Posts Tagged ‘European immigrants’

The little laborers who toiled in New York City

November 26, 2012

It’s hard to fathom now, but children did a lot of work in the 19th century and early 20th century city.

They sewed garments, hawked newspapers, shelled nuts, made artificial flowers (above, in 1908) and delivered heavy packages, navigating streets and strangers (below, on Bleecker Street, 1912, by Lewis Hine).

Social reformers such as Lewis Hine documented many of these working kids in New York and around the country, pushing for tougher child labor laws, which were routinely ignored on the local level.

Below, newsboys and bootblacks on Mulberry Bend

“By the late 1800s, states and territories had passed over 1,600 laws regulating work conditions and limiting or forbidding child labor,” explains historyplace.com. “In many cases the laws did not apply to immigrants, thus they were often exploited and wound up living in slums working long hours for little pay.”

Above: a newsboy and a newsgirl at City Hall, 1896

“In 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, better known as the Federal Wage and Hour Law. . . . It prohibited child labor under age 16 while allowing minors 16 and over to work in non-hazardous occupations.”

“Children aged 14 and 15 could be employed in non-manufacturing, non-mining, and non-hazardous occupations outside of school hours and during vacations for limited hours.”

Above: A tired-looking bag peddler on First Avenue and 13th Street in 1935

The “Undesirables” sent back from Ellis Island

May 15, 2010

“Hungarian Gypsies all of whom were deported” reads the caption of this photo, published alongside a February 12, 1905 New York Times piece.

The article tells of the pressure on William Williams, the new commissioner of immigration, to judge who was fit to enter America and who was deemed undesirable and kicked back to Europe. 

His job was to carry out the law—namely the 1891 Immigration Act, which put tougher restrictions on who was allowed into the United States.

“A strict execution of our present laws makes it possible to keep out what may be teemed the worst riff-raff of Europe—paupers, diseased persons, and those likely to become public charges—and to this extent these laws are most vaulable,” Williams told the Times.

“But these laws do not reach a large body of immigrants, who, while not riff-raff, are yet generally undesirable, because unintelligent, of low vitality, of poor physique, able to perform only the cheapest kind of manual labor, desiring to locate almost exclusively in the cities, by their competition tending to reduce the standard of living of the American wage-worker, and unfitted, morally or mentally, for good citizenship.”


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