Truancy and Non-Attendance in the Chicago Schools

Chapter 19: The Employment Certificate System and the Safe-guarding of the Compulsory Attendance Period

Edith Abbott and Sophonisba P. Breckinridge

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In most American states the upper age limit designated by the compulsory school law is the fourteenth birthday.[1] In Illinois, the compulsory period nominally extends to the sixteenth birthday; but since the law provides that children between the ages of fourteen and sixteen may be excused from school provided they go to work, the actual age limit here as in other states is really fourteen.

The most important question to be considered with regard to the upper age limit of the compulsory attendance period is whether or not proper safeguards have been devised to prevent children from leaving before the fourteenth birthday has been reached. Since the vast majority of children who leave school

(288) on or near the fourteenth birthday are children who leave school to go to work, the most essential safeguard that has been devised to prevent an illegal withdrawal from school is to provide that no child may be legally employed unless he has been given "an age-and-school certificate." In this way it should be impossible for the child to find employment without the approval of the school authorities.

Under the Illinois law, the age-and-school certificate must be issued at a place provided by the school authorities and either by a person designated by the superintendent of schools or by the principal of a parochial school. The law provides further that the certificate shall be granted only when satisfactory proof of age, such as would be afforded by a birth or baptismal certificate, a school census or such school records as would offer adequate testimony, has been produced. In the absence of such recorded evidence, it is required that the parents make oath before the juvenile or County Court that the child is fourteen years of age.


Unfortunately, the provision in the Illinois law relating to working papers does not yet adequately safeguard the child's right to be kept in school until he reaches the age of fourteen. Evidence is not lacking to show that in Chicago, at the present time, some children who are not fourteen receive age-and-school certificates; and others go to work before they are fourteen without certificates. In fact, no system can be devised that will keep children in school up to the age of fourteen or any other age, until birth registration is really compulsory and every child's age is a matter of public record. Without any official record of the child's age available, mistakes easily occur. In the first place, the school may have the child's age registered incorrectly. This may occur in several ways. There can be no question that many parents, who are anxious that their children should become wage-earners at the earliest possible moment, deliberately plan to evade the law and to enter their children at school as seven when they are only five or six. In such cases, when the parents claim that the child is fourteen and ask for his working papers, the school records show that the child is entitled to go to work and the age-and-school certificate is issued. Sometimes the mother acts more innocently and enters the child as five when he is only three or four, in order that he may go to kindergarten and leave her free to work; or she enters him as seven when he is younger in order that he may attend the full session instead of the half-day session provided for younger children. If the child is not "restored" to his proper age before he is nominally fourteen, it is only too easy for him to claim his working papers. The woman who is most anxious to be relieved of the care of her children is usually the woman who is obliged to go out to work because of the death, desertion, or delinquency of her husband. In such cases the same pressure that leads the mother to register the child as seven in order to provide for his care will also lead her to take advantage of the opportunity to evade

(290) the law which this early registration has given her, and she is not likely to forget that she will be able to continue to deceive the school authorities and to get an age-and-school certificate for the child when he is only twelve.

Working papers are not issued exclusively by the school authorities. In the section of the law dealing with "proof of age" it is provided that, when evidence cannot be obtained from "the last school census, the certificate of birth or baptism of such child, the register of birth of such child with a town or city clerk, or by the records of the public or parochial schools, . . . . in cases wherein the above proof is not obtainable, the parent or guardian of the child shall make oath before the juvenile or County Court as to the age of such child and the court may issue to such child an age certificate as sworn to." In Chicago, such certificates were issued for ten years in the County Court, and a very considerable number of children each year obtained certificates by means of a false affidavit from their parents. There can be no question regarding the purpose of this provision. It was intended to provide for the cases of families which had recently arrived in Chicago with children fourteen or fifteen years old who could not get certificates from the Chicago schools. Such children should, of course, be made to produce some evidence of age; thus children from other cities could obtain a statement from the last school attended; immigrant children could show their passport, or, still better, copies of their birth records might be obtained. But the bailiff of the County Court was obviously too busy to give the time needed for such details; other business seems more pressing, detailed inquiries regarding proof of age seem impossible, and the general method had been to issue the certificate and to get rid of the weeping family. The situation was improved when the Illinois Consumers' League placed a special investigator at the service of the court, but in the necessary absence of the investigator from court, the bailiff continued to issue certificates on affidavits.


Such was the situation when this investigation was undertaken. Some months later, however, when the juvenile Court was moved from the West Side to the building in which the County Court sits, it was possible to persuade the county judge that rendering this service for children fell more properly within the scope and the purpose of the juvenile Court and that the children could easily be sent up to that court. The change has been most beneficial. A skilled investigator has been in charge of all the applicants for such certificates, a thorough search for some record of the child's age is made, and until such record can be found the certificate is withheld.

