Thoughts on North Carolina’s Youth – One Century Ago

From the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America newspaper site, we selected an issue of the The Watauga Democrat that was published 99 years ago to see what was on the minds of North Carolinians in 1915. In addition to debates familiar to us now about “pistol-toters” and the best ways to avoid the common cold, there was also a debate concerning child labor laws.

newspaper clipping from The Watauga Democrat
From front page of The Watauga Democrat, January 28, 1915.

Millennial is currently a buzz word in the media. In an age where children are “born digital,” it is understandable that people are concerned about the social and psychological development of the next generation. But what were our thoughts on the rising generation a century ago? During this time, child labor was heavily debated. Laborers served a vital function in the newly forming companies and trades. Because of the need of workers, arguments such as “children are better fitted for some trades than adults” and “children are much better off employed in the factories than idle and out of school” were considered valid points for a growing economy. Take a closer look at the article here and discover more about the history of child labor laws in North Carolina.

Child labor law spurned as ‘Yankee doings’

On this day in 1903: In his biennial message to the General Assembly, Gov. Charles Brantley Aycock calls for legislation “in behalf of the children who are working in textile and furniture factories.”

Manufacturers, who have beaten back previous restrictions on child labor, want no part of Aycock’s proposals – “Yankee doings,” in the words of W.L. London of Pittsboro. “You let us alone,” says Moses Cone of Greensboro, “and the matter will come out all right.”

But Aycock’s vow to stump the state moves the manufacturers to compromise. The Child Labor Law of 1903 will prohibit employment of children under age 12 in manufacturing except in the oyster industry, where young shuckers are paid by the gallon or bushel. Children under 18 are barred from working more than 66 hours per week.

When nation goes to war, kids go to work

“Booming war industries have already increased child labor….  During 1941 North Carolina issued 10,000 new labor certificates to 17- and 18-year-olds, 1,000 to 12-to-15-year-olds. ‘The situation,’ observed State Labor Commissioner F. H. Shuford, with a dead pan, ‘is as healthy as the war that brought it on.’ ”

— From Time magazine, June 15, 1942