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April 25: The National Child Labor Committee

April 25, 2014
5401964880_9a8cd238f1_bThe National Child Labor Committee was launched at a mass meeting at Carnegie Hall on this date in 1904. Among its key founders were Felix Adler, the founder of the Ethical Culture Society, and Lillian Wald, headworker of the Henry Street Settlement House, who lobbied to have the NCLC chartered by Congress and given status within the Labor Department (which it was in 1912). According to the 1900 U.S. Census, one of every six American children was employed, a 50 percent increase from twenty years earlier. The NCLC educated the public about this blight, most notably by hiring Lewis Hine as staff photographer; Hine would virtually invent the field of documentary journalism with his pictures of exploited children around the country. There would be little successful legal action to ban or even regulate child labor, however — with the Supreme Court declaring such a federal law unconstitutional — until 1938, when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act. “If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera.” -Lewis Hine