Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

Factory Girl / by Barbara Greenwood


Title:  Factory Girl
Author:  Barbara Greenwood
Publisher:  Kids Can Press
ISBN:  978-1-55337-648-4
Year:  2007
Concepts: child labor, human resources, economics of gender, wages, unions, economic role of government, producers, immigration

Review: In parallel narratives, this informative book provides a compelling and often disturbing look at the incidence of child labor in the United States during the early 1900s. Before unions had much power and before the country enacted federal legislation banning child labor, employers commonly hired young children as factory workers, miners, farmers, cleaners, messengers, and street vendors. Not only did children work at lower wages, they were often viewed as having more nimble fingers and feet for performing the same monotonous and sometimes dangerous tasks all day long. Employers could also intimidate children more easily so they would not complain about the poor labor standards, low pay, and hazardous environment.

A fictional story of a twelve-year old sweatshop worker named Emily is interwoven with historical accounts of the atrocious working conditions that children faced and the abject poverty in which many lived. Both of these narratives highlight the plight of immigrant children who lived and worked in particularly wretched circumstances. The book also emphasizes the role of newspapers, labor organizers, churches, and reform-minded individuals in raising awareness about the plight of the poor and the injustice of child labor.

Adding to the stark reality of the text is a treasure trove of archival photographs, many taken by Lewis Hines -- a former schoolteacher who famously travelled across the country taking pictures of exploited child workers. As the author notes, the United States has largely eradicated child labor, but the problem continues in some developing countries and requires continued advocacy and social reform.

Review by:
  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

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