THE RIGHTS OF THE YOUNG
Proposed constitutional amendment:
Section 1. The Congress shall have power to limit, regulate, and prohibit the labor of persons under eighteen years of age.
Section 2. The power of the several States is unimpaired by this article except that the operation of State laws shall be suspended to the extent necessary to give effect to legislation enacted by the Congress.
The rights of the young became a national issue soon after the nineteenth amendment gave women the vote. Squalid and dangerous working conditions in sweatshops and factories were ruining America's children, amendment proponents said.
The Kearney Cotton Mill opened in the spring of 1892. In its best years, about 50,000 bales of Texas cotton were transformed into 76,000 yards of cotton cloth per year. Drought, depression and increased freight costs forced the mill to declare bankruptcy in 1901.
First piece of cotton cloth ever commercially woven in Nebraska.
Kearney Cotton Mill. Several young children can be seen at the machines in this photo of the Kearney Cotton Mill, taken around 1893.
Nebraskans recognized the vices of child labor, but they also knew children were essential to the success of agriculture. Though working with thousand-pound animals or weeding beets in the heat of a Nebraska July were just as dangerous and difficult as factory labor, Nebraskans did not feel child labor needed federal oversight. In 1929, the Nebraska Senate voted to ratify the Child Labor Amendment, but the Legislature's lower house did not.
G.A. Spade beet field in Dawson, County, Nebraska, 1904.
The beet fields of the State Industrial School, Kearney, Nebraska, 1914.
Dr. Hattie Plum Williams, a professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska in the early 20th century, made the study of Germans from Russia in Nebraska her life's work. These 1908 letters are from her work with elementary students at Howard Elementary (now Park Middle School). She encouraged the children to record their experiences working in the beet fields in western Nebraska and Colorado.
"It will tach us about 20 or 30 days to work all our beets. And we can go swimming in the river when it is warm." John Dingers, 1908
Children of all ages were expected to help with chores on the farm, from milking cows to field work. L-R: Rose, Martha, Esther (milking) Dietrick, Jacob (arm around cow), and Herman (hand on cow) Regier with their milk cow.
A young boy sells the Lincoln Evening Journal in Lincoln around 1915.