictions on child labor.[28]

While child welfare advocates celebrated the new laws as a final victory in a long struggle to end child labor, some adolescent workers probably resented the new restrictions on their freedom of choice.

Like many child laborers around the world today, young workers saw themselves as legitimate and autonomous workers with interests and rights similar to adults. Oral histories of adults who worked as children during the period suggest that many former child laborers agreed later in their lives with reformers that school was a better choice than the work place for children and teens.[29]  Nevertheless, it is important to include young workers’ views and experiences as well as the perspectives of adult reformers when tracing the history of labor reform and as we consider policies to protect the interests of young workers throughout the world today.  It is also important to note that adults must have a direct interest in removing children from the workplace in order for  significant change to take place.

[1] Estimates of the march participants varied at the time and in scholars’ evaluation of the event since; on Mary Harris Jones and her labor activism see Elliot Gorn, Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Women in America (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001); for an overview of the Kensington children’s crusade see, Gorn, pp.131-138; C. K. McFarland, “Crusade for Child Laborers: Mother Jones and the March of the Mill Children, Pennsylvania History 38(July 1971):283-296; Russell E. Smith, “The March of the Mill Children,” Social Science Review 41(September 1967), pp.300-310; and Stephen Currie, We Have Marched Together: The Working Children’s Crusade (Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications Company, 1997); for a handy overview of child labor in Pennsylvania see Kenneth C. Wolensky, “Child Labor in Pennsylvania,” (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission, 1998), Historic Leaflet No.43; Mary Harris Jones described the July, 1903 march in her autobiography, The Autobiography of Mother Jones, chapter 10, first published by Charles Kerr in 1925 and available on the Internet at http://www.angelfire.com/nj3/RonMBaseman/mojones1.htm, accessed January 20, 2003.

[2] Mac Parker, “Sweatshop Probe Hears of Hardships of ‘Baby Strikers’, Philadelphia Record, April 28, 1933, newspaper clipping in National Labor Committee Papers, Container 64, Library of Congress, Manuscript Collection, Washington, D.C.

[3] Letter from Mary Harris Jones to Theodore Roosevelt, July 15, 1903, included in Philip Foner, ed., Mother Jones Speaks (New York: Monad Press, 1983), pp.555-556; Gron, The Most Dangerous Woman, p.135.

[4] Robert Willard McAhren, “Making the Nation Safe for Childhood: A History of the Movement for Federal Regulation of Child Labor, 1900-1938,” pp.5-6; U.S. Children’s Bureau, “Child Labor Facts and Figures,” Children’s Bureau pub. no. 197 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1930).

[5] Gorn, The Most Dangerous Woman, p.139.

[6] The National Child Labor Committee collected newspaper clippings on the strike, National Child Labor Committee Papers (NCLC papers), box 64, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Washington, D.C.; Data on the 1933 strike was gleaned from the 1933-1934 Minute Books compiled for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, RG 16, box 2, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, PA.

[7] On the changing definitions of childhood during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century see for example, Viviana A. Zelizer, Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children (New York: Basic Books, 1985); Joseph M. Hawes, The Children’s Rights Movement: A History of Advocacy and Protection, (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991); Gail S. Murray, American Children’s Literature and the Construction of Childhood (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1998), pp.51-207; and Leroy Ashby, Endangered Children: Dependency, Neglect, and Abuse in American History (Boston: Twayne Publishers), pp.79-124.

[8] C. Zoe Smith, “An Alternative View of the 30s: Hine’s and Bourke-White’s Industrial Photos, Journalism Quarterly 60(1983):305-310; George Dimock, “Children of the Mills: Re-Reading Lewis Hine’s Child-Labour Photographs, Oxford Art Journal 16(1993):37-54; Jennifer L. Peresie, “Crusader with a Camera: Lewis Hine and His Battle Against Child ‘Slavery,’” Pennsylvania Heritage 23(1997):4-13; and Robert Macieski, “’Before Their Time’: Lewis W. Hine and the New Hampshire Crusade Against Child Labor,” Historical New Hampshire 55(2000):90-107.

