Speech to the League of Cook County Women's Clubs, November 15, 1902




Their Health and Morals Jeopardized, the Hull House Leader Declares, by Being Set to Work While Too Young -- Addresses League of Cook County Clubs, Which [Endorses] Proposed Measures to Strengthen Compulsory Education and Child Labor Laws.

Changes in the child labor and compulsory education laws to make those statutes more effective were [endorsed] yesterday by the League of Cook County Clubs. It also was decided that the individual clubs shall take up the campaign for the proposed bills.

In arguing for this action by the league Miss Jane Addams contended for three special points, which are embodied in the measures which are to be presented at the next session of the legislature. These points were: To require an educational test of children before allowing them to go to work; to make affidavits as to age effective, thus preventing the employment of children under 14 years of age; and to stop night work of children.

Better to Run in Streets.

"I would rather that children were allowed to run in the streets than have them working in factories at a tender age," said Miss Addams. "They would then be stronger physically and mentally, and I do not believe their morals would be injured as they are by confinement and toil in places where they see nothing of the brighter side of life."

The ineffectiveness of the present child labor and school attendance laws was shown by pointing to the fact that the number of children at work in Illinois has more than doubled in the last five years. Miss Addams declared that at least twenty other states demand certain educational requirements of children before allowing them to work, while Illinois has no such educational test.

"Illinois requires," she said, "that children between 7 and 14 years of age shall attend school sixteen weeks of each year, of which but twelve weeks need be consecutive. Children under ten years of age must enter school in September, but those between 10 and 14 years need not begin until January.

"During the remaining thirty-six weeks of the year parents are under temptation to violate the law by setting children to work who are out of school, arguing that 'they are better at work than on the street.'"

Endangers Health of Children.

Referring to night work among children, Miss Addams declared that this city was jeopardizing the health, intelligence, and the welfare of future citizens of the state for the sake of a mere pittance the child receives. She further declared that some corroborative testimony should be required as to the age of the child, even making it necessary to go back to the parish register at times.

"The compulsory education law," she said, "is supplementary to the factory law, and if either was strictly enforced the other would take care of itself."

Miss Addams, Mrs. Harriett Van Der Vaart, Dr. Cornelia de Bey, and others urged the women to appeal to the members of the legislature whom they knew, so that the new bills will have good support when they come up for passage.

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