In a large city like Chicago that is fortunate enough to have a good charity organization society many cases of working papers obtained for children under fourteen will be discovered through the relief records. When a family first applies for help the dates of birth of all the children are carefully entered in the "case record," and it is not easy at this time to give incorrect ages. Moreover, the younger the children are, the more appealing is the distress of the applicants, and therefore there is every reason why the age should not be overstated. Later, when one of the children goes to work illegally, a resourceful charity visitor in the neighborhood may, as a result of suspicion aroused by the old record, succeed in finding the evidence that will serve to return the child to school. Many examples of work of this kind may be found in the district offices of the United Charities of Chicago. Thus, in one district, an Italian family that applied for help in 1909 said that their youngest child was ten years old and gave a date of birth which properly related to the dates given for the older children in the family. Two years later, the youngest child, then twelve years old according to the case record, came into the office with an age-and-school certificate and asked that someone help her to find work. She had already been working in a box factory for several weeks, earning $2.50 a week, but she said

(292) that she did not get on very well and had been told that she was too slow. The child had attended four different public schools in Chicago and one parochial school, and an age-and-school certificate had finally been issued from the parochial school. She had attended school very irregularly, and the date of her birth had been given differently in each school. The agent of the charity organization society noted that the record showed that the family had moved to Chicago from Omaha, where all the children had been born. A visit to the mother gave the name of the church in Omaha where the children had been baptized; and a letter to the secretary of a similar agency in Omaha, asking that the church be located and copies of the baptismal record be obtained, brought back proof that the child was only twelve years old. The factory inspector was notified, and the age-and-school certificate withdrawn, and the child was returned to school under the supervision of the Department of Compulsory Education. It is important to note, however, that this violation of the compulsory law was discovered through a private agency and almost by accident and that the proof of age which brought about the return of the child to school was secured by the same private agency. There must, of course, be many similar cases in which the unfortunate child continues at work.

Sometimes, in fact, the children distinguish between their "working age" and their" real age." And the fact that evasions of the law like those described are not exceptional was indicated by a search through the records of some of the other district offices of the same society, which brought to light similar cases of the issuance of age-and-school certificates because the child's age had been incorrectly given at school and no other record was easily available. The social worker, however, who is accustomed to searching for such facts is often more resourceful in the face of what seems to be a blank wall than the public official accustomed to a less difficult routine existence. The

(293) public official, moreover, is handicapped by the fact that he must accept the information which the law defines as affording "evidence" of age and he is given no authority to determine by tedious inquiry from outside sources the quality of the evidence that is offered.

Other cases similar to the one given might be cited. In one case in which a family had applied for help in 1911, a visitor calling at the house a few months later found that the boy whose age had been given as twelve had gone to work. It was discovered that the age given by the child at school was different from the age given by the mother in the charity office, and it was also learned that the family had lived in Chicago for eleven years and that the boy had been born and baptized in Denver. A letter to the Denver charity organization office brought a copy of the baptismal register showing that the mother had given the correct age in the office and the wrong age both in the school and at the age-and-school certificate bureau. When the mother was seen again, she said that she had given his age incorrectly because she was tired of helping him and wanted him to help her. She explained, however, that she was much "put out" to find that the boy did not "keep his jobs" after she had got a certificate for him, but loafed and hung about cheap theaters instead. To avoid a return to school, the boy then ran away from home, but was found by the Department of Compulsory Education and placed in the Parental School.

There is also the interesting case of Rosie L_____, a little Italian girl for whom a scholarship has now been provided so that she may learn dressmaking in the Hull-House Trade School. Rosie was fourteen years old on January 15, 1916, but she left school to go to work in January, 1914. When asked how she got her certificate, she said that she had told the sister in the parochial school that she was fourteen and had got her school certificate in this way. The little girl is the eldest of seven children, all of whom are still under school age, and she felt that

(294) she ought to help her mother because her father was dead. The work history of this child, who was just fourteen years of age, was traced as follows. She left school at the age of twelve and had been "fitter and packer" in a large shipping department for six months, but she found the work so hard and she had to carry such heavy packages that she left when she was told that she could get lighter work in a bookbindery. The bindery job lasted only two weeks, however, and she was then laid off and went back to her first position again and worked there nine months longer. She then was told, evidently by a child working in the same place, that she could earn more money if she claimed to be sixteen. She then got a position in a printing establishment and did earn very good wages indeed by claiming to be sixteen years old, although she was not yet fourteen. When she was laid off, however, she did not find it so easy to get work again and conditions at home with no other wage-earner in the family were very hard indeed, so that Rosie finally applied to a neighboring settlement for help in finding work, an application which has finally placed her in the way of learning a trade.

Sometimes the children are put to work without any papers. There are always to be found a few employers who are willing to take the risk of being discovered by the factory inspector. These are usually the heads of establishments in which there is difficulty in getting "help" because of undesirable conditions of work, and it is, of course, a double misfortune that a child should not only lose the minimum of schooling that is his due but also begin his working-life under the worst possible conditions. It is also a serious matter that in such cases the child leaves school and goes to work, conscious of the fact that his parents have sworn falsely as to his age and that he will, if he succeeds in evading the law, have to lie to the factory inspectors from time to time as he has probably already lied to his teacher and his principal.


A serious defect in the law which makes it easier for children to work without certificates is the fact that no certificate or proof of age is required of the child over sixteen years of age. It is therefore possible for a fairly well-grown child who may not even be fourteen to claim to be sixteen and to obtain employment in industries and under conditions prohibited by the child labor law for children under sixteen. In fact, the child under fourteen may simply disappear from the school records and forfeit in this way several months or even years of the required period of schooling.

The only remedy for this situation is an amendment to the child labor law requiring all minors to have certificates. Such a provision is necessary for the protection of employers as well as for the children. Careful employers may protect themselves by looking at the child's old certificate if it has not been destroyed, but this is the only protection. It is true, of course, that children who are exceptionally small for their age cannot claim to be older than they are, but children "large for their age" and even those of normal size are able to defeat the compulsory law simply by going to work without working papers.

