Nowadays, child labor is considered to be very important issue and the use of child labor is often viewed as the oppression of children, their needs, and, what is more important, as the undesirable interference in the process of their physical and psychological development in the result of the impact of labor at early age. At the same, child labor was a common practice in the past and was considered to be a norm. In this respect, it is necessary to underline that the 19th century was characterized by particularly difficult conditions of work of children since it was the period of industrialization, which was particularly rapidly progressing in the North East of the US. As a result, many children were forced to work in unbearable conditions undermining their health and limiting substantially their adult life opportunities.
On analyzing the development of child labor in the 19th century, it is important to emphasize the fact that it was quite different from child labor of the past epochs. Nevertheless, the general attitude of society to child labor, especially in the first half of the 19th century had hardly changed. In fact, in the 19th century as well as in the previous epoch child labor was a norm and people did not really think that forcing children to work will cause any harm, instead, work of children was perceived as a kind of virtue.
Nevertheless, there were consistent differences between the 19th child labor and the past epoch. In this respect, it should be said that the differences were, to a significant extent, determined by socio-economic changes that took place in the US, especially in its North-Eastern part, in the 19th century. In the past, children were mainly involved in farm-related labor and often they simply assisted their parents working on their own farms. In contrast, the 19th century industrialization brought significant changes resulting in the shift in child labor from farm-oriented on factory-oriented labor. In other words, children were forced by the poor socio-economic position of their families to get to work at early age and factories amply used their labor. For instance, specialists estimate that “in the early part of the 19th century, perhaps half of all workers in northern factories were children under the age of eleven”ť (Coontz 104).
In such a way, children had to work in factories, instead of farms, and their working hours were strictly scheduled that means that they could not freely make some breaks to have a rest as they could do while they were working in farming.
At the same time, there were not only negative but also positive changes in child labor. In fact, the middle of the 19th century became the period of the growth of anti-child labor movement targeting at the protection of children. For instance, in 1825, the House of Refuge in America was founded, whose purpose was to provide sanctuary to children, who had been abused or neglected (Coontz 237).
Thus, it is possible to conclude that child labor in the 19th century in North-East of the US was characterized by the shift to factory work and more severe exploitation of children. On the other hand, the first steps to protect and help children were also made in this epoch.