‘Stout, healthy children need constant employment’

“Fanatics and politicians are out of line…. Children are very serviceable in tobacco factories as stemmers, and it don’t hurt them. In fact, they need employment to keep them out of mischief. Stout, healthy children need constant employment, and the unhealthy ones do not stay in a factory long ….

“We are opposed to any legislation on the labor question as we think it will regulate itself.”

— From a letter to North Carolina labor commissioner B. R. Lacy from Winston-Salem tobacco manufacturer Bailey Bros. (1899)

Four years later the state prohibited children under 12 from working in factories, but the law was rarely enforced, as evidenced in Lewis Hine’s 1908 photos of Gaston County.


One thought on “‘Stout, healthy children need constant employment’”

  1. I am 77 years old and my comment is: This is stupid and was stupid then. I grew up on a tobacco farm and became farm labor at the age of six years and was that until age 18 when I left the farm and got a job in a bank. It was not a factory but it was awful, hard, and at times dangerous work. We worked six days a week during the spring and summer. Yes, it is harmful to children. It is harmful to their self esteem and their health. We did not work to get a little money for school clothes, etc. We worked to pay our way as little human beings. Whle some of my friends were going to the beach, to the pool and the library – I was in a field – chopping corn or other crops, dropping soda by hand, barning tobacco, suckering tobacco, and in the fall we went to the packhouse or to the field to shake peanuts and stack them. Oh, yes, we went to school but as soon as we got home it was back to work. I have written extensively about how life was on the farm during the 1940’s and 1050’s. We have child labor laws for a good reason.

    For the record, I am a white female and the work on the farm was the same for both white and black children.

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