The little laborers who toiled in New York City

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 “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

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7 Responses to “The little laborers who toiled in New York City”

  1. notmsparker Says:

    Reblogged this on KREUZBERG´D.

  2. lizacowan Says:

    The Newsboy and Newsgirl photo is by Alice Austen.

  3. wildnewyork Says:


  4. aaa Says:

    The picture of the girls carrying heavy packages seems to be taken not on Bleecker but on Great Jones Street between Broadway and Lafayette, near what used to be Chinatown Brasserie (380 Lafayette). Hard to mistake these columns and arches

  5. wildnewyork Says:

    Good eye. I was going by the caption on the photo.

  6. Lady G. Says:

    Great post. This reminds me of the song ‘Artificial Flowers’ by Bobby Darrin.

  7. Christmas in the tenements in the Gilded Age | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] three-room apartments where yet on this Christmas evening [they] are still at work sewing pants, making flowers, curling feathers, or doing any other of a hundred tenement tasks to help out the income supplied […]

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