The case of Mary G_____ is a typical one. Mary applied for assistance in finding work at the office of a social agency, saying that she had just passed her sixteenth birthday, that she had worked five months in one laundry, feeding a mangle. She had then worked in another laundry, also feeding a mangle. After this she had worked in several department stores. She was questioned with regard to her work on the mangle, which is classified as one of the " dangerous occupations" prohibited by the child labor law for children under sixteen, and she said in reply that she had told the boss that she was sixteen because she had been told that girls under sixteen could not find work. She admitted that she had never obtained an age-and-school certificate, but she

(296) claimed that she had not left school until the day she was fourteen, had found it easy to get a job in a laundry, and just went to work and worked until she got sick. Her illness caused her to leave her work in the second laundry. When the school that she had last attended was visited, the principal of the school merely said that they had "simply lost track of her." The school records showed that Mary was born April 17, 1899; and as she had gone to work in June, 1911, she had therefore left school when only twelve and had lost two whole years of the schooling to which the law entitled her. Her home was visited, and the child then admitted that she had gone to work when she was only twelve against her family's wishes, but since she found it perfectly easy to get a job she saw no reason why she should not do so. The girl had no father, but an older brother (aged eighteen) was working in the stockyards and an older sister (aged twenty-three) was a telephone operator, so that Mary's earnings were not urgently needed in the family. The comparatively simple requirement that age-and-school certificates should not be destroyed when the boy or girl becomes sixteen or that a new certificate be issued and that all minors be required to present working papers would protect a very considerable number of children who are now being deprived of the benefits of the compulsory education law.

Other children are lost track of in the same way. Such was the case of Helen M_____. Helen was born January 6, 1900, and left school in 1911, when she was in the fourth grade. In January, 1914, she was granted a certificate by a parochial school and in October asked for help in finding work. At that time she said that she did not know the name of the school slit had attended. She had left school three years before, had just stayed at home and helped her mother, and when she was fourteen got a certificate and began to help support the family. She had worked in a tailor shop for two weeks and earned $1 .50

(297) a week pulling bastings, but she later got a job in a candy factory during the busy season for $4 a week. She was laid off in a month, but was lucky enough to find work in another candy factory for a fortnight, but after that she was unable to go any farther. There seemed to be "no more jobs anywhere" for a child so ignorant and so untrained.

A similar case is that of Theresa C_____, who claimed to be fourteen and left school on the day on which, according to the school record, she was only twelve. She had been in this country nine months and when she left school was in the third grade. The school principal refused to sign an employment certificate, but she had learned that if she claimed to be sixteen she could probably get work without a certificate. Although she was a small child and did not look older than twelve, she found work in a fashionable dressmaking establishment for two months, and then in a large department store for three months. At the latter place she was "laid off" because the factory inspector came around and questioned her right to work. The school seemed to have made no effort to have her returned, but the social worker to whom she applied for assistance in finding "another job" got her returned to school; and she is there now waiting until a letter can be obtained from Italy with a copy of her birth record.

The serious aspect of this situation lies not only in the fact of the child's loss of schooling but in the encouragement of false statements made to deceive both employer and factory inspector. One little girl who spoke quite innocently of her "real age" and her "working age" seemed, in company with many others, to have not sense of wrong-doing; he was trying to help a sorely pressed family and merely regretted that the difficulties placed in her way by the law had to be overcome by misstatements. Yet the moral effect must be harmful to the child who is compelled to lie in order to get work and finds it profitable to do so.

(298) Another loophole through which children seem to escape from school before the compulsory age limit has been reached is by graduation from the eighth grade. The Illinois law does not exempt from school attendance the children who finish the elementary school before their fourteenth birthday. Legally such children are required to attend the free public high schools or some other school until the fourteenth birthday has been reached. But when a child feels that because he has graduated from the eighth grade he is entitled to a certificate, he seems to find it not too difficult to go to work anyway. Such was the case of Henry I-, who graduated from the elementary school seven months before his fourteenth birthday. In this case the boy, who was very large and tall, got a job for the summer and then decided that he would not return to school, as he should have done in September under the compulsory school law. He had never attended a parochial school, but he got a certificate from the school connected with the church where he had been confirmed. In spite of the fact that he had a certificate he found that he could get a better job by not using it and by saying that he was sixteen years old. The factory inspector discovered that he was not sixteen, and he was discharged, but by that time he had reached his fourteenth birthday and therefore could not be compelled to return to school. This case and several similar ones that have come to notice are instances of peculiar wastefulness, since the children are unusually bright and ambitious and likely to come from homes in which their earnings are not necessary.

An adequate compulsory education law should contain not only a statement concerning the age at which the child may legally leave school to go to work but also provisions requiring that the child meet physical and educational tests of fitness to work. Neither the Illinois child labor law nor the compulsory education law contains a provision requiring that the child be shown to be physically fit before his working papers are issued.


The Illinois child labor law which was enacted in 1893 contained a clause providing that a factory inspector might require a certificate of physical fitness from a physician of good standing if a child who was found at work appeared physically unable to do the work at which he was engaged. Mrs. Kelley was chief factory inspector at the time, and an attempt was made to use this clause. It was, however, found to be unenforceable.[2] No appropriation is made for the payment of medical fees, and without this, proper certificates cannot be obtained. If certifying physicians are not appointed and any doctor is allowed to issue certificates, a physician can always be found who for the sake of a fee is willing to certify that any child is physically fit for work. Although this provision of the child labor law has never been repealed, no one of Mrs. Kelley's successors has repeated her attempts to enforce it, and although our Illinois Child Labor law still contains a provision that a child who is found in an occupation for which he is physically unfit should not be left working in that occupation by the inspecting officer, the provision was and is a dead letter. At present, children who are physically handicapped in every way are given working papers, and they cannot legally be prevented from working at occupations which are exceedingly dangerous for them. It is true that the child labor law prohibits any child between fourteen and sixteen from working at a "dangerous occupation," but of course this means only occupations dangerous for a normal child, not for a child with weak heart, weak lungs or other physical disability.