[9] Historians of slavery have found advertisements for runaways very useful for countering claims that blacks were docile and unintelligent; for example see John H. Bracey, Jr., August Meier, and Elliott Rudwick, eds., American Slavery: The Question of Resistance (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1971); Eugene D. Genovese, From Rebellion to Revolution: Afro-American Slave Revolts in the Making of the Modern World (New York: Vintage Books, 1981, c1979); and Norrence T. Jones, Born and Child of Freedom, Yet a Slave: Mechanisms of Control and Strategies of Resistance in Antebellum South Carolina (Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1990); on the regulation of adolescent girls see for example, Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986); and Mary E. Odem, Delinquent Daughters: Policing and Protecting Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995).

[10] Gorn, The Most Dangerous Woman, p.131; Jones, Autobiography, chapter X.

[11] Currie, We Have Marched Together, p.37; Gorn, The Most Dangerous Woman, pp.132-134; Smith, “March of the Mill Children,” pp.301-302; New York Times, July 10, 1903, p.1, and July 12, 1903, p.1.

[12] Lindenmeyer, “A Right to Childhood, p.131; Trattner, Crusade for the Children, pp.171-172; Nettie P. McGill, “Children in Street Work,” U.S. Children’s Bureau pub. no.183 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1928).

[13] Gorn, The Most Dangerous Woman, pp.133-134; Currie, We Have Marched Together, p.30-33; reports of the march are included in the Philadelphia Inquirer from July 8th through 20th, 1903, microfilm, Newspaper and Government Documents Reading Room, Library of Congress, and in the NCLC Papers, box 64.

[15] Currie, We Have Marched Together, pp.34-36; oral histories conducted with mill workers from the Kensington region are included in, Jean Seder, Voices of Kensington: Vanishing Mills, Vanishing Neighborhoods (Ardmore, PA: Whitmore Publishing Company, 1982); Gorn, The Most Dangerous Woman, p.140.

[16] The quotation from Ruben Dagenhart is from Lowell Mellet, “The Sequel of the Dagenhart Case (also in Robert H. Bremner, et. al., Children and Youth in America: A Documentary History, [Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1971], vol. 2, pp.716-717); and Lowell Mellet, “How Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth It Is to Have a Thankless Child,” Labor, Nov. 17, 1923, reprinted in Grace Abbott, The Child and the State: Legal Status in the Family, Apprenticeship, and Child Labor, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938) vol. 1, pp.515-517; see also Lowell Mellett, “The Dagenhart Boys,” clipping, U.S. Children’s Bureau Papers, RG 102, box 9, file 16, National Archives, College Park, Maryland.

[17] The Pennsylvania State Code includes specifics about each of these laws, Pennsylvania State Law Library, Harrisburg, PA; for a brief synopsis see, Wolensky, “Child Labor in Pennsylvania,” p.4.

[18] Budd L. McKillips, “Sweatshop Conditions Force Children’s Strike,” Toledo, Ohio Leader, April 28, 1933, NCLC papers, box 64.

[19] McKillips, “Sweatshop Conditions Force Children’s Strike.”

[20] Ibid.

[21] Mac Parker, “Sweatshop Probe Hears of Hardships of ‘Baby Strikers’”, Philadelphia Record, April 29, 1933, NCLC papers, box 64; Dorothy Roe, “Forlorn Parade of Sweat-Shop Children Protests $1 Week Wages,” Winston Salem, North Carolina Sentinel, no date but probably April 28 or 29, 1933, NCLC papers, box 64.

[22] “Doak Says Children Should Not Be Employed,” New York Times, December (no day), 1932, NCLC papers, box 64; for an overview of the Great Depression’s affect on child labor see Lindenmeyer, “A Right to Childhood,”pp.195-202; U.S. Children’s Bureau memorandum, “Effect of NRA codes on Child Labor,” June 5, 1935, Children’s Bureau papers (CBP), RG 102, box 6, file 6; and “NRA Summary,” typed report, CBP, RG 102,, box 10, file 3.

[23] Parker, “Sweatshop Probe Hears of Hardships of ‘Baby Strikers’”.

