Then Once more: Youngster labor was a actuality of Vermont life in the 1800s

This iconic photograph of Addie Card (generally misidentified as Addie Laird) operating at the North Pownal Production Co. cotton mill in 1910 was featured on a U.S. Postage Stamp celebrating child labor reforms. Card, who was 12 a long time aged when the photograph was taken, began working at the mill when she was 8.

At the conclude of a prolonged argument among the 4 men over who had the toughest childhood, just one tops the many others by saying, “I experienced to get up in the morning at 10 o’clock at night time, half an hour ahead of I went to mattress, try to eat a lump of cold poison, perform 29 hrs a working day down mill, and shell out (the) mill proprietor for authorization to arrive to do the job, and when we obtained household, our father would eliminate us, and dance about on our graves singing ‘Hallelujah.’” 

You could possibly figure out the line. It is from a basic Monty Python skit in which exaggeration drives the humor. But, as in all great comedy, the sketch has some grounding in reality. The men had been riffing on the brutal facts of everyday living for young children who as soon as toiled in English factories. 

As in England, the financial system of the mid-19th century also redefined quite a few Vermonters’ life, including those people of youngsters. As factories and mills grew, numerous Vermont small children became much more than their parents’ delight or an more set of arms to assist all-around the farm they became wage earners.

Childhood in Vermont could suggest performing grindingly lengthy hrs in perilous factories for meager wages. Their paltry pay delivered their households with substantially-needed revenue. But irrespective of the economic positive aspects of obtaining kids perform, reports of manufacturing facility disorders shocked Vermonters and spurred state lawmakers to intervene in means that ran opposite to their generations-prolonged follow of refusing to regulate enterprises. 

In Vermont, as in the rest of the country, kids had generally labored on household farms. The concept that yet another youngster was an more mouth to feed didn’t seriously occur into engage in. From a youthful age, young children ended up able to do a lot more than just receive their keep. The prevalence of big families can be attributed to the dictates of religion or the anxiety of significant infant mortality, but it also experienced an financial basis. Several noticed small children as a route to prosperity. 

When small children still left the farm and joined the workforce, even so, the push to improve productivity led to excesses that couldn’t be ignored. 

Not that the Vermont Legislature acted speedily. Lawmakers didn’t address the concern of little one labor until eventually 1867, when they restricted the several hours young children could do the job in factories. Therefore, Vermont grew to become the very last New England condition to control little one labor. 

Thirty many years before, lawmakers had voted that they had no company policing the situation. At the time, the Legislature followed a strictly conservative philosophy that control ought to be in nearby hands on each and every issue feasible, such as the regulation of boy or girl labor. That left city officers in charge. 

The Legislature made available only vague guidelines to observe. The law mentioned that “it shall be the duty of the selectmen and overseers of the poor within just their respective towns in this point out to examine into the cure and condition of any minors used in any manufacturing establishment” and determine whether or not the “education, morals, health, foods or clothing” of baby staff was “unreasonably neglected.” 

Nearby officials were also to decide no matter if the little ones were being addressed with “improper” harshness or compelled to function at “unseasonable several hours or instances, or in any unreasonable fashion.” If an employer were being located to be dealing with little one laborers improperly, officials were being instructed to “admonish” them. In intense scenarios, officers could remove small children from the workplace and discover them new careers, where by it was hoped they would be addressed much better. 

The Legislature was moved to act in 1867 soon after hearing testimony that in some mills children toiled 10 to 14 several hours a working day, averaging about 12 several hours. This testimony came from the mill homeowners themselves, in accordance to historian and law firm Paul Gillies in an essay in the book “The Mills at Winooski Falls.” 

A lawmaker from Colchester instructed his colleagues of an excessive instance. At the Winooski Woolen Factory, he mentioned, among 75 and 100 youngsters below the age of 12 were being forced to get the job done 14 hours a day for reduced wages, and their bosses disregarded their pleas for less hours. The head of the manufacturing facility testified that he used no a person less than the age of 12 and he’d by no means heard any complaints about lengthy hours. The Colchester consultant backed off his promises. The legislative committee that was finding out a probable youngster labor law finally declared that no regulation was necessary. 

But the Typical Assembly felt otherwise. Lawmakers, probably prompted by abuses in other places, handed a invoice generating it unlawful to employ anybody beneath the age of 10 or to have children below the age of 15 perform far more than 10 several hours a working day. (Head you, in those times it was a 6-day workweek.) Violators faced a $50 great. Vermont experienced its very first kid-labor legislation. 

It was barely the last. Around the coming decades, the Legislature ongoing to whittle absent at the selection of hrs small children could perform and maximize the age at which they could begin their labors.


The future thrust came in the early years of the 20th century. It took place throughout what has turn out to be known as the Progressive Period, when a movement made to tackle the political, social and financial challenges faced by the underrepresented, including girls, laborers and immigrants. 

The Vermont Federation of Women’s Clubs took a direct role in addressing the problem of little one labor, along with the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont and the Vermont chapter of the National Baby Labor Committee, which included women between its founders. The corporations researched the disorders of boy or girl laborers and prodded point out lawmakers to act. 

This young messenger for Western Union instructed photographer Lewis Hine that he was 13 and experienced been doing the job the occupation for a 12 months and a fifty percent. His change ran from midday until 10:30 p.m. Library of Congress

The Legislature responded with a series of legal guidelines. In 1904, lawmakers raised the minimal age from 10 to 12 many years old for young children doing the job in mills and other producing functions or as messengers. In addition, young children beneath 15 could not perform afterwards than 8 p.m. 

If the Vermont Legislature desired further more impetus to act on the issue of little one labor, photographer and activist Lewis Hine furnished it. For the former a number of yrs, Hine experienced been photographing boy or girl laborers, several of them down below the legal age, at factories in the Northeast for the Countrywide Kid Labor Committee. In 1910, he turned his lens on Vermont. 

Hine’s pictures of matted small children outside mills in Pownal, Bennington and other cities stunned and shamed Vermonters. 

Hine took the unforgettable photograph of 12-yr-outdated mill employee Addie Card, which in 1998 grew to become the basis of a U.S. postage stamp that celebrated youngster labor reforms. (For a long time, Card’s very last name was assumed to be Laird. Hine recorded the name appropriately, but the ink light and was later misread.) 

Vermonters formed a neighborhood chapter of the Nationwide Youngster Labor Committee in 1911. One of its first acts was to examine children’s operating conditions. The committee’s report included the story of a 15-12 months previous who worked 13-hour times for much more than a month, but was fired for lacking a change that started at 2 a.m. on a Sunday. 

The Legislature responded in 1913 by more curbing children’s do the job schedules, enabling a highest of 9 hours a day and 50 several hours a week for kids less than 16, and 11 hrs a day and 58 hours a week for 16- and 17-12 months-olds. Children’s operate hrs have been acquiring shorter. 

Nowadays, Vermont children less than the age of 16 can still work 40 hours for every 7 days when faculty is not in session, and 18 for every week when it is. Condition rules now promise children an much easier everyday living than Vermont young children when knew. And all that these little ones have specified up is the prospect of 1 day becoming ready to swap genuine tales about how challenging items at the time have been.

Correction: This column has been corrected to reflect current laws limiting how a lot of hours for each week little ones under age 16 can do the job.