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Florence Kelley & Jane Addams on Child Labor

Instructor: Sharon Powell
In this lesson, we'll discuss Americans Jane Addams and Florence Kelley, who were advocates for many social justice causes, including Child Labor reform.

Hull House

In 1889, Jane Addams founded Hull House, a settlement house in Chicago, Illinois. Throughout its operation, Hull House attracted some of the nation's most progressive women, including Florence Kelley, who began residing at Hull House in 1892.

Addams and Kelley shared similar backgrounds; not only were they both upper middle class, but their fathers were politically active men who helped Abraham Lincoln found and develop the Republican Party in the 1860s. As such, they were familiar with politics, and had made the acquaintance of people in positions of power. This would prove important as they began working toward achieving goals in the realm of social justice, specifically child labor reform.

Under Kelley's influence, the social spirit at Hull House turned toward social reform, bringing the community's energy and talents to bear on a historic campaign on behalf of labor legislation for women and children.

Child Labor

A child labor reform movement, led by Florence Kelley, Jane Addams, and aided by women's clubs and civic organizations, is credited with correcting deficiencies in then existing statutes, and pressing for additional legislation in the early 20th century. The goal of the reform groups was to reverse the supposed increasing trend in the industrial employment of children. It was also the contention of these organizations that the situation had worsened during the 1900-1910 decade and now only federal legislation could stem the flow of children into the factories.

Addams, in an editorial, stated, 'To my mind, much of the evil which threatens and surrounds childhood is due to the vast enterprises which are now being pushed forward with such vigor and are connected intimately with the industrial situation. I refer to the employment of children in industrial centers, in short, to child labor which we know exists to an alarming extent, and which it is the duty of every thinking man and woman to limit as far as possible, if it cannot be abolished.' Florence Kelley, who was equally as opposed to the use of child labor, stated, 'Under the sweating system, tiny children make artificial flowers and neck wear for us to buy. They carry bundles of garments from the factories to the tenements, little beasts of burden, robbed of school life that they may work for us.' The view of both Florence Kelley and Jane Addams was that the use of child labor was not only unethical, it inflicted severe physical and psychological damage on the children who suffered through it.

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