Truancy and Non-Attendance in the Chicago Schools

Chapter 20: The Need of Compulsory Education for Children Between Fourteen and Sixteen Years of Age

Edith Abbott and Sophonisba P. Breckinridge

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In the year 1907 the compulsory education law of Illinois, which had made school attendance compulsory for children between the ages of seven and fourteen years, was so amended as to include all children between the ages of seven and sixteen years. The new law provided, however, that exemption from school attendance might be granted to any child between the ages of fourteen and sixteen years whenever the child was "necessarily and lawfully employed" during the hours when the public school was in session. That is, the new law nominally made school attendance compulsory up to the age of sixteen in one sentence and in the next sentence went back to the old system and provided that children between fourteen and sixteen might be either at school or at work.

The real difficulty with the amended law of 1907 was that once more the parallel development of the child labor and the compulsory education laws had been neglected. The compulsory attendance law could not keep children in school if the child labor law permitted them to go to work. Foreseeing this complication, the authors of the 1907 amendment evidently thought that it would be practicable to make school attendance compulsory for the fourteen-to sixteen-year-old children who were not at work. In practice, however, the provision that children must be either at school or at work has proved to be an unenforceable one. In the first place there is no machinery for keeping track of children between fourteen and sixteen and of finding out whether or not the child who has been given a work certificate is or is not at work. This could be done only if the

(318) compulsory education department or some similar agency were required to keep a register of such children and of their places of employment. In a few states, for example, an employer when he discharges a child is required to return the child's work certificate to the school authorities. When this is done, the child can be returned to school if he does not find work at once.

The Illinois child labor law unfortunately provides (sec. 20 f) that the age-and-school certificate shall be the property of the child and shall be surrendered to him when he leaves one employer to seek another. If the child fails to claim the paper within thirty days, the employer should return it to the education authority issuing it, but there is no penalty provided for the employer who fails to comply with the requirement that he return the child's working papers.

It may be said with regard to the enforcement of the provision in the Illinois law that the child between fourteen and sixteen must be either at work or at school, that at both ends of the line the law breaks down: neither in the compulsory education office nor in that of the factory inspector are there provisions for the enforcement of this requirement. Employers very rarely return uncalled-for certificates, and an additional weakness here is that employers are open to the temptation of using such a certificate for some illegally employed child.

As a matter of fact, the provision that purported to bring children between fourteen and sixteen under the compulsory education law in 1907 was on the face of it wholly inadequate. By exempting from the law all children who were lawfully employed, the provision was made incapable of enforcement. What the law seems to mean is that any child who has an employment certificate and pretends to be wanting a "job" is to be exempt from school attendance, - but, again, no attempt is made to keep a record of fourteen-to-sixteen-year-old children who have not taken employment certificates, and certainly many girls stay at home without them.


Another point to be discussed in connection with the statutory exemptions regarding the children between fourteen and sixteen is the provision that the children between these ages who are excused from school attendance are, in the precise words of the statute, those who are " necessarily and lawfully employed during the hours when the public school is in session," and the question must be raised as to what meaning is to be attached to the words "necessarily . . . . employed." Obviously none at all, unless some machinery is provided for investigating the home circumstances of each child who applies for a work certificate. No such machinery was provided for in the law and during the first six years after the passage of the amendment those charged with the enforcement of the law seemed to overlook the provision that children must be "necessarily employed." In an occasional instance, some principal or settlement worker might persuade a child who seemed to come from a sufficiently comfortable home in which his earnings were not needed, to return to school, but, in general, any child who reached the age of fourteen could obtain a work certificate. After the establishment of the Bureau of Employment Supervision,[1] the social workers employed there found that there were many cases of children who could be persuaded to return to school because their earnings were not needed in the home, and the waste that resulted from their leaving school automatically, as it were, on their fourteenth birthday was clearly demonstrated.

No systematic attempt on the part of the school authorities to enforce the provision of the law that children must be necessarily as well as lawfully employed if they were to be exempt from school attendance seems to have been made until June, 1913, which was nearly six years after the law was passed.

