Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Author's Department


First Advisor

Robert E. Hennings


"The Evolution of Child Labor Legislation in Illinois, 1818-1917" traces the development of social, economic, and political attitudes towards child labor in the State of Illinois. These attitudes evolved from a general acceptance of working children as part of the socio-economic structure to the realization that the industrial employment was causing a moral, social, and economic degeneration of American life. These changing attitudes were reflected in the legislation passed by the Illinois General Assembly between 1818 and 1917.

Between 1818 and 1874 most legislation offered token protection to the child, but emphasized the moral well-being rather than the physical and mental effects of child labor. Such legislation was supported by the general belief that most work was morally correct and socially beneficial for children. As Illinois evolved from a frontier society to a leading industrial state in the eighteen-sixties and seventies, however, the traditional forms of child labor such as agricultural workers, domestic servants, and apprentices were replaced by industrial employment.

The legislation passed by the state legislature between 1877 and 1891 reflected a growing awareness of the abuses of industrial child labor. While the legislation of this period attempted to correct these abuses, most of the laws were crippled by the lack of adequate provisions for enforcement. During these last two decades of the nineteenth century legislators were torn between promoting the economic growth of the state's industries and, at the same time, satisfying the demands of labor unions and social reformers.

By 1893, however, the Illinois Legislature began to reflect the ideals and goals of the Anti-Child Labor Movement which was to sweep the United States until the First World War. The legislation of this period, with provisions for enforcement, was met with strong opposition from both manufacturers and parents. Much of this opposition stemmed from the intense competition of the period and the general ignorance of the physical and mental effects of pre-mature toil.

The Office of Factory Inspectors, created by the 1893 Child Labor Law, began a vigorous campaign of enforcement; and with the help of labor unions, civic organizations, and social-urban reformers was instrumental in checking the growth of child labor, as well as, educating the general public to the effects of industrial employment on children. Interwoven with the changing attitudes towards working children was the belief that "if the child was to be kept out of the factory, he must be kept in the school room." The continuous efforts of these groups to improve the standards and enforcement of the child labor laws served as the impetus for other far reaching labor reforms during the first two decades of the twentieth century.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.