Among children who are granted employment certificates are children who have been too ill to attend school regularly, children who are lame and crippled, children with heart disease, and tubercular children who have been in the open-air schools, which are maintained at heavy expense for the sake of bringing

(300) these children up to a proper standard of physical fitness. The wastefulness of granting working certificates to children who have just come out of special open-air schools is obvious. At the present time in spite of all the additional care and expense that have been devoted to these children by the Board of Education and the private agency assisting in this work, the law allows them to walk out of the open-air schools on their fourteenth birthday and to go to work in occupations that are almost certain to be injurious to them. Indeed, there seems to be no suitable employment available for an open-air school child between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. Some form of outdoor employment would no doubt be best, yet often this work requires the carrying of heavy packages and it is usually "blind-alley" work. There can be no question as to the importance of requiring these children to remain in school at least until the sixteenth birthday, instead of allowing them to find "jobs" that many of them are in the long run not able to hold. A few cases which follow will throw some light on this problem.

Katie I_____ finished the fifth grade in the open-air school. She was the youngest in a family of two children, and as soon as she got her working papers she found a job in a peanut factory, where she shelled peanuts at a rate of ten cents for every three pounds. She was, however, still going to the hospital twice a week to have her lungs examined. She left the factory after a few weeks because the ventilation was poor and she was compelled to stoop continuously in her work. The "forelady" told her that she had better give up the work. Her next position was a "scab-job" in a tailor shop, sewing pants. She got this position during a strike, and a policeman escorted her to work every day. She found, of Course, that conditions of work were no more favorable here than in the other place.

Jake S_____, the oldest of five children, finished the sixth grade in the open-air school. His father was a janitor and worked regularly but thought that Jake ought to "help," since

(301) he was old enough to work. Jake worked as a department store wagon boy for two years, and then left because he could not get his wages raised. His next job was that of elevator boy in a downtown building, where he worked for six months. He was sick and "the boss fired him." Then he got a job in a factory, but was discharged at the end of the first week because he was not strong enough to do the work. He next worked as delivery boy for a department store, but he had to carry heavy boxes of groceries upstairs; so the work proved too heavy for him and he left.

Morris R_____ finished the fifth grade in the open-air school at the age of fourteen. He had been in this country only four years. His first position was in a tailor shop, where he worked for one year, but finally left because the steam in the shop made him sick.

Henry W______ left the open-air school at fourteen, having finished the sixth grade. His first job was in a drug store, where he worked as errand boy. He held this position for two and a half years, and was then laid off. He next worked as errand boy for a ready-made clothing concern, but at the end of six months the firm failed. Then he worked in a wholesale house for two and a half years, but the dust in the room where he worked was bad for him, and the manager advised him to leave on account of his physical condition and to find out-of-door employment. He was then twenty years of age and was faced with the difficult problem of finding "light work."

Chris J_____ left the open-air school when he was fourteen. His first job was with a contractor for whom he worked as water boy for two months. fie then found a new place as water boy for another contractor and worked for another month. He was then "out of a job" and found work tossing bricks, clearly an unsuitable place for any boy even if he had not been in the open-air school.


Elsie B_____ finished the sixth grade in the open-air school at the age of fourteen. Her father was dead, and as she was the oldest of four children the mother insisted that she leave school and go to work. Her first position was in an ice-cream cone factory, where she earned $2.50 a week, but working conditions in the factory were bad, and she was unable to keep the position more than two or three weeks. She was fortunate in coming under the observation of the school nurse who sent her to a social agency for advice. A scholarship was then provided so that she might go to the Hull-House Trade School and not be sent back to work until she was older and stronger.

Another group of children whose physical condition frequently makes it unsuitable for them to go to work are the children of the women who are receiving "widows' pensions" from the juvenile Court. The court has set a high standard of relief and of care for these children, but in general they are in a very anaemic condition when they come under the care of the court, probably because of privation during their father's illness. These children are all examined by a physician, and although not physically incapacitated they are underfed and frequently undersized and too weak for any of the "jobs" that are available for them. It is, however, illegal for the court to grant any money for the care of any child after his fourteenth birthday, when the law permits him to go to work.

While excellent work has been done recently by the Bureau of Employment Supervision through its Volunteer Scholarship Committee by securing the return to school and special vocational training for delicate children, this committee can at best meet the needs of only a small proportion of the children needing care. A study of their scholarship cases would indicate, however, the great importance of requiring that all children who go to work must meet certain tests of physical fitness. For example, a little girl of fourteen who had been out of school with St. Vitus dance for two or three years before her fourteenth birth-

(303) -day, but claimed a working permit a fortnight after she was fourteen, asserting that she was "well now," was referred to this committee. The child's earnings were so much needed in the home that a scholarship was provided as the only means of keeping her from unsuitable work. Another fourteen-year-old girl, small for her age, had been in the sixth grade seventy-two weeks. The mother said that the child evidently could not learn and there was no use in sending her to school any longer. An examination showed that the child was subnormal, not mentally but physically. The Department of Child-Study reported that she had only the strength of a normal child of twelve, that she was in bad physical condition, and that she should not go to work under any circumstances. It was, however, just an accident that this child was taken to the department for examination, whereas such a report should be required for every child who is leaving school to claim an employment certificate. Nothing can be satisfactory except the systematic examination of every child and a compulsory return to school or to some agency that can provide proper treatment for every child physically unfit for work.