(321) Influenced possibly by the work of the Employment Supervision Bureau, the Department of Compulsory Education then placed an officer in the Age-and-School Certificate Bureau to interview all children applying for employment certificates. During the first few weeks after the close of school when literally swarms of children crowd the issuing bureau, it is of course impossible for a single officer to interview all children applying for papers, but in normal times an effort seems to be made to interview all applicants, supposedly in order to determine whether or not the child's employment is "necessary." If not "necessary," the work certificate might then be refused. In the school year 1913-14 the representative of the Department of Compulsory Education challenged the issuance of a certificate to a little girl, the child of a saloon-keeper, whose earnings were obviously not needed in the family. The child was refused a certificate, but the father in turn refused to allow her to return to school. The Department of Compulsory Education thereupon took the case into the Municipal Court and asked that the child's return to school be enforced under the compulsory law since she was not "lawfully employed." The Municipal Court judge who heard the case decided that the child must be returned to school. The father did not carry the case to a higher court, and it stands therefore as a precedent. The decision, however, seems to have been made, not on the ground that the child was unnecessarily employed, but that she was not employed at all.

More recently a bulletin has been issued from the office of the superintendent of the Chicago schools containing the following statement under the heading "Labor Certificates":

There has been quite 2 measure of uncertainty relative to the spirit of the law In the issuing or withholding of labor certificates when children apply for the same. That portion of the statute which uses the expression "necessarily employed" is susceptible of more than a single interpretation. The attorney of the Board of Education believes that "the spirit of the law is to enforce the edu-

(321) -cation of children for the public good, excepting where individual necessity would make the enforcement of the law too burdensome."

The question of issuing or withholding a certificate when application is made for same should be decided on the merits of each case and from information gathered as to the status of the home life and the ability of the family to provide, without serious sacrifice, for the education of the child. The import of this interpretation renders it within the power of the principal to withhold a certificate should the financial conditions of the family justify the continuance of the child in the work of the school.[2]

Whatever may have been intended by the word "necessarily" in the law, it is clear that it is useless unless provision is made for a systematic investigation of the home circumstances of each child. At present, of course, no machinery exists for making such inquiries.

One further comment may be made with regard to the words "necessarily . . . . employed." Such a provision merely excuses from the benefits of the compulsory education law the children of especially "necessitous" parents. The early compulsory laws which fixed the school-leaving age at twelve or fourteen usually made similar exemptions of children who "on account of poverty" were obliged to work, and it was found that such provisions were objectionable in many ways. For example, the children excused because of poverty were the very ones most in need of education. Moreover it is impossible for the law to define with a satisfactory degree of precision the standard of poverty or necessity that is to entitle a child to exemption from school attendance. As the old exemptions for poverty were dropped for children below the age of fourteen, so must the excuse of poverty be dropped for children between fourteen and sixteen. If school attendance is to be made compulsory for any children, it must be made compulsory for all children.


Another difficulty in the way of enforcing the provision of the law requiring children between fourteen and sixteen to be either at school or at work is that the law provides no way of disciplining the unemployed child who refuses to return to school. The parental school law was passed in 1899, when the compulsory education law provided only for children under fourteen years of age, and unfortunately this law was not amended in 1907 when the "fourteen-to-sixteen" amendment was added to the compulsory law. It will be remembered that the parental school law provides for the establishment of parental or truant schools for the purpose of affording a place of confinement, discipline, instruction, and maintenance for children of compulsory school age.[3] In defining the methods of commitment, however, it is provided that the children are not to be cared for in this institution after they reach the age of fourteen. This means that the Department of Compulsory Education has no machinery for dealing with the wilful truant over fourteen, other than by bringing him into court to receive a reprimand from the judge. The parents, of course, might be brought into the Municipal Court, but in the case of these older boys parental control is weak, even when the parents are intelligent enough to co-operate by exercising their authority. If the boy is really bad or if the home is really degraded, recourse may be had to the juvenile court law and the boy may be treated as a delinquent or as a dependent child under the provisions of that law. But such procedure obviously is applicable only to extreme cases and is not suited to the thousands of boys and girls who need the control and the oversight of the school during these critical years.

The Department of Compulsory Education in Chicago has at different times recommended that special provision be made at the Parental School for boys between fourteen and six-

(323) -teen.[4] But attention must be called to the fact that even if this provision were made, the real problem of proper care for such children would go unsolved until some method could be devised of systematically tracing all unemployed children between these ages.

With regard to the fourteen- to sixteen-year-old children, then, it is as though the compulsory law ignored them entirely, for, although the law says that they must be in school unless "necessarily and lawfully employed," no inquiry into the home circumstances of the child is required by law and the words 'g necessarily . . . . employed " are therefore nullified in practice, no provision is made for ascertaining whether or not children with work certificates are "lawfully employed," and there is no place to which children who refuse to return to school can be committed. On the whole, therefore, it may be said that the attempt made to extend the benefits of the compulsory law to all children under sixteen years of age has proved abortive, and the children are almost as unprotected as if the law ignored them.


