Child Labor History & the Labor Movement
around the turn of the 20th century



Students are often shocked to learn the child labor history in America and about the working conditions for many adults as well. This is absolutely one of those American History topics that makes light bulbs go off, with students realizing that our modern society is full of rights and comfort and benefits that many previous Americans did not enjoy! The books below cover the poor working conditions as well as the courageous, often dangerous efforts of ordinary workers banded together to make changes and improve the dreadful conditions and often equally dreadful pay.

Note: We also have a page decided to books about the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire.




Kids on Strike!
Kids on Strike!
by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Summary:
An interesting account of the terrible working conditions for children in the 19th-early 20th century and how the children organized, mobilized, and demanded better conditions and pay. "Packed with an abundance of relevant historical photographs" (SLJ), this is a great resource for teaching about child labor history and the labor movement.


Reading Levels:
Interest Level--Gr. 3+     Difficulty Level--age 9-12

American Girl Rebecca 6
Changes for Rebecca  
(American Girl Rebecca, 1914)

Summary:
When nine-year-old Rebecca sees the terrible conditions at the New York City factory where her cousin and uncle work, she wants to do something to help them make things better. She knows they desperately need the jobs, but she ends up right in the middle of a dangerous situation when she tries to change things. Includes an illustrated "Looking Back" section at the end that expounds further on the labor movement in 1914.


Reading Levels:
Interest Level-- Gr. 3-5     Difficulty Level--age 9-12

Daybreak
Up before Daybreak:
Cotton and People in America

Summary:
Explaining that "the story of cotton...is like a thread that stretches far back into America's past", this title provides a window into the lives of the men, women, and children who spent much of their lives working in the cotton industry in America.


Reading Levels:
Interest Level--Gr. 4-8     Difficulty Level--age 9-12
Lyddie
Lyddie
by Katherine Paterson

Summary:
Lyddie and her brother, both under 11, are hired out as servants after their father abandons their failing farm. Lyddie runs away to find a better job and is hired at a cloth factory that ends up having terrible working conditions. She's enslaved by her dismal job, can't go home, and just wants to better her life by going to college. Horn Book called it "a superb story of grit, determination, and personal growth", great for teaching child labor history.


Reading Levels:
Interest Level-- Gr. 4-8      Difficulty Level--age 9-12

A Coal Miner's Bride: The Diary of Anetka Kaminska, Lattimer, Pennsylvania, 1896 by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
A Coal Miner's Bride:
The Diary of Anetka Kaminska

Summary:
Plucky, Anetka, age 13, is struggling to care for the three children of her late husband, who as killed in a coal mining accident. The unsafe working conditions in the mine are an important part of the story, as are the efforts of laborers to bring about change. How will Anetka survive and will she find a new love? (Includes the Lattimer Massacre, where racism led to violence and 19 men were killed.)


Reading Levels:
Interest Level--Gr. 4+      Difficulty Level--age 9-12

Kids at Work
Kids at Work
Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor

Summary: A photo-essay of Lewis Hine's haunting images of early 20th century child laborers, paired with "meticulously researched and highly readable prose" (PW) about the photographer and his impact. A brilliant book for teaching child labor history.

Reading Levels:

Interest Level-- Gr. 5+   Difficulty Level--Y.A.
Bread and Roses too by Katherine Paterson
Bread and Roses, Too
by Katherine Paterson

Summary:
The workers are striking at the Bread and Roses mill in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and it's looking to get violent. Worried for their safety, the children are offered an opportunity to go live in Vermont until the strike is settled. Some, like Rosa, miss their family and do not want to go. Others, like young Jake, are ready for the adventure. Based on a true story.

Reading Levels:
Interest Level--Gr. 5-8     Difficulty Level--age 9-12

Growing Up in Coal Country
Growing Up in Coal Country
by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Summary: The voices of men, women, and children fill the pages of this photo-essay about coal-mining immigrants in northeastern Pennsylvania 100 years ago. Modern students who live in a society with child labor laws (heck, any labor laws) will be shocked by the terrible squalor of the 'patch villages' and the dangerous, dreadful working conditions!

Rdg Levels:  
Interest--Gr. 5-8    Difficulty--age 9-12
The Journal of Otto Peltonen:A Finnish Immigrant, Hibbing, Minnesota, 1905 by William Durbin
The Journal of Otto Peltonen:
A Finnish Immigrant

Summary:
Otto uses his journal to tell about life in a Minnesota mining town a century ago. After a long journey across the Atlantic, teen-aged Otto was expecting a comfortable, easy life in America, but when before long he was a labor-worn miner participating union struggles for better working conditions. Historical notes and authentic photographs add to this "captivating, dramatic view of the past." (Booklist)

Reading Levels:
Interest Level-- Gr. 5-10    Difficulty Level--age 9-12

So Far from Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, an Irish Mill Girl, Lowell, Massachusetts, 1847 by Barry Denenberg
So Far from Home:
The Diary of Mary Driscoll, an Irish Mill Girl

Summary:
So Far from Home tells the story of a 14-year-old girl's flight from the Irish potato famine, long and dangerous journey across the sea, and then the harsh and dangerous working conditions at the Massachusetts textile mill where she works. Young  This is not our favorite Dear America title, but it is engaging enough to recommend to students when teaching about child labor history and 19th century sub-standard working conditions.


Reading Levels:
Interest Level--Gr. 5-8     Difficulty Level--age 9-12




Do you know of a great kids book about turn of the century child labor history, labor conditions, or the labor movement? If so, let us know via the Suggest a Book form (right column). Thank you.

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