Adequate child labor and compulsory education laws should provide not only that the child who leaves school to go to work should have reached a minimum standard of physical fitness, but also a minimum standard of education. Unfortunately the present Illinois law prescribes no educational qualification for the school-leaving child except an absolutely inadequate and unenforceable provision that if he " cannot read at sight and write legibly simple sentences " the certificate shall be issued only on condition that he is regularly attending an evening school. The law further provides that when there are no evening schools in session, age-and-school certificates shall not be issued to children who cannot meet the reading and writing requirements. Unfortunately, for reasons which will be discussed later, the evening school provision is practically a dead letter.


The educational test prescribed-that of being able " to read at sight and write legibly simple sentences "-would, even if it were enforced, be a wholly inadequate one. And it is important to note that in this matter of establishing a minimum standard of education that must be attained before a child is permitted to leave school Illinois is shockingly behind other states. In New York, for example, a child must not only be able to read and to write simple sentences in English (important words omitted in the Illinois law) but must also have a knowledge of fractions. In practice, it is held that this means that a child must have completed the fifth grade. In Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, and several other states the educational test is equally high or higher, but Illinois has been content to lag behind without attempting to keep its illiterate minors in school.

It is important to note, too, that slight as is the educational test provided, this test is not given to children when they apply for certificates. The statute provides that " the certificate of the principal of a public or parochial school shall be prima facie evidence as to the literacy or illiteracy of the child." It is assumed, of course, that principals will give certificates only to children who have attended their schools, but practice varies with the type of principal in charge. For example, two boys named K_____, belonging to a Polish family that had moved to Chicago from Canada, obtained certificates from a public school principal although they had not attended his school. A social worker who was investigating the case because there seemed some good reason for believing that at least one of the boys was under fourteen expressed surprise that the principal should have issued certificates to children who had not been members of his school. The principal said that he did not usually do this, but that when children had "a hard-luck story, especially last winter," he had given some certificates to boys whom he had examined in his office and considered "worthy" of certifi-

(305) -cates. In this case, the boys could not be proved to be under age and therefore their certificates could not be canceled. But there was equally no proof that they were old enough to work; they were in fact so illiterate and incompetent that they were in work very little of the time, and were becoming demoralized by idleness and bad company.

A somewhat similar case is that of Salvatore C_____, a little boy who was lame and a hunchback, but who had left school when he was only twelve years and nine months old. This child was sent to the juvenile Court for employment by the principal of an elementary school. A lady had found the child on the street and had taken him into the nearest school to see if the principal could do anything for him. Though the boy had never attended this school, the principal gave him a certificate and then sent him on to the juvenile Court to see if a probation officer could not find work for him. The principal of the school, when questioned about the child's age and school record, said that Salvatore had been brought in to him by a lady who said that the boy was in need. He issued the certificate as a matter of accommodation after finding that the boy could read and write "a little."

The children who are given age-and-school certificates fall into two groups: those who have been attending school in Chicago prior to the granting of a certificate and whose illiteracy should be a matter of school record and those who come from outside of Chicago and who have no school certificates to present at the "issuing bureau" as evidence of their right to employment certificates. But whether a child comes from the Chicago schools or not, there is no way under the law of keeping him in school if he is unable to meet the '-reading or writing test." The Chicago child, for example, who is in the first grade and who is therefore presumably illiterate can under the law be granted a working certificate only if he brings a certificate showing that he has enrolled in evening school, and thereafter

(306) his working certificate is to continue in force only as long as the child's regular attendance at evening school is certified weekly by the teacher and the principal. But the law makes no provision regarding the person to whom the report is to be made. The issuing bureau has been in charge of a civil service clerk[3] who has no follow-up machinery and, knowing that the evening school provision cannot be, in general, enforced takes no notice of it. The illiteracy provision is therefore practically a dead letter. Sometimes a school principal refuses a certificate to an illiterate child, but he is probably acting illegally when he does so. And in general the child or the parents find some way of getting the desired paper. For example, an Italian boy, Peter G_____, who had been in this country three years, was in the third grade at the end of the school term in June. He was not fourteen until the following October, but did not return to school in September because he found a job carrying water for a railroad gang. Later when he tried to get a work certificate, the principal of the school refused to give him one on the ground that he had not had enough schooling. The boy refused to return to school, however, and enrolled in the evening class of another elementary school and got a certificate from the evening school principal. When he applied to a social agency for assistance in finding a "job," he had been out of work for nearly a year. He had never been to school in Italy, he could not read or write in Italian, he could not understand anything but very

(307) simple English words, he could not read English, and could write only his name. What a preparation for American life! Moreover, in such cases, the sacrifice of the child's schooling is made in vain. He leaves school to go to work, but he cannot find work. He finds that his employment certificate, which he had obtained with so much difficulty, is of no assistance to him, and he soon becomes discouraged and demoralized. The case of Peter G_____ was discovered when the family applied to the United Charities for help. The father had been ill for two months, the boy, Peter, had had no work for nearly twelve months, and no one else in the family was working.

The cases that have been given show that there is no literacy test enforced in Chicago at the present time as a prerequisite to the issue of working papers. This is, moreover, a matter of public record. Table XXXI shows the grade last at-

Table XXXI Number of Children in Specific Grades Receiving Age-and-School Certificates from Chicago Public Schools, 1904-1907, 1909, 1912-1914
Year ending June 30* Grade Evening School Unclassified, including duplicates Total
1st 2d 3d 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th-12
1914 30 58 252 695 1,584 2,347 2,633 4,034 919 70 1,011 13,633
1913 15 56 203 756 1,622 2,396 2,561 3,257 612 56 1,040 12,583
1912 27 57 259 727 1,816 2,521 2,647 3,204 856 20 1,169 13,303
1909 32 102 348 1,075 2,073 2,579 2,433 2,378 770 33 815 12,638
1907 10 111 332 1,002 1,917 2,396 2,146 2,956 464 57 284 11,675
1906 9 82 302 941 2,030 2,492 2,115 2,131 389 63 87 10,653
1905 7 106 249 981 2,174 2,502 2,355 2,418 488 80 182 11,542
1904 5 88 563 1,294 2,978 2,722 2,514 3,111 493 64 455 14,287
  129 660 2,508 7,471 16,194 19,955 19,404 23,489 5,000 443 5,043 100,296

*Data for the years 1908, 1910, 1911, are not given in the Board of Education reports.

tended by the children who were given employment certificates when they left the public schools. A study of this table, which

(308) covers a period of eight years and shows the grades reached by more than one hundred thousand working children indicates only too plainly that, in general, certificates are issued without any reference to the educational progress of the children who apply for them.

According to this table, in the eight years for which information is given, there have been 129 certificates issued to first-grade children, 660 to second-grade children, 2,508 to third-grade children, and 7,471 to fourth-grade children. The school records show, then, that during a period of eight years more than ten thousand children who have not reached the fifth grade in school were given working papers and that during the last school year for which information is available more than a thousand such certificates were issued. Unfortunately, there are no similar records of certificates issued by parochial schools; but since these schools have a larger proportion of foreign children than the public schools, it is to be expected that their children would be more, rather than less, illiterate than the children from the public schools.

It is to be hoped that the next Illinois legislature will not shirk the task of prescribing tests both of physical development and of educational qualifications which will prevent the early exhaustion of these young wage-earners and at the same time lay the foundations for a more competent citizenship. The following changes in the Illinois compulsory education law are suggested as necessary if the purpose of the law is to be fulfilled and the issuance of working papers is really to safeguard the upper limit of the compulsory age.

I. The abolition of local control over the issuance of working certificates and ME substitution Of a central authority acting through a state bureau or department.-Under the present system in Illinois which leaves the local educational authorities all over the state free to be as lax as they please with regard to the enforcement of the compulsory law, the law will never be ade-

(309) -quately enforced. Difficulties arise first because the local boards of education are frequently lax and indifferent, and secondly because any supervision of the issuing of certificates by parochial and other private schools is, as matters stand, impossible. At present, the state law lays down certain requirements that must be met before a child shall be granted working papers, but the state provides no department and no officials to see that the provisions of this law are enforced. If the issuing of the employment certificates were in the hands of a state department of education, then public and private schools alike would be under the supervision of a competent central authority. In the recent valuable study of the Connecticut employment certificate system by the Children's Bureau it is pointed out that 

the strongest single feature of the Connecticut system and, indeed, the source of most of its other strong features, seems to be the centralization of control over the entire procedure relating to certificates throughout the state in the hands of the state board of education. . . . . Every child who obtains an employment certificate in Connecticut passes substantially the same test of his qualifications, and every child has substantially the same chance of receiving the actual protection of the law.

The report adds that

centralization of control over the issuing and the refusing of certificates as well as over inspection tends to efficiency in enforcement as well as to uniformity in standards.

There may be some question as to how far the state factory inspectors may serve as a unifying force, but as to their inability to enforce satisfactorily an employment certificate system there can be no question. The factory inspector's method must be that of inspection of industrial establishments, and this system can never adequately protect the working child. It is interesting to note that the investigators of the Children's

(310) Bureau who studied the employment certificate system say emphatically that

industrial inspection is only one method of enforcing the law and is probably destined to decrease in importance as methods of locating and following up children are improved.

Furthermore, that while

industrial inspection seems to be essential in the absence of a complete and permanent census of all children subject to legal regulation[4] . . . . it can never be an efficient method of enforcing a child labor law, for children may be here today and there tomorrow and the cost of inspecting all industrial establishments often enough to locate such unstable elements is prohibitory. Therefore the problem of enforcing a child labor law must, like the problem of enforcing a compulsory education law, be approached from the side of the individual child, and school attendance officers must be authorized to go, at their discretion, wherever children go, even if this power means a certain amount of double inspection of industrial establishments. If a state child labor law is to be thoroughly enforced, some state agency must keep a record of the whereabouts of every child in the state, whether at school or at work.


2. Proof of age.-The present Illinois law fails to protect the upper limit of the compulsory period because no satisfactory proof of age is required before a work certificate is issued. The only satisfactory evidence of age is, of course, a copy of the child's birth record, and the issuing of employment certificates cannot be properly protected until an adequate system of birth registration is enforced not only in Illinois, but in other American states. An adequate vital statistics law was passed at the last session of the Illinois legislature, and the state can require fourteen years hence that, before the issuance of an employment certificate, native-born children must submit copies of their birth records. Until that time arrives, the best evidence of age is that furnished by the school records. Greater care, however, should be taken when the certificate is applied for, to learn the child's correct age, that is, the age given at the time he first enrolled in school, and not the age recently assumed in order to obtain a certificate to which he is not entitled. For foreign-born children, copies of birth records should also be required; and since European systems of birth registration are so uniformly superior to our own, this documentary proof of age could easily be obtained. Since the parents are often so ignorant and helpless in the matter of correspondence,[5] a public

(312) official might well be required to send the necessary letters abroad asking for copies of the birth-records of immigrant children.

Leaving the question of the method of issuing certificates and the question of enforcing such standards as are prescribed, these standards should themselves be discussed. A good compulsory school law ought to provide that no child shall be given a certificate allowing him to leave school to go to work unless he had reached a minimum standard of age, education, and physical development.

3. Minimum age.-The minimum school-leaving age should be sixteen years instead of fourteen as prescribed in the present Illinois law. This subject is, however, discussed at length in the following chapter and will not be considered here.

4. Minimum standard of education.-It has been pointed out in the foregoing pages that the present Illinois law contains an absurdly inadequate educational standard, and that even this low standard is not enforced. The minimum standard should not only include reading with facility and " writing legibly," but the words "in English," so sorely needed in our present law, should be added. This minimum educational standard should also include a knowledge of arithmetic up to

(313) and including fractions. Such a requirement would virtually insist on the completion of the fifth grade, which is indeed a minimum of education for the electorate of a democracy! In Illinois, in eight years for which records are available, more than 10,000 children who had not reached the fifth grade had been allowed to leave school to go to work, and 16,194 other children were in the fifth grade at the time of receiving their papers.

Another essential requirement is that school records should not be accepted as a proof of educational fitness. The law should provide for the giving of an educational test by the issuing bureau in addition to the principal's certificate, and it has already been recommended that this bureau should be placed under state control. On this point again the investigations of the Children's Bureau with regard to the working of the Connecticut employment system have been most illuminating. The Connecticut law provides that "in order to obtain an employment certificate a child must be able to read with facility, to write legibly simple sentences, and to perform the operations of the fundamental rules of arithmetic with relation both to whole numbers and to fractions." This Connecticut standard, which is virtually a fifth-grade requirement, was found by the investigators of the Children's Bureau to be lowered by the method of enforcement.

On this point, their report says:

Fifth-grade school records are accepted in lieu of the test in practically all cities and towns, except Hartford, where large numbers of children are employed, and teachers or principals who wish to get rid of backward or troublesome children may therefore be able to promote them out of school into industry . . . . . In many other places this is practically impossible, it is claimed, as promotions are made twice a year as the result of examinations which are checked up in the office of the superintendent of schools. No such check is placed upon private schools, and the state board of education itself uses no method of detecting unearned promotions. The records of

(314) applicants might be examined; but this would be a laborious process as compared with the simple expedient of requiring every child to take an educational test regardless of the grade in school-- a procedure which is unquestionably authorized by the law.

It may be said, then, that the investigation of the Children's Bureau has made it perfectly clear that an educational standard is of little value unless it is enforced by an impartial authority outside of the school system and enforced on the basis of an examination given to the children who are applicants for certificates and not on the basis of reports handed in by local school authorities.

Something should perhaps be said about the mentally deficient children who can never reach even a low educational minimum. Whether or not such children should be permanently under the custody of the state in an educational institution is a question to be discussed by experts. But it is only too obvious that in any event mentally defective children should not be put to work during their minority.[6]

5. Minimum standard of physical development.-Not only should the state require that every child should have reached a minimum standard of education before working papers are issued, but it should also demand that children should meet a certain standard of physical fitness for work and that their condition should be certified by examining physicians appointed by the educational authorities.[7]


6. Requirement that children must be at work or in school.  Finally no employment certificate should be issued until the child has an acceptable promise of immediate employment that can be verified by the school authorities.

This last requirement, which would prevent the waste and the demoralization that now result from the child's tramping about in search of work, will, however, be discussed in the next chapter.

In concluding this chapter, attention should be called to the importance of keeping children in school up to the age limit

(316) prescribed by the law in a state where the age of entering school is placed as late as seven years by the compulsory law. A child who does not enter school until he is seven has, at best, only seven required years of schooling under the present law. He should not be permitted to sacrifice any of this short period of required attendance. In England, where the child is required to begin school at the age of five and in Germany and in some of our American states where compulsory attendance begins at six,[8] the period of required attendance is, of course, longer and the child who escapes before the end of the compulsory period does not sacrifice so much.

The chapter that follows will deal with the present conditions which are the result of leaving the compulsory age limit at fourteen years and attempting to regulate child labor between the ages of fourteen and sixteen


  1. A useful collection of child labor laws has recently been published by the federal Children's Bureau (see Child Labor Legislation in the United States, by Sumner and Merritt). According to the digest of the compulsory attendance laws given in this volume, two states are in mediaeval darkness and have as yet no compulsory education laws. These states are Georgia and Mississippi. The age limit varies in the remaining states as follows: the upper age limit fixed by the law is only twelve years in two states, Virginia and North Carolina. Texas makes the age limit fourteen, and Kentucky makes it sixteen; but both provide "exemptions" for children between cc,, twelve and fourteen, if their labor seems necessary, so that the age limit is really twelve rather than sixteen. In all the remaining states, with the exception of Ohio, the age limit is fourteen. In a considerable number of these states, the nominal age limit has been raised beyond fourteen years, as in Illinois, where it is sixteen years; but since in all these states, children may be exempted for various reasons from the provisions of the law and allowed to leave school to go to work at fourteen, the age limit is really only fourteen. In Ohio, girls must attend school until they reach the age of sixteen, and boys until they are fifteen. Under certain conditions attendance may be required of boys from fifteen to sixteen. In general, therefore, it appears that Ohio is the only state in which the compulsory school age has been raised beyond fourteen without exemptions, and in six states only, including the two southern states which have no compulsory laws, is the age limit lower than fourteen years. Unfortunately, these state laws vary in their effectiveness since very inadequate provision for their enforcement exists in some of the states, particularly those in the South. In Florida, for example, the law is optional with each " special tax school district, school board district, or county," which may determine by an election held on petition of "one-fourth of the registered white votes" whether or not the law is to be operative in that particular jurisdiction. It is gratifying to add that since this volume went to the printer, the exigencies of the presidential campaign have led to the passage of the federal Child Labor bill, which, although it cannot compel the states to keep their children in school, can at any rate fairly effectively prohibit their going to work, which is of course the chief reason for the refusal to make compulsory education effective.
  2. See ante, chap. v, "Parallel Development of Child Labor and Education Laws," p. 73, and Appendix III, p. 403.
  3. It seems hardly necessary to point out that a position which brings the official into such close contact with children and parents at a critical moment in their experience should be filled by a person of dignity and competence. Under the circumstances the Board of Education would do well to place in charge of the issuing bureau a person taken from the group of intelligent and successful principals in whom the children would feel confidence, on whose judgment the parents could look with respect. Such a person could render great service to the other principals by calling their attention to the importance of the part they play in giving the children the preliminary statement of educational requirements.
  4. Children's Bureau Publication. Employment Certificate System in Connecticut, by Sumner and Hanks, pp. 50-51.
    Although the Connecticut law is vastly superior to the Illinois law both as to the requirements set for working papers and as to the means of enforcement, nevertheless the Children's Bureau investigators found serious defects in the Connecticut system which are of interest, since they also exist in our Illinois system. Thus it is pointed out in connection with the statements quoted above: "At present the State Board of Education of Connecticut has, at least theoretically, such a record of all children who are not in school. There are, however, two glaring sources of incompleteness in these records, first, that children engaged in agricultural and domestic pursuits are not included, and, second, that there is no efficient method of registering newcomers to the state. Children are not obliged to have employment certificates to engage in farm and domestic labor. This means not only that children leaving school to go to work in these occupations pass no educational test and are not obliged to fulfil any educational requirements, but also that the names of such children are not on the records of the state board of education. Even if this loophole in the law is not generally known or made use of except in country districts, some record of these children should be kept, it would seem, by the state board in order to prevent their drifting into industrial labor without certificates. As for the registration of newcomers to the State, the school census, even if thoroughly and efficiently handled for that end-which in the absence of any central control is not by any means always the case-is not taken often enough to accomplish the purpose."
  5. The report of the Children's Bureau on the Connecticut employment certificate system, which has already been referred to, makes the following comment on this point: "If a foreign-born child has a passport or other similar paper, he is not obliged to send for another documentary proof of his age; but if he cannot produce such a paper his parent is told to write to the place where he was born for a birth certificate. The agents do not state to whom the child or his parent should write; require no evidence such as a registry receipt that a letter has been written; and demand no proof later, when the child or parent returns claiming that the birth record cannot be obtained, that such is actually the case . . . . . While waiting the receipt of a foreign birth record or a communication stating that it cannot be obtained, the child is not allowed to work but must go to school" (p. 20).
    Further comment on the present practice in Connecticut is made as follows: "Birth registration, it is well known, is more complete in most European countries than in the United States, and copies of birth certificates can very generally he obtained for foreign born children, provided application is made to the proper official and the regular fee is sent. Often, however, parents know neither to whom they should write nor the amount of money to send, and if left undirected they sometimes write to relatives and sometimes, even if they write to the proper official, fail to send the fee" (p. 40).
  6. The report of the Children's Bureau says with regard to the present treatment of these children under the Connecticut law: "No provision is made in the law for the exemption of mentally defective children from the educational requirements. if unable to finish the grade requirement or pass the educational test these children must stay in school until they are sixteen years of age, even though they may be unable to make any progress in the subjects taught" (p. 41).
  7. A recent valuable monograph on Mental and Physical Measurements of Working Children, by Woolley and Fischer (Psychological Monographs, No. 77) contains the following statement as to the present status of this problem:
    "There are very few instances in which any physical standards for the admission of children to industry have been adopted. The rule of the New York Board of Health that children of fourteen must be at least 4 ft. 8 in. in height and at least 80 lbs. in weight if they are to be granted working permits is perhaps the most important instance of the application of a definite physical standard. The Department of Health of the City of New York cannot be too highly commended for having taken this stand on so important an issue. We merely wish to point out that, on the basis of our results, the minimum standards of height and weight for children of fourteen years of age ought not to be the same for the two sexes. The New York standard applied to our own series of 753 fourteen-year-old working children would have excluded nine girls and twenty-seven boys-three times as many boys as girls. The New York department probably avoided this kind of injustice by the rule that any child who fell below the minimum standards of height and weight had the right of further physical examination, and might still receive his working papers if he proved thoroughly healthy in spite of his small size. A difference of standard for the two sexes, however, would obviate the necessity for some of these special examinations. For states which have a minimum age of fifteen years for entering industry, a sex difference in standards of height and weight would scarcely be necessary, since the differences at that age are much smaller than at fourteen.
    " It is possible that other factors of physical development in addition to height and weight may prove to be valuable guides for the acceptance or rejection of youthful applicants for admission to industry. Such a series of measurements as we have presented when interpreted in the light of subsequent industrial histories ought to offer on this point valuable evidence" (P. 246).
  8. This is not the place to present arguments in favor of making the period of compulsory attendance begin at an age earlier than the seven years required in our Illinois law and quite generally in American states. Certainly in the poorer districts of our cities social workers must be impressed with the great loss to children who spend the years between five and seven in such unfavorable surroundings when they might have, if the law required it, the helpful training provided in the public school kindergartens and primary grades. The late enrolment required by our Illinois law is, of course, one explanation of the low school grade reached by so many children who receive employment certificates (see ante, p. 307). If for some reason it is undesirable to require parents to send their children to school at the age of five or six then there is every reason why the law should prescribe not only the attainment of a specific age but also a specific educational standard before granting exemption from compulsory attendance.

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