The question remains to be asked: What are the facts regarding the present employment of children between the ages of fourteen and sixteen in Chicago, and how far do they support the demand for raising the compulsory attendance age from fourteen to sixteen years for all children? Is the work that is found by children of these ages sufficiently educative and valuable to justify the loss of these two years of school, or are their wages so essential to the support of their family that their employment must be permitted as a means of keeping these families self-sustaining and independent?

Perhaps the most convincing argument for the extension of the child labor law is to be found in the fact that at present there is so little demand for the labor of children under sixteen years of age that it is impossible for more than a small percentage of the children who leave school at the age of fourteen or fifteen to find employment. There is always a demand for unregulated child labor, but when the law prescribes, as the Illinois law does, that children between fourteen and sixteen may be employed only under certain conditions, that they may not work more than eight hours a day or more than forty-eight hours a week, that they may not work at night, that they may not operate certain kinds of machines, then their labor ceases to be profitable to an employer. Unless he can exploit the children who work for him, the employer does not find that it "pays" to employ them at all. Firms that used to employ large numbers of children between fourteen and sixteen years of age in the old laissez-faire days now find protected child labor more trouble than it is worth. Many employers, too, do not care to run the risk of Prosecution because of unintentional violations of the child labor laws. "We don't want to be bothered with the factory inspectors and the trouble about work certificates," is a common explanation of the refusal to employ children under sixteen.


When the law attempts, therefore, to protect the working child, the effect is much the same as if employment were in large measure prohibited, for the children soon learn that there are no "jobs" to be found, and they spend their newly acquired leisure fruitlessly looking for work or idling on the streets. What has happened, therefore, is that by regulating the employment of children between fourteen and sixteen, the legislature has virtually prohibited their employment, but has not required them to go to school.[5] That is, the legislature repeated the mistake it made in 1893 when it took children out of the factories but left them on the street instead of requiring them to go to school., What is needed is that the legislature should now face the fact that the employment of children under sixteen has been virtually prohibited. This prohibition should then be made absolute and the compulsory attendance law should be extended so as to require all children without any "exemptions" to spend these critical and valuable years in school.

Testimony in support of the fact that there are very few occupations open to children under sixteen is not lacking. In the first place census statistics show a smaller number of children employed in 1910 than in 1900 in spite of the increase in child population. Take, for example, the census statistics relating

Table XXXII Average Number of Wage-Earners in Illinois*
Total Number under 16 Percentage under 16
1909 465,764 6,917 1.5
1899 332,871 9,943 3.0

*Estimated on basis of actual number reported for a single representative day. Thirteenth Census of United States, 1910 , Abstract, with supplement for Illinois, p. 709.

(326) to the employment of children in manufacturing industries. The statistics presented relate to manufacturing industries only, but similar data are available for other occupations. Thus, the data given in Table XXXIII which are taken from the last census of occupations show for Chicago a reduction in the number of children in "all occupations." These statistics merely confirm the testimony given by the census of manufactures. The total number of children employed in Chicago fell from 27,527 to 20,490 and constituted 2. 1 per cent of all persons employed in the latter year instead of 3. 9 per cent in the earlier year. It should be noted, moreover, that all children claiming to be wage-earners were included in the occupational census, whether they were at work or not at the time the census was taken.

Table XXXIII Total Number and Number and Percentage of Children Under Sixteen Employed in Gainful Occupation in Chicago, 1900 and 1910*
Total Number under 16 Percentage under 16
1910 996,589 20,490 2.1
1900 705,382 27,527 3.9

*Thirteenth Census "Occupations," pp. 544-46; Twelfth Census, "Occupations," pp. 516-21.

The result of there being so few openings for children and of allowing so many of them to leave school to search for employment each year is that a very considerable proportion of the Children -who get their employment certificates are idle during the greater part of the time. Some statistics showing the number of months that these children are out of work are available in the records of the Employment Supervision Bureau.[6]

(327) An examination of the records selected at random Of 279 boys between fourteen and sixteen, who had left school to go to work two years earlier and whose work records were complete, showed that 10 per cent had not been able to find any work, that 44 per cent had worked less than half of the time since leaving school, and that 56 per cent had worked less than two-thirds of the time, and that only 10 per cent had been employed as much as nine-tenths of the time since they had left school to go to work.[7]

Other statistics are available for another group of 135 children, all of whom had been out of school for periods of from

(328) one to two years.[8] The records of these children showed that 18 per cent of them had never had any work at all, and although exempt from school attendance on the ground that they were "lawfully employed," they had merely been looking for work or idling for a period of not less than twelve months; 6 per cent had worked for periods varying from a few days to one month; 10 per cent more had had work for periods varying from four to eight weeks, and 7 per cent more for periods varying from eight to twelve weeks. In addition, therefore, to the 18 per cent who had been idle for at least twelve months, another 23 per cent had been idle for at least nine months, and 24 per cent more worked three months and less than six months. Summarizing these percentages, 65 per cent of the children had been idle at least six months, one-half or more than one-half of the time that they had been out of school.

