Keating-Owen Child Labor Act of 1916
Keating-Owen Child Labor Act of 1916
By: Edward Keating and Robert Owen
Date: December 6, 1915
Source: Sixty-fourth Congress of the U.S. "Keating-Owen Child Labor Act.". Keating-Owen Bill, 39 Stat. 675 (1916). Available online at 〈http://www.ourdocuments.gov/〉 (accessed April 24, 2006).
About the Author: Representatives Edward Keating of Colorado and Robert Owen of Oklahoma, both Democrats, co-sponsored the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act of 1916 after investigating child labor in manufacturing and industrial settings. This act was the first piece of federal legislation to address child labor practices in the United States.
The concept of "child labor" as a distinct entity from adult labor resulted from the development of the factory system and industrialization in western Europe and the United States in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Before industrialization, children were part of the workflow of the family, on farms, in small shops, or hired out as domestic workers for needed wages in poorer homes. In all but the wealthiest families, by the time a child reached the age of four or five he or she would be expected to perform a variety of tasks, including caring for farm animals, finding fresh water, tending to fields, working with parents in retail shops or in skilled trades, or managing domestic tasks.
As the twin forces of industrialization and urbanization changed the structure of the family in the mid-nineteenth century, the concept of child labor changed. In textile factories children as young as five were used for loom work, small children worked in shipyards and mines. These children were paid a small percentage of the hourly rates adults earned. Nevertheless, poor families often relied on children's wages to get by in urban areas; in large families the older children and parents worked while girls as young as eight stayed home to care for babies and toddlers in the family.
Nineteenth century literary works such as Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist and Emile Zola's Germinal describe the plight of poor children in urban settings and in mining towns, with children dying from exhaustion, overwork, poor working conditions, and machinery accidents. By the turn of the twentieth century social reformers in the United States, working with immigrants and their children in inner city centers, targeted the issue of child labor as a major social problem for the country's children.
In parallel to the development of a factory system that used children's labor, many states passed compulsory education laws for children. In 1853, Massachusetts passed the first such statewide law, followed by New York in 1854. By 1918—two years after the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act took effect—all states had some form of compulsory education law in place. Despite the new laws, immigrant children—who were not bound by state laws in many instances—were least likely to attend school and most likely to be pushed into factory work as their families needed income.
In 1912, President William H. Taft created the Department of Labor's Children's Bureau, to track issues related to child labor and welfare. Following the issue of a Children's Bureau report on child labor, Democratic Representatives Edward Keating of Colorado and Robert Owen of Oklahoma crafted the language of the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act.
Sixty-fourth Congress of the United States of America; At the First Session, Begun and held at the City of Washington on Monday, the sixth day of December, one thousand nine hundred and fifteen. AN ACT To prevent interstate commerce in the products of child labor, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That no producer, manufacturer, or dealer shall ship or deliver for shipment in interstate or foreign commerce, any article or commodity the product of any mine or quarry situated in the United States, in which within thirty days prior to the time of the removal of such product there from children under the age of sixteen years have been employed or permitted to work, or any article or commodity the product of any mill, cannery, workshop, factory, or manufacturing establishment, situated in the United States, in which within thirty days prior to the removal of such product there from children under the age of fourteen years have been employed or permitted to work, or children between the ages of fourteen years and sixteen years have been employed or permitted to work more than eight hours in any day, or more than six days in any week, or after the hour of seven o'clock postmeridian, or before the hour of six o'clock antemeridian: Provided, That a prosecution and conviction of a defendant for the shipment or delivery for shipment of any article or commodity under the conditions herein prohibited shall be a bar to any further prosecution against the same defendant for shipments or deliveries for shipment of any such article or commodity before the beginning of said prosecution.
SEC. 2. That the Attorney General, the Secretary of Commerce and the Secretary of Labor shall constitute a board to make and publish from time to time uniform rules and regulations for carrying out the provisions of this Act.
SEC. 3. That for the purpose of securing proper enforcement of this Act the Secretary of Labor, or any person duly authorized by him, shall have authority to enter and inspect at any time mines quarries, mills, canneries, workshops, factories, manufacturing establishments, and other places in which goods are produced or held for interstate commerce; and the Secretary of Labor shall have authority to employ such assistance for the purposes of this Act as may from time to time be authorized by appropriation or other law.
SEC. 4. That it shall be the duty of each district attorney to whom the Secretary of Labor shall report any violation of this Act, or to whom any State factory or mining or quarry inspector, commissioner of labor, State medical inspector or school-attendance officer, or any other person shall present satisfactory evidence of any such violation to cause appropriate proceedings to be commenced and prosecuted in the proper courts of the United States without delay for the enforcement of the penalties in such cases herein provided: Provided, That nothing in this Act shall be construed to apply to bona fide boys' and girls' canning clubs recognized by the Agricultural Department of the several States and of the United States.
