“Read All About It”: Child Labor a Century Ago

A century ago, of course, the duration of childhood was shorter. Kids were put to work at an earlier age, whether on the farm or in the mills or on the streets. They worked long hours for little pay and had little legal protection from abuse by employers. Among the most common street jobs for boys were newsboy, delivery boy, and messenger boy.

Local messenger boys began to use bicycles in the late nineteenth century. In the middle ad, note the single-digit phone number. Messenger boys also acted as escorts.

These news stories show that the three jobs could be dangerous, even deadly.

In 1909 a resolution was introduced to place Fort Worth newsboys under the supervision of the police commissioner because some newsies were prone to be overzealous in their salesmanship.

In 1913 the leader of the local newsboys and messenger boys association protested probation officer Sam Callaway’s plan to take mugshots of offending boys. Sam Callaway was later a city councilman.

In 1916 the city of Fort Worth passed an ordinance making saloons off limits to people under age twenty-one but exempted messenger boys and delivery boys.

In 1916 America was still a year away from war, and Hell’s Half Acre was still a year away from being targeted for reform as the Army built Camp Bowie on the West Side. In 1916 Congress heard testimony on child-labor conditions from the Commission on Industrial Relations. Among those who testified was Lewis W. Hine. He spoke of the bad influence of “red-light districts” such as “the Acre” on “newsies,” delivery boys, and messenger boys. Sam Callaway, probation officer and later a city councilman, was quoted.

Share:Email this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on Tumblr
This entry was posted in "Read All About It", Life in the Past Lane. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *