Lesson Plan: Overview

Child Labor in the Carolinas

Lesson 1: Lost Childhood
Lesson 2: Saving the Child

Grade Level: 5th

Click here to go straight to a primary source on child labor

Academic Standards

Social Studies Standard 5-3: The student will demonstrate an understanding of major domestic and foreign developments that contributed to the United States’ becoming a world power.

5-3.3 Explain the effects of immigration and urbanization on the American economy during the Industrial Revolution, including the role of immigrants in the work force and the growth of cities, the shift from an agrarian to an industrial economy, and the rise of big business.

5-3.5 Explain how building cities and industries led to progressive reforms, including labor reforms, business reforms, and Prohibition.

Language Arts Standard 5-2: The student will read and comprehend a variety of informational print and nonprint formats.

5-2.1 Summarize central idea and supporting evidence of a given informational text.

5-2.2 Analyze informational texts to draw conclusions and make inferences.

5-2.4 Create responses to informational texts through a variety of methods.

5-2.7 Use graphic features such as illustrations, graphs, charts, maps, diagrams, and graphic organizers as sources of information.   

Standard 5-5: The student will write for a variety of purposes.

5-5.3 Create written descriptions using precise language and vivid details.

Social Studies Literacy Elements

K. Use texts, photographs, and documents to observe and interpret SS trends and relationships

L. Interpret calendars, time lines, maps, charts, tables, graphs, flow charts, diagrams, photographs,  paintings, cartoons, architectural drawings, documents, letters, censuses, and other artifacts.

O. Consider multiple perspectives of documents and stories.                   

P. Locate, gather, and process information from a variety of primary and secondary sources.

Q. Interpret information obtained from maps, aerial photographs, satellite-produced images, and geographic information systems. 

S. Interpret and synthesize information obtained from a variety of sources: graphs, charts, tables, diagrams, texts, photographs, documents, and interviews.

Essential Questions

Lesson 1

1. Why were children in the work force?

2. How were children exploited in the work force?

Lesson 2

1. Why was child labor reform necessary?

2. How is child labor like slavery?

Historical Background Notes

Employers need employees or workers.  During the Second Industrial Revolution in the United States, many new jobs were created.  Many of the workers who filled these new jobs were children.  The problem of child labor was not that children were working.  The problem was that children were being exploited or taken advantage of in the work place.  They were working long hours, for little pay, in unsafe working conditions, not permitting them to be children and getting an education.

Some parents allowed their children to work or learn a trade or vocation to help instill a good worth ethic.  They saw work as a means to instill their values of hard work and responsibility as well as teach young children how to be reliable and keep them out of trouble (Mofford 1997, 7).  Children helped out in the house or in the fields or learned a specific trade.  Children had chores to complete.  This was acceptable work as it helped the child become a responsible member of the family and trained them for their own family in the future.  As America was becoming more industrialized, many poor families had no choice but to send their children into factories, textiles, and other industrialized places in order to help the family survive (Stein 1984, 6).  In essence, their childhood was taken away in order to help provide for the family.  This, of course, mostly affected the poor families since the children of wealthy citizens did not have to work to support their families.  Working children were often hurt due to industrial accidents on unsafe machinery, uneducated since there was no time for school after working 12+ hours in a day, and ridden with sickness and diseases due to the unsafe working conditions in which they were exposed (Greene 1992, 14-15, 25).  Children were basically not allowed to be children during the Second Industrial Revolution in America during the mid 1800s – early 1900s.

Working conditions in these industrialized places were deplorable.  The facilities were often unsafe.  Children were found working in textile mills, factories, coal mines, as well as in their homes or tenement houses and sweatshops (Stein 1984, 14).  Children worked many hours a day for meager wages.  Many children were hurt while working.  It would not be uncommon for breaker boys in the mines to get caught in the machinery and fall into a chute (Stein 1984, 17) or for spinners to have their small hands caught in the machinery.  Some factories had rooms where children would be punished because the managers or people in charge thought they were not performing as they should (Mofford 1997, 7) or were sleeping while at work (Greene 1992, 17).  Unfortunately, many employers chose ignore these problems because their employees were easily replaced. If one child left or could no longer work, many more were willing and able to step up and take the vacated position.

Children were often preferred employees over their adult counterparts.  Instead of paying more wages for adults to perform the same duties, children could be employed at a much cheaper rate (Stein 1984, 10).  Child labor could almost be synonymous with slavery (Stein 1984, 14).  In the 1870 census, 750,000 children between the ages of ten and fifteen were working in the United States in some type of industrialized work place (Mofford 1997, 7).  Of course, many more children were probably working in these areas but it was not documented properly because they were not legally registered to work, were assisting family members as a form of child care, or were working “under the table.”   Many owners felt that the small hands of children were better to work on the machinery in their work places. Profits could soar for owners since they would get the work completed by children without having to pay higher adult wages (Mofford 1997, 8).