SEC. 5. That any person who violates any of the provisions of section one of this Act, or who refuses or obstructs entry or inspection authorized by section three of this Act, shall for each offense prior to the first conviction of such person under the provisions of this Act, be punished by a fine of not more than $200, and shall for each offense subsequent to such conviction be punished by a fine of not more than $1,000, nor less than $100, or by imprisonment for not more than three months, or by both such fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court: Provided, That no dealer shall be prosecuted under the provisions of this Act for a shipment, delivery for shipment, or transportation who establishes a guaranty issued by the person by whom the goods shipped or delivered for shipment or transportation were manufactured or produced, resident in the United States, to the effect that such goods were produced or manufactured in a mine or quarry in which within thirty days prior to their removal there from no children under the age of sixteen years were employed or permitted to work, or in a mill, cannery, workshop, factory, or manufacturing establishment in which within thirty days prior to the removal of such goods there from no children under the ages of fourteen years were employed or permitted to work, nor children between the ages of fourteen years and sixteen years employed or permitted to work more than eight hours in any day or more than six days in any week or after the hour of seven o'clock postmeridian or before the hour of six o'clock antemeridian; and in such event, if the guaranty contains any false statement or a material fact the guarantor shall be amenable to prosecution and to the fine or imprisonment provided by this section for violation of the provisions of this Act. Said guaranty, to afford the protection above provided, shall contain the name and address of the person giving the same: And provided further, That no producer, manufacturer, or dealer shall be prosecuted under this Act for the shipment, delivery for shipment, or transportation of a product of any mine, quarry, mill, cannery, workshop, factory, or manufacturing establishment, if the only employment therein within thirty days prior to the removal of such product there from, of a child under the age of sixteen years has been that of a child as to whom the producer, or manufacturer has in; good faith procured, at the time of employing such child, and has since in good faith relied upon and kept on file a certificate, issued in such form, under such conditions, and by such persons as may be prescribed by the board, showing the child to be of such an age that the shipment, delivery for shipment, or transportation was not prohibited by this Act. Any person who knowingly makes a false statement or presents false evidence in or in relation to any such certificate or application there for shall be amenable to prosecution and to the fine or imprisonment provided by this section for violations of this Act. In any State designated by the board, an employment certificate or other similar paper as to the age of the child, issued under the laws of that State and not inconsistent with the provisions of this Act, shall have the same force and effect as a certificate herein provided for.
SEC. 6. That the word "person" as used in this Act shall be construed to include any individual or corporation or the members of any partnership or other unincorporated association. The term "ship or deliver for shipment in interstate or foreign commerce" as used in this Act means to transport or to ship or deliver for shipment from any State or Territory or the District of Columbia to or through any other State or Territory or the District of Columbia or to any foreign country; and in the case of a dealer means only to transport or to ship or deliver for shipment from the State, Territory or district of manufacture or production.
SEC. 7. That this Act shall take effect from and after one year from the date of its passage.
Approved, September 1, 1916.
Many states had child labor laws in place before the rapid industrialization of the late 1800s, and early trade unions, such as The Knights of Labor, advocated the abolition of child labor completely in the early 1870s. While some safeguards were in place to protect child laborers and encourage school attendance, children were largely at the mercy of parents and non-compliant employers.
Settlement house workers such as Lillian Wald, of Henry Street Settlement House in New York City, helped to establish the Children's Bureau and to argue that tighter regulation of compulsory schooling would help immigrant children to assimilate and to increase literacy rates in the United States. Photographer Lewis W. Hine was hired in 1908 by the National Child Labor Committee to travel across the country photographing children at work. From 1908 to 1912, he chronicled the lives of children working in factories, snapping photographs of children as young as three years old working long hours under poor conditions. When Hine published his first photo essay in 1909, the pictures garnered public sympathy and helped push for greater government involvement in controlling or eliminating child labor.
The Keating-Owen Child Labor Act established a minimum working age of fourteen (with exceptions for farm and family work), limited hours children could work, and attempted to regulate interstate commerce. The National Child Labor Committee hailed its passage, but in 1918 the United States Supreme Court, in Hammer v. Dagenhart, declared the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act unconstitutional on the grounds that it was overreaching in its attempts to regulate interstate commerce and that it did not permit a child to contract his or her own work.
Child labor activists continued to press for regulatory legislation, passing another child labor law in 1919 that was declared unconstitutional in 1922. In 1924, Congress passed a constitutional amendment that would have regulated child labor, but it was not ratified by a sufficient number of states.
During the Great Depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s, child labor rates dropped dramatically as adults, desperate for work, were willing to take jobs at the same low rate of pay as children. In 1938, twenty-three years after the Keating-Owen act had passed, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which placed legal limits on child labor, permitting children thirteen and under to work for their parents or as babysitters, and placed specific hour limits on fourteen and fifteen year olds. Upheld in the courts, the Fair Labor Standards Act remains in force into the twenty-first century, as do compulsory schooling laws.
Dubofsky, Melvyn. Hard Work: The Making of Labor History. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2000.
Fantasia, Rick and Kim Voss. Hard Work: Remaking the American Labor Movement. University of California Press, 2004.
Hindman, Hugh D. Child Labor: An American History. M.E. Sharpe, 2002.
Human Rights Watch. "Child Labor." 〈http://www.hrw.org/children/labor.htm〉 (accessed April 29, 2006).