[24] Minutes of the Industrial Board, Department of Labor and Industry, RG 16, “Meeting of the Industrial Board Meeting, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, April 21, 1933,” pp.75-76.

[25] “Speeches”, Cornelia Pinchot Papers, typed transcript of speech, no date, but probably given several times in April and May, 1933, box 271, file “Speeches, 1933”, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Washington, D.C.; “Mrs. Pinchot Joins March of Strikers,” Lorain, Ohio Journal-Times Herald, May 12, 1933, NCLC papers, box 64.

[26] Minutes of the Industrial Board, June 22, 1933 and July 12, 1933, “Employment of Minor under sixteen years of age where strikes are in progress,” pp. 89-92 and pp.109-110; the full regulation states: “The employment of minors under 16 years of age in an establishment where a strike or lockout is in progress is prohibited, except that this prohibition shall not apply to minors who were legally certificated to work in such establishment before the strike or lockout was declared”, Rule M-38 of the Regulations Affecting the Employment of Minors.

[27] “Allentown Strikers Given Wage Increase,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 25, 1933, microfilm, Library of Congress, Newspapers and Government Documents Reading Room, Washington, D.C.

[28] For an excellent summary of child labor and its regulation in the U.S. up to the present see David I. Macleod, “Child Labor,” included in Joseph M. Hawes, editor, and Elizabeth F. Shores, assistant editor, The Family in America: An Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC CLIO, 2001), vol. 1, pp.174-186.

[29] For example see the earlier reference to Ruben Dagenhart and oral histories included in Jacqueline Dowd Hall, et. al., Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987).

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Good Public Policy and Summer’s Hidden Dangers

whitewater kayaker

Kayaker, Ohiopyle State Park, photo by Don Groff, 2012

Water was rough where tuber went missing,” noted a headline in the August 12, 2013 Philadelphia Inquirer. A similar story in the Washington Post read, “In the Potomac’s grip: Why people drown at Great Falls.”  Both articles warned that each summer the lure of natural waterways also include serious dangers.  Each summer too many people, especially children, teens, and young adults, drown in the nation’s rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams. Alcohol is a factor in some cases, but not all. In recent years, new technologies and wider use of life jackets and other safety equipment have helped to save lives. In the 1930s, public policy also lowered death rates caused by drownings in rivers, lakes, and streams.

New Deal officials and local governments joined forces through the Works Progress Administration and other federal programs to build hundreds of public pools and other recreational facilities in communities throughout in the United States.  Of course the WPA and other New Deal relief program also provided jobs and stimulated local economies, but the swimming pools and other recreational facilities financed with federal help are an excellent example of the good, but largely unrecognized, consequences of spending on public recreational facilities for children and youth.

In 1934, an estimated 450 children and adolescents drowned in the waterways in and around New York City. Drowning deaths, especially among children and teens, were a problem throughout the country. This long history began to change in NYC in the summer of 1936 when the city opened 11 giant new public pools. Built with funds from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the pools were a welcome addition to a summer with record high temperatures.  The largest was in McCarren Park Pool, located in the Greenpoint neighborhood and promoted as holding “up to 6,800 simultaneous swimmers.” Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia proudly dedicated the enormous facility before a crowd of 75,000 people gathered on a warm Friday evening, July 31st, 1936. The highpoint of the ceremonies came at sunset when the mayor flipped on the underwater lights and declared, “Okay, kids, it’s all yours!”

The McCarren Park Pool and thousands of swimming pools and other recreational facilities built in the US during the 1930s as part of the New Deal were visible reminders of a public’s commitment to providing safe public spaces for children, teens, and youth. Drowning deaths in NYC in 1936 fell to under 300.  Like today, rivers, lakes, and streams still had their appeal, but affordable public pools provided safe recreational alternatives for cooling off on a hot summer day.

In recent decades, many cities and communities cut spending on public recreational facilities, especially the high cost of running pools. Even the popular McCarren Park Pool closed in 1984. By then the Greenpoint neighborhood had become a less desirable place for everyone, but the need for safe public recreational facilities did not end. After three decades of neglect and debate, the McCarren Park Pool reopened in 2012 with much fanfare, but also some problems. Brawls and other undesirable behavior initially clouded the facilities’ operation, but a strong no-tolerance policy and support from the surrounding community turned things around. The pool’s reopening helped to make the entire neighborhood a safer place for everyone, and probably saved lives.

