Crushing Out Our Children’s Lives

by Helen Keller, an Article in Home Magazine, August 1931

“The longer I live, the more amazed I am at the peculiar mental constitution of anyone who dares to be a parent and lets young lives be crushed in order to create wealth for him and his children.”

Helen Keller Source: Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Helen Keller
Source: Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

I WONDER how many of you have Miss Abbott’s annual report of the Children’s Bureau. The part relating to child labor is distressing. Miss Abbott tells us that there was a steady increase in child labor during the three years preceding the present period of depression and unemployment. According to reports from sixty cities in thirty-three states, 220,000 full-time working certificates were issued to children between fourteen and eighteen years of age in 1929, as against 150,000 in 1928.

It is well to note that New York state issued 72,536 certificates to children under sixteen years for full-time work in all types of occupation during the year ending August 31, 1930. New York City alone employs 35,628.

One of the aims to which the White House Conference pledged itself is protection for every child against labor that stunts growth, either physical or mental, that limits education, that deprives the child of the right of comradeship, of play and of joy.

One means of accomplishing this is to insure to every child in the United States a period of education that will enable him not only to learn what the race has to teach him out of its experience, but also to live as a child. It is in childhood that we acquire the knowledge that will fit us for life’s responsibilities and to develop us healthily and happily.

To this end, a bill has been introduced into the New York Legislature raising the minimum age when children may leave school.

Let us stop a minute and think what it would have meant to large numbers of anxious, thinly-clad bread-liners this Winter if their children between fourteen and seventeen years of age — 130,000 in all — had remained at school and left their jobs to be filled by their elders! Child labor has wrought a double harm to society; first, by robbing children of the education which the state should guarantee them; second, by taking from adults work that rightfully belongs to them.

It is true, the bill does not propose to raise the child’s time for leaving school all the way up to seventeen, but it will cover the fourteen and fifteen-year group, and it will in time lift it up with the group of those who are not allowed to leave the schools so soon on account of their mental backwardness. There is really a steady, but too slow, increase of compulsory school attendance going on throughout the country.

I look to women to be leaders in this important and vital movement. No state that wrings profits out of the health and the laughter of little children is civilized. The longer I live, the more amazed I am at the peculiar mental constitution of anyone who dares to be a parent and lets young lives be crushed in order to create wealth for him and his children.

I have no patience with women who say, “Oh, I can’t do anything about solving this problem. Time adjusts all things.”

That is not true. Wrong things cannot work themselves right. We, ourselves, must always work them right.

Let us each one be a law unto herself, and refuse to allow the evil she deplores to exist in her own life or her dealings with the community. Then we shall not have to wait centuries for results.

What are we all here for? What are we given children for? This question is being seared into our consciousness daily, and will not rest until we all rise to meet its challenge:

“The greatest enterprise, both for splendor and for vastness is the building up of a man.”

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Keller, H. (1931, August). Crushing out our children’s lives. Home Magazine. Retrieved [date accessed] from /?p=10904.

Source: Disability History Museum, http://www.disabilitymuseum.org/dhm/lib/detail.html?id=2343&&page=1

 

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