Many Americans were outraged at the exploitation of child labor.  One person, an author named Jacob Riis, published a book in 1890 called How the Other Half Lives.  Through his writings and photos, America was privy to the poor working conditions in sweatshops as well as the inhumane living conditions of the tenement houses.  Jane Addams, most famous for her settlement houses in Chicago, also wrote articles and spoke against the hardships of the children in the workforce and was a member of the National Child Labor Committee in 1904 (Stein 1984, 23).  The most well-known of those who spoke out against child labor was the photographer Lewis Hines.  He was hired by the National Child Labor Committee to photograph and document the stories of children working in industry.  He visited coal mines, textile mills,  factories, and fields.  Others saw child labor as a way to keep children in a life of poverty because by working, they were not in school getting an education (Mofford 1997, 11).  Education seemed to be the key to leaving a life of poverty.

Some states tried to pass laws to prohibit child labor.  Unfortunately, these laws were often difficult to enforce or overlooked by industrial managers and owners.  It did not help that children also lied about their ages in order to gain employment in order to put food on their family’s table (Stein 1984, 21).  Labor unions supported the end to child labor and laws that protected children workers because every child in the workforce was an adult union member who was not employed (Stein 1984, 26).  Even laws that were passed by the government were later found unconstitutional by our Supreme Court, until the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 was passed.  In this act, children had to be at least sixteen years of age before they were permitted to work for full-time hours and were not allowed to help make products that were transported across states (Stein 1984, 29).  A few progressive presidents were supporters of ending child labor.  Theodore Roosevelt supported this endeavor with the first Conference of the Care of Dependent Children in 1909, William Taft signed a bill creating the Children’s Bureau in 1912, and Woodrow Wilson signed federal laws later considered unconstitutional  (Mofford 1997, 12-13).

While much has been done in our history to prohibit child labor.  Unfortunately it still exists around the world today.  However, if students continue to educate themselves and see the damage that the exploitation of children has on their emotional, physical, mental, and social development as well as its impact on society, they can take the baton and fight for reform to ensure the childhood for all children around the world is protected.


Primary Sources

Lesson 1

McKelway, A.J. “Child Labor in the Carolinas.” Charities and the Commons: A Weekly Journal of Philanthropy and Social Advance. Vol. xxi, no. 18. (January 30, 1909): p. 743-757. (accompanying photographs by Lewis Hine).

Van Vorst, Mrs. John  & Marie Van Vorst.  The Woman Who Toils:  Being the Experience of Two Ladies as Factory Girls.  New York: Doubleday, 1903. (see Van Vorst 1, Van Vorst 2, Van Vorst 3, and Van Vorst 4)

Lesson 2

An Act To Require School Attendance. 1915 Acts no. 98. 20 February 1915. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.

How About Me?”  Available from Discus. History Resource Center, Document Number: BT2210018752 . Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group. Assessed 7 July 2007.

Secondary Sources

Lesson 1

Child Labor in America 1908-1912 Photographs of Lewis Hine.” Available from Internet, The History Place, Accessed 3 August 2007.

Freedman, Russell.  Kids at Work:  Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor.  New York:  Scholastic, Inc. 1994.

Lesson 1 and Lesson 2

Greene, Laura Offenhartz.  Child Labor:  Then and Now.  New York:  Franklin Watts, 1992.

Mofford, Juliet H.  Child Labor in America.  Carlisle:  Discovery Enterprises, Ltd, 1997.

Stein, R. Conrad.  Cornerstones of Freedom:  The Story of Child Labor Laws.  Chicago:  Childrens Press, 1984.

Lesson 1

  • Copies of various images showing children in various child labor situations.  These can be found in the primary and secondary sources listed above.  Some are Lewis Hine photographs (from The History Place website) and Child Labor in the Carolinas
  • Copies of The Woman Who Toils sub-packets for each group.  See Van Vorst files 1-4 in Primary Sources section above.
  • Observing Children at Work sheet for viewing primary sources (photos).
  • Child Labor Packet for documenting their work. Includes: My Photograph sheet, a student-assessed rubric.
  • Optional technology:  (1) computer for word processing and recording, (2) device for recording, such as a digital recorder or microphone, (3) Photo Story program or similar program that allows students to record their voice over an image seen on the computer.