The history of New Deal policies that provided new recreational facilities in thousands of communities across the US suggests that providing safe public spaces for young people, especially public swimming pools, is simply good public policy.

mccarren

“McCarren Park’s Calm Reopening Brings Tight Security and Second Chances.” DNAifo, http://tinyurl.com/mpok283

Drowning-deaths data from reports written by New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, quoted on “Everything About a Pool: The McCarren Park Pool,” The New Big Thing, radio broadcast aired July 4, 2003, http://www.wnyc.org/shows/tnbt/2002/aug/25/.

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Another Historic Wrong Turn: June 28, 1914

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Yesterday, a frenzied crowd surrounded Pope Francis’ car in Rio de Janeiro. The scene made security experts around the world cringe and was a huge embarrassment for Brazilian police. Apparently, the pontiff’s own driver took a wrong turn. (“With Modesty, Pope Francis Begins a Week in Brazil“)  While the Pope survived yesterday’s mistake, the incident recalls a more horrific outcome in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. On that fateful day, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, were not so lucky when their driver took a wrong turn.

The Archduke and his wife were in Sarajevo on their wedding anniversary as a political statement reinforcing Austria-Hungary’s authority in the turbulent Balkan region. Serbian nationalists were especially angry at the Archduke’s visit and its connection to the Austria-Hungary annexation of the region in 1909. The day started badly for the Archduke. Serbian nationalist conspirator Nedjelko Čabrinović threw a bomb at the regent’s motorcade, but the bomb missed its target and instead injured a police officer and several bystanders. Čabrinović tried to commit suicide by taking a cyanide pill and diving in the river. The pill failed to do its job and an angry crowd dragged Čabrinović from the river, providing a severe beating before he was taken into custody. Shaken, the Archduke and his wife went ahead the day’s plans stopping at the Town Hall for speeches and a presentation. After the ceremonies, there was some confusion about the motorcade’s next route and the Archduke’s driver took a wrong turn at the junction of Appel Quay and Franzjosefstrasse.

One of Čabrinović’s co-cospirators, 19-year-old Gavrillo Princip happened to be around the corner and saw his chance. He fired a pistol into the Archduke’s car, fatally wounding Franz Ferdinand and Sophie. They both died within an hour.

Historians point to the assassination of Franz-Ferdinand and Sophie as the spark that fueled the start of World War I. Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government for the attack and declared war on July 28, 1914. A series of secret treaties among the major European powers soon unleashed a game of falling dominos that ignited the start of World War I. Over 37 million people lost their lives in The Great War and the unsatisfactory peace that followed is named as the major cause of the Second World War.

Luckily, yesterday’s wrong turn in Rio de Janeiro did not have a parallel outcome.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie

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Dateline: July 5, 2013–Philadelphia

Parks-Philadelphia-07-04-2013

Living in Philadelphia is a kick for an American historian. I’m especially a sucker for the city’s 4th of July celebrations. This year’s program at Independence Hall  emphasized the importance and complex history of the struggle for civil rights in the United States. The topic is a good reminder that there is still “so much to do,” as singer-songwriter Ben Taylor reminded the crowd enjoying the festivities.

Mayor Michael Nutter noted during his speech that 2013 marks the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Battle of Gettysburg.  The Emancipation did not end slavery, but it shifted the war from a fight to save the union to a struggle to end slavery, thereby bringing the United States closer to the ideals spelled out in the Declaration of Independence. The 13th Amendment put a legal end to slavery in the United States, but the fight for racial equality continued. Underscoring that point, Mayor Nutter noted that 2013 also marks 50 years since the murder of 4 girls in a terrorist bombing at the 9th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. That event and the civil rights protests that followed were an important turning point for the modern Civil Rights Movement, eventually leading to passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act.  Philadelphia invited the Mayor of Birmingham, William D. Bell, Sr. to read the Declaration of Independence at yesterday’s 4th of July ceremony. Mayor Bell also road on a float carrying images of significant civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and the iconic Rosa Parks in the city’s Independence Day parade.

