Why Do Children Toil?

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, July 22, 1913:  Nothing much going.

Source: Good Housekeeping (July, 1913)
Source: Good Housekeeping (July, 1913)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Since Grandma didn’t write much a hundred years ago today, I’m going to loop back to a couple posts that I made in early July.

A few weeks ago the diary entry indicated that Grandma’s father hired a “little boy” to help with the farm work—and a few days later the boy ran away.  At the time, I wondered how old the boy was.

I recently was browsing through some 1913 issues of Good Housekeeping, and came across an article titled, “Why Do Children Toil?” Since a boy helping with farm work is very different from a child working in a factory, the article really isn’t very relevant to this conversation, but I still found it interesting and thought that I’d share a few quotes and pictures.

Neither beasts of the filed nor birds of the forest impose the burdens of existence upon their young. Only man lives upon his offspring. Why is it?

Involuntary poverty underlies child labor. .  .

Poverty drives many a child into the factory.

Good Housekeeping (July, 1913)

Photo caption: Midnight workers in a glass-factory. To the company, it is just a question of getting the work done at the lowest cost, and youth is ever cheaper than age. Some states have forbidden this.

25 thoughts on “Why Do Children Toil?

    1. For most of history much work took place within the household–and children worked alongside their parents. I think that some wonderful relationships can develop as families work together. It seems like things changed as large factories came into the picture in the 1800s.

  1. My grandparents worked from a young-ish age; in relatively good conditions, I think, and certainly after they had received a basic elementary education. I didn’t ever hear them complain about that work but they did everything they could to ensure that their offspring received a better education than they had. I wonder if ,for that generation, finding work and contributing to the family was actually a matter of great pride. That is very different, of course, from what is pictured in the above photos; glasswork must have been terrible.

    1. In my opinion children can learn some wonderful things from doing work–and that most children today miss a good learning experience when they never have the opportunity to work. Where I live, there is a free weekly paper that is delivered once a week–and for years my children had the route in our neighborhood. Most weeks, my husband and I helped the kids deliver the paper, and I think that it was a wonderful experience for them. (That said, my adult children may have a totally different opinion from me about the value of delivering newspapers.)

      1. Yes I wonder what they would say. I expect they enjoyed it and the pocket money. I was able to do voluntary work in our local library when I was very young and I loved it; especially loved the fact that grown ups trusted me to do the work.

        1. I think most kids get a sense of pride when they help their parents or other adults with something, though no kid should have to work to the extent that these kids in the photos did. They probably learned some valuable skills, but at what cost?

  2. Just another example of how times have changed. My mother was one of 12 children, and they worked very hard on the farm – both the boys and girls.

    1. I also worked on my family’s farm when I was a child–and I have wonderful memories of it. We worked hard, but we also had a lot of fun.

  3. Oh, what hart breaking photo’s: makes me so grateful again for the life we can offer our own boys. Their childhood photo’s look so different! I wish that for all the hardworking children everywhere in the world.

    1. So am I. Some of the those stories are amazing. Based on my father’s stories, I think that some of his best memories are of a job he had when he was in his late teens.

  4. WOW, thank goodness times have changed for the most part. I’m sure there’s lot’s of child labour in some country’s but I try and be alert to that when I’m shopping.

  5. It is very sad to think that we (people) have put our children through such an existance at times. Yes indeed, why is it that “man” imposes these burdens on his offspring, when we are suppose to be the most intelligent living species.

    1. Some children had very difficult lives back then. Fortunately, advocates and journalists were beginning to highlight how bad things were–and some of the early child labor laws were passed in this era.

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