Lesson 2


Lesson Plans

Lesson 1

(This lesson will take two 60 minute class sessions.  If you utilize the technology component, it may take several sessions in a lab to complete.)


1. The teacher will review the use of primary sources and how information can be gained from viewing them.  Inform the students that they will be looking at photographs taken by Lewis Hine.  Provide background on him if needed from the resources listed above.

2. Review the causes of child labor.  Distribute the various photos of child laborers to the students.  Many of these photos are located in the Child Labor in the Carolinas document or the Lewis Hine packet.  Have students complete Observing Children at Work and write down their observations. Students may work in groups of two-three to share what they observe, but should complete the sheet individually.  After completing the sheet, have students continue to write their observations on the My Photograph sheet located in their Child Labor Packet.  This will help them when they begin to write their paragraph on the second day.

3. Distribute copies of The Woman Who Toils packets (see Van Vorst files 1-4 in Primary Sources section above).  The pages of this document have been divided into four sections. Distribute each section to a group of 3-5 students.  Use any appropriate cooperative group technique (like jigsaw) to disseminate information to the whole class.  Allow time for the students to read over the packets, highlight important information, and draw conclusions about the content presented.  Students should record responses on their The Woman Who Toils sheet in their Child Labor Packet.

4. Allow students time to reflect on what was learned in class today before having them fill out their exit slip and rubric for today’s lesson found in the Child Labor Packet.


1. Have students choose one of the photographs from the first lesson and write a description of what life was like for that child laborer.  Encourage students to incorporate the information gathered from the lessons about life in the mills and how the child was exploited.  If you have the technology, record the students’ description over their photo on the computer via a program like Photo Story or Voice Thread.  This part of the lesson could take several days depending on the availability of technology in your school and classroom.

2. Have students complete the exit slip and rubric, located in their Child Labor Packet.

Lesson 2

1. Review information learned about child labor from previous lessons. Include why children entered the work force and the hardships endured.

2. Review reforms during the Progressive Movement. Some of these reforms included reforms for education. Some Americans felt that an education would help end poverty, or at least break the poverty cycle. As long as students were able to go to school, then maybe they would not have to settle for low-paying jobs.

3. Introduce the primary source from South Carolina’s 1915 legislature that required school attendance for children ages 8-14. Show how the act is divided into different sections and how each section has a “title.”

4. Allow students to work in groups of 2-3 to locate the answers from the primary source in a scavenger-hunt format. Responses go on their Educational Reform in SC sheet.

5. Compare the Act of 1915 to that of the current educational requirements. Are there any major differences or similarities?

6. Distribute the How About Me? sheet.  The cartoon/poster compares the abuses of child labor to the civil rights abuses.  Share answers.

7. Lead students into a discussion about how child labor was and is like slavery. 

8. Complete exit slips and rubric.

Teacher Reflections

I have always enjoyed teaching social studies.  The difficult part of teaching this particular content area has always been trying to do so in a way that excites my students.  This was my reason for taking TAHSC.  I wanted to learn new ways to approach history and bring those events alive in my students’ eyes.  Through this course, I was able to make social studies in 5th grade more hands-on and minds-on.  The more active the students were with the content, the more real and relevant those historical times seemed to them.

Prior to taking this class, I used primary sources sparingly.  Most of the sources I used were common sources, like the famous Lange photograph of the mother from the thirties, Titanic documents or photographs, and photographs from World War II.   The easiest sources for me have always been photographs.  Through this course, I have come to the conclusion that I can take the photograph beyond just a surface observation.  While asking students to utilize their five senses when looking at the photograph, they were allowed to take a step into the time period.  This allowed them to draw conclusions or make inferences about what they were observing, something they struggle with during ELA class, but were not threatened to do in social studies class.  One of the activities I asked my students to complete in my first lesson involved using their senses to describe the child in a child labor photograph.  They had to imagine what sounds and smells they would be experiencing as the person in the photo, thus giving life to the still photo. In adding this component, students were able to integrate information from the units of study. For example, they included information about life in the city (horns, smells of food being sold on carts, crowded streets) we learned during our immigration / industrialization unit. Paul described what his person in the photo was doing and integrated ideas about an assembly line because he put on the sleeves and other people added more to the shirt.