“Yes, the country has come a long way,” I thought to myself. But, of course, as a historian I should be more careful. A conversation I overheard between a mother and her teenage daughter ended my complacency.

“Mom, who was Rosa Parks?”  the smartly-dressed light-haired teenager asked her mother.

To my surprise, the 40-something white middle-class mother dismissed the question by shrugging her shoulders and replying, “I don’t know,” and apparently, didn’t care.

Flabbergasted at the response by a woman who I assume had at least graduated from a U.S. high school, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she was tired, hot, or simply distracted. Smiling, I offered, “You probably remember that Rosa Parks was the brave woman in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 that refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. There is a statue of her in the U.S. Capitol.”

The woman’s only grunted and my friendly reminder didn’t seem to stimulate any memory of Parks’ story in the daughter either. Is it possible that these 2 middle-class white Americans had never heard of Rosa Parks? I hope not.

Historical memory is fleeting, but more important, forgetting the past can be hurtful. A blog post in today’s Salon.com by Dr. Brittany Cooper makes my point. An Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, Dr. Cooper wrote about her experience this week while boarding a flight to Louisiana to visit relatives over the 4th of July holiday. A woman Dr. Cooper describes as white, middle-class, and a mother traveling with 2 sons sat down in the next seat. In such close quarters, Dr. Cooper innocently read the last few words of a phone text the woman sent to a friend, “on the plane, sitting thigh to thigh with a big fat nigger. Lucky me.”

It’s hard for me to imagine the pain and anger Dr. Cooper must have felt seeing those hateful words. Professor Cooper composed herself and decided she had to say something. She created a posting on on Facebook, then called up the post. Holding back tears, Dr. Cooper quietly showed the woman the FB posting and said, “I just want to let you know that your words were hurtful. And I hope you don’t pass that kind of ignorance down to your beautiful boys.” The woman did not apologize and instead only offered a curt reply, “I don’t.” Despite the uncomfortable atmosphere, Professor Cooper reached her destination without further incident or exchange.

As a historian and a white woman of a certain age, I’m appalled at the behavior of both mothers.  Recent events in the news add to my dismay.  It is indefensible for any American to argue that it is excusable for the Food Network’s, now former celebrity, Paula Deen to use the “n” word because of her “cultural heritage.”  I am also troubled at the Supreme Court’s decision ending the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act because it is no longer necessary. Both issues may seem insignificant to many Americans. To the contrary, on this holiday marking the 237th birthday of the United States, no American should be willing to accept excuses of cultural heritage, indifference, ignorance, or mission accomplished for behaviors and policies that are discriminatory and hinder the rights of anyone.

As singer-songwriter Ben Taylor reminded the crowd at Independence Hall on July 4, 2013 in Philadelphia, there is still “so much to do.”

Rosa Parks Biography http://tinyurl.com/m8rtzrd
Dr. Brittany Cooper in Salon.com http://tinyurl.com/pok93xv
Ben Taylor, http://tinyurl.com/lo6rekx  Youtube performance http://tinyurl.com/lhxjzv6

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Myth of NINA and St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S.

This afternoon, March 16, 2013, I was lucky enough to enjoy the spontaneous visit of the 2nd Street Irish Society Pipes and Drums at Bridget Foy’s in Philadelphia. pipers-062About the same time, two million people watched or participated in today’s 252nd St. Paddy’s Day parade.
Today and tomorrow many communities will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and the ethnic pride such events represent for the almost 40 million Americans that claim Irish or Scots-Irish heritage (2008 U.S. Census Bureau survey). Six times more people claiming Irish ancestry live in the U.S. than in Ireland and Northern Ireland combined. The popular memory of the Irish diaspora is the story of a struggling ethnic group overcoming poverty and discrimination. No slogan better represents the dark history of discrimination against Irish Americans than the 19th century phrase, “No Irish Need Apply” (NINA). Nevertheless, while many aspects of that popular story are true, Richard Jensen and others have shown that the NINA slogan is more myth than reality. Instead, the story of Irish Americans includes many interesting elements that are often overlooked on St. Patrick’s Day and help to explain why some immigrant groups assimilate faster than others.

