Child labor was becoming increasingly more significant due to the economy. In the early 1900’s a social movement was established to protest child labor. This assembly was called the reformers. They had a platform that needed to be addressed by the national government. Up until this point the Supreme Court took a lassiez fair approach.
Facing opposition by employers many felt that social reformers were unable to see how child labor was the driving force of the United States economy. Employers who favored child labor suggested that it added to the moral fiber of the child by instilling a value system of work ethic. (2)
The president of Merchants Woolen Company, Charles Harding stated: “There is a certain class of labor in mills where there is not as much muscular exercise required as a child would put forth in play, and a child can do it about as well as a grown person…There is such thing as too much education for working people sometimes. I have seen cases where young people are spoiled for labor by…too much refinement.” (3)
The social reformers focused on welfare of the child and the abolishment of child labor. The first organized group was formed in1904 it was known as The National Child Labor Committee (NCLC). This committee consisted of politicians, social workers and citizens who contested child labor. Two of the most renowned reformers were Jane Addams and Lewis Hine.
Jane Addams played a prominent part in the formation of the National Progressive Movement. In 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt ran for President of the United States, Addams empathically declared her support for his progressive ideas. As a pioneer of the progressive movement, Jane Addams campaigned for new laws to support the rights of children. As the founder of Hull House in Chicago, Illinois she was able to provide a platform where children and others could come to seek assistance from the dreadful environment which surrounding them each day. Jane believed that they way to change the social atmosphere in the United States was to lobby the government for laws that would promote better education for children.
In 1907 the NCLC was granted a charter from Congress. A year later the committee hired Lewis Hine. He was a teacher who was hired to research the ills of the child labor industry. For several years following, Hine traveled and photographed pictures of the exploitation of children in the work force. Later these pictures were published and seen by many. The impact the pictures had on America was unspeakable. The pictures unfolded a story that demonstrated violations against children in the most revolting way. It was truly astounding.
Two years later the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that contradictory to past reports, more children were employed in the Southern states than up North. Many of these children were receiving an insignificant amount of education. If children attended
school then they would lose their jobs, children at that time children did not want to face the punishment they would receive from their families.
As a result of this and the backlash of Hine’s pictures, states started to pass laws restricting the age at which children could work. Nonetheless, The Supreme Court was not taking a stand on this issue.
It was not until 1916, that we see the involvement of the Supreme Court. During this year Congress passed the first child labor bill, Keating-Owen Act. This act banned the sale of any article produced by child labor (factory, cannery, and mine) and it regulated the number of hours a child could work. The Keating-Owen Act was passed in 1916 under the Woodrow Wilson’s administration. Many progressives and republicans
embraced his efforts. Two years later the Supreme Court declared the Keating-Owen Act unconstitutional. The Supreme Court stated that on legal grounds Congress was using its power to go beyond its right to regulate interstate trade.
After the abolishment of the first child labor bill, the Keating-Owen Act there was a significant amount of tension that existed between the Congress and the Supreme Court.
Did the power rest in the Congress or did the Supreme Court act as a superior being?