The challenges I faced using primary sources came with the use of documents. My students struggled with the actual reading of the documents. The students I teach this year are at or below grade level in reading, so eventually I used the documents (the Van Vorst and Acts) in a shared/guided reading setting where everyone had access to the text/document but with quite a bit of guidance. At first I had asked students to jot down key information from the various pages assigned while working with a partner. This was not effective as they were completely overwhelmed since they could not read the assigned pages. It was similar to “the blind leading the blind.” So I asked them to turn the papers back in to me and I modified the lesson and made the document more focused. Instead of being open-ended as before, I used more direct questioning in their written work and made the lesson similar to a scavenger hunt. They became “history detectives” as they searched the document for information. The text was broken down into smaller sections while working with a small groups of students. Each group worked with an adult to read and talk about the documents. I utilized my instructional assistant, a parent volunteer, and even my literacy coach to guide these groups. We invited students to talk about what they thought the author was saying and to put the information into their own words. In the process we were able to integrate reading strategies through this content area. This provided guidance in using the document but still allowed students the opportunity to interact with the primary source (but in a non-threatening and fun way). The most effective part was that some students integrated the information learned in these small group settings into their written work of describing the child in their photo. In Laura’s writing, she described her person’s hands as “fairy hands” just like the seven year daughter of the landlord in the Van Vorst reading. A few students used the same times that workers awakened and ate breakfast. Even information I shared from my background information about whipping rooms was included.

I was able to integrate technology with the child labor photographs. I compiled a folder of various photos dealing with child labor. Students were able to choose one and describe what they saw in the photo. They used their senses to describe the environment in which the child lived. After they wrote their descriptive summary, they recorded themselves using a digital recorder. Using Windows Movie Maker, they were able to combine the picture with their audio (and even mail it to their computer at home!). This allowed them to write, practice their reading (and fluency), as well as use technology. While time consuming, it was worth the time. Students were able to grasp the ideas and be creative all at the same time. Even though my ESOL student from China could not write his description of the child in his photo, he was able to talk to me about what he saw and infer information about the child’s life. This brief conversation was recorded and is included in the Student Media file on the electronic copy of my lessons (“Benny Final”).

These particular lessons were well received by my students.  We had quality discussions about child labor and how it has changed over the century.  It was a bit mind-blowing when they realized it is still going on in some countries even today.  Some even stated how much better students have it today than the children in the photos.  Paul stated, “I guess I shouldn’t complain when mom asks me to clean my room and take out the trash.  Those things only take a few minutes and then I can still play outside or on the computer.”  My ESOL student (Benny) even shared stories of his experiences in China and how some children were working instead of going to school. 

Through these lessons I have realized my students have difficulty answering the complete question.  If the question had two or more parts, they only answered the first part.  Many times I needed to know the “why they thought so.”  They seemed to struggle with giving meaning to what they were viewing.  I do not know if previous classes were only “surface” teaching or if it something deeper, but it is something I am trying to work on with my students.  It is not sufficient to just make a statement anymore.  Now my students have to bring proof to the table as well. 

The format of the TAHSC class was very effective.  I learned so much from the morning lectures and master teachers.  Despite being educators for older students, I was able to take away ideas from them that I could use with my younger students.  The morning sessions made me think and even question things I had been taught previously.  For example, during Reconstruction, even the Radical Republicans had a motive to get the African Americans to vote.  They were confident that freedmen would vote for the Radical Republicans who seemed so “helpful” in helping them after slavery.  It was interesting to see what is expected for high school students and how important it is for me (as a 5th grade teacher) to prepare my students now for document-based questions and essays.  I was also excited to see how Pam provided scaffolding for her students, even though they are in high school.  You just cannot assume students know what or how to do in order to answer a question.  Teachers must provide that guidance in order for students to see success.  Visiting the institutions was also beneficial.  It opened up many avenues for accessing primary sources as well as provided ideas for field studies or family “trips.”  South Carolina certainly has quite a bit of history…and it is right at our fingertips!

When I plan for my social studies content now, one of the first things I think about is what kind of primary sources I can bring into this unit to help teach and supplement the content.  Prior to taking this TAHSC class, utilizing primary sources were more of an afterthought. Now it is a key tool to make my students think and experience history firsthand.

Student Assessment

Lesson 1

Students will complete exit slips at the conclusion of each lesson. They will also complete the rubric for the work completed with this lesson found in their Child Labor Packet. A blank copy is included as well as a few actual student copies.

Lesson 2

Students will complete exit slips at the conclusion of the lesson. They will also complete the rubric for the work completed with this lesson. A blank copy is included as well as a few actual student copies.

Examples of Students Work

Lesson 1

Student Media Student Work

Student Media Student Work 2

Student Media Student Work 3

Student Child Labor Packet

Lesson 2

Student Educational Reform in SC Packet

Student Educational Reform in SC Packet 2


Paulette Moses
Ballentine Elementary
Irmo, South Carolina