Substantial immigration from Ireland to North America began in the 1740s. Dominated by Protestants from Ireland that were being displaced for a second time by the British government, many were from families that had originally migrated from Protestant Scotland to Catholic Ireland. After several decades, however, British land policies changed, luring many to the new British colonies in North America, especially the Carolinas. Staunchly anti-British, this first wave of Irish Americans were strong Patriots that fought bravely against British troops during the American Revolution. In the early National period, this wave of Irish Americans continued to hold anti-British sentiments, favoring the policies of Thomas Jefferson and the Republican opposition over George Washington and the Federalists. This made Irish Americans targets of the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts.

Irish immigration to the U.S. rose again in the 1840s amid the Great Potato Famine. The earlier generation of Irish Americans traced its roots to the Revolutionary Period and began to self-identify as Scots-Irish, distinguished from the new Irish Catholic immigrants arriving in rising numbers on U.S. shores. This latter wave of immigrants from Ireland faced intense anti-Catholic discrimination from a growing nativist, anti-immigrant native-born American political base. Nonetheless, Irish Catholics were important participants in the Mexican-American War and most fought for the Union in the Civil War. They also formed the largest ethnic group constructing the country’s first canals and the eastern section of the Transcontinental Railroad. Many also labored as miners and in other crucial jobs building fueling the Industrial Revolution. It is also fascinating to recognize as Hasia Diner argued in her book Erin’s Daughters, Irish Americans constituted the fist wave of new Americans dominated by female migrants. This foreshadowed patterns more common to the decades after 1965 and still a part of U.S. immigration today.

Somewhat contrary to the historical memory suggested by the slogan, “No Irish Need Apply,” Irish immigrants to the U.S. had important advantages over other ethnic groups that helped their children quickly assimilate to the mainstream. Irish immigrants generally spoke English, arrived when low wage labor jobs were plentiful, could move into higher paid positions because of their language skills, were considered “white,” had access to the expansion of urban public schools for their children, and female immigrants often married up and outside their ethnic group. In addition, as Richard Jensen discovered, the memory of the NINA slogan is more myth than historical accuracy. Instead of being a large part o of the Irish immigrant labor experience, the slogan was popularized in a song published in Philadelphia in 1862 disparaging Irish immigrant women.

The pride in America’s Irish heritage that I and many Americans will witness over the next two days shows that times and attitudes can change. Knowing the details of that history highlights the advantages for all Americans in helping immigrants easily assimilate and make valuable contributions to the future of the United States.

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Dropping In: Education and the American Dream

Myth of the Successful College Dropout

Myth of the Successful College Dropout

“Appealing as it may be, the against-all-odds story of the college dropout is not the story we should be selling our young people.” (The Atlantic) The term “dropout” entered the American discourse in the 1930s. Before 1937, the majority of Americans did not earn a high school diploma, much less a college degree. However, since the founding of the United States, access to high quality and affordable education has been the safest bet for reaching the American Dream of financial independence. The onset of the Great Depression highlighted the necessity of secondary education for success as an adult. The 1920 census marked the first time that the majority of American lived in urban areas rather than the rural countryside. The nation’s slow transformation from a rural society to a more urban landscape paralleled the growth of advanced public education. In 1931, historian James Truslow Adams coined the phrase, “The American Dream” as a shared national value. He denied that the American Dream was a desire for great wealth. Adams argued instead that the idea was “of a land where life should be better, and richer, and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement”(The Epic of America, 1931). Public education provided that road to opportunity for the majority of young Americans.

In 1910, 20% of 10-15 year olds spent their days working for wages and most Americans did not attend school beyond age 14. An even higher percentage of young people labored in agriculture. Only 15% of American adults had a high school education and most communities did not offer public schooling beyond 8th grade. Race, class, gender, and ethnicity also hindered access. The number of high schools expanded rapidly in the 1920s, but primarily in cities. Small towns and rural communities continued to lag far behind and Jim Crow segregation meant that black Americans had even fewer opportunities for quality education.

By 1930, only 50% of 14-17 year olds attended high school. The onset of the Great Depression forced thousands of schools to close their doors or shorten school terms. Nevertheless, by 1933, the New Deal included funding to keep thousands of teachers employed in school districts that ran out of money. Work-relief programs like the Works Progress Administration paid for the construction of thousands of new high schools. These new facilities coupled with the dismal job market to encourage teenagers and their parents to believe that a high school education as a necessity for success in adulthood. The New Deal’s National Youth Administration sweetened the pot by offering modest stipends to young people who stayed in school and earned a high school diploma, or even a college degree. In 1937, for the first time in American history, the majority of the nation’s 17 year-olds earned a high school diploma.

The trend continued in the decades after the Second World War. Baby boomers and their parents increasingly embraced attending college as a necessity. The recent attention to the problem of college loan debt makes it enticing to believe that college dropouts may be better off than their peers who stay in school. Success stories like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are often used as examples of successful college dropouts. However, these individuals are exceptions. As a look at the experience of young Americans in the past shows, a high school and college education is an individual and a public good. (The Atlantic).

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Today’s Best History Blooper: Ben Franklin was the Greatest U.S. President

Calvin Coolidge was Greatest President

Calvin Coolidge was Greatest President

Another sad history howler in online media. Today, THRILLIST, a national media/entertainment blog, sent the following statement in an email to subscribers:

“Many Philadelphians would argue local hero Ben Franklin is the greatest president of all time, because his face is on the $100 bill, and because the quality of American education has really declined in recent generations. Thankfully Thrillist is here on George Washington’s birthday to explain to you why the greatest ever was actually… Calvin Coolidge?”

The suggestion that Silent Cal was the greatest president is galling. Gratefully the laughable reference to founding father Ben Franklin as a possible alternative is a bad joke about the quality of American education. Historians have a lot of work to do.

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WHM: It’s That Time of Year…Again

The profusion of events crowded into annual Women’s History Month celebrations can be exhausting. I’ve spent my professional career advocating for the inclusion of women and gender in historical study, but I’m conflicted about themed history months as the best way to educate the public about this neglected past. Even more daunting, the desire to celebrate women’s history too often results in a lack of critical analysis about the missteps and failures of well-intentioned activists and their allies.

Tonight’s Women’s History Month roll-out event at WHYY, Philadelphia’s PBS affiliate, previewed parts of a new documentary that skillfully balances celebration and criticism. The slick 3-hour film MAKERS: Women Who Make America is described on the PBS website as “the remarkable story of the most sweeping social revolution in American history, as women have asserted their rights to a full and fair share of political power, economic opportunity, and personal autonomy.” Narrated by Meryl Streep, the opening sequences predictably use the usual suspects and historical media images to tell the story of second wave feminism following World War II. Most important, the documentary includes new voices from the next generations of women examining the failures of the movement and the need for a continuing struggle to protect civil rights and gain equal opportunity for every citizen regardless of gender and class.

MAKERS is scheduled to air Tuesday, February 26, 8pm on PBS.
Check local listings imagePBS

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Wanted: Historians to Advise Emory President

How is it possible that the president of Emory University pointed to the 3/5ths Compromise as an example of political compromise and good governance? President James W. Wagner made that claim in the winter edition of Emory Magazine. Many faculty formally protested the claim and the president’s weak apology. Clearly a constitutional “compromise” that indirectly recognized slavery, denied rights of citizenship, and was a major factor leading to a civil war that divided the nation and led to the death and suffering of many Americans is not a symbol of compromise and good governance. Too bad Emory’s president and the magazine’s editors didn’t take more American history courses.

Even Wikipedia has a more complex interpretation of the 3/5ths Compromise than President Wagner.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-Fifths_Compromise

The president’s “apology”is available at

http://www.emory.edu/EMORY_MAGAZINE/issues/2013/winter/index.html

image
For subscribers, today’s Chronicle of Higher Education includes the Emory controversy.

http://chronicle.com/article/Emory-Faculty-Seek-More/137407/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

Busted by history.

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