Not only are many of these children idle the greater part of the time, but when they do find work, it is largely in uneducative, undisciplinary, " blind-alley " occupations that are likely to lead to nothing but a "dead end" and unemployment in the future. The way to the skilled trades which is through union regulations is almost wholly closed to children under sixteen. The skilled workman, trade-unionist or not, is always opposed to child labor. With reference to this point, the director of the Employment Supervision Bureau in testifying at the hearing of the subcommittee of the Illinois House of Representatives in 1915 on the need of a new child labor bill said:

The trades do not employ children under sixteen. The employers in the more skilled lines of work refuse to take children because they have not had enough training, they are too immature, they are too childish and irresponsible, and employers find that it is an economic waste to bother with them. So we find these children going into the

(329) more unskilled work. The majority go into the box factories where they "turn in," "cover ... .. bind," and "tie", into the candy factories where they wrap and pack candy; and into the low-grade tailor shops where the majority pull bastings and brush clothes, but few do any form of needle-work. They go into the department stores where they are employed as cash girls, as inspectors, as stock boys, and messengers; a few enter the boot and shoe factories where they tie and cut threads, polish and clean shoes, tag and lace and assemble parts of shoes; they go into the engraving shops where they feed a little hand machine; and into the moulding and picture-frame factories where they wrap and carry moulding. A few are employed in the knitting mills where they cut threads, sort, count, tie, and label; a few work in the laundries where they shake and mark clothes., a few are employed in the book binderies where they fold, or feed a wire stitching machine. Many are employed in the novelty shops where they do such mechanical processes as counting and sorting, tying tags, etc., a few are employed in the bakeries where they pack and label; a few are employed in the press-clipping bureaus where they clip items from the newspapers; a great many go into the soap factories where they wrap soap, and into various factories where they do such unskilled work as labeling; and a few are employed in offices.

The child is not learning a trade or doing anything by which he may earn his living later in life. One might readily think that the cash girls in a department store in a few years become sales girls, but the large majority when they are too old for children's tasks, seek employment in low-grade factories because they are unfitted for any special line of work.[9]

It seems to be clear then that the years between fourteen and sixteen are most wastefully spent by the children who are given employment certificates and leave school to go to work, or, more frequently, to drift idly about the streets during this impressionable period of adolescence.

It may be claimed, of course, that in many cases the parents need the children's earnings, but it has already been shown that

(330) small earnings or no earnings at all are the result. Under the present system the poorest people are sorely tempted to make use of the freedom that the law gives them to send their children out to look for work, without realizing that the boy or girl for whom such heavy sacrifices have already been made will be spending the greater part of two years in demoralizing idleness for the sake of an occasional small wage or none at all. The ignorant and discouraged parent, weary of the desperate struggle with poverty, may be excused for wanting some help from the children he is trying to support, but the law should protect both child and parents by making it impossible for the child's future to be jeopardized in a fruitless attempt to meet the family necessities. "She might as well wear her shoes out going to work as going to school," said an overburdened mother who was insisting on putting an undeveloped child to work. "I've fed her for fourteen years and now that the law says she can help feed me and the other children, she's got to do it," was the bitter reply of an unemployed father to a request that his little girl might be allowed to stay in school until she was better fitted for work. "Do please find me a job, missus," was the plaintive request of a small boy of fourteen at the door of a friendly settlement. "My father says I can't come home if I don't get a job, He won't feed a bum, he says, 'No work, no eats.' " Such ignorant or desperate parents need to be protected against themselves. They gain nothing in the end by being allowed to take their children out of school and see them grow into worthless men and women. There can be no doubt that in too many homes, the pressure of poverty is so great that the children, if at work, would be, in the terms of the statute (I necessarily . . . . employed.'' But the "necessity" of the work must be estimated not by the poverty in the home, but in terms of its educative value from the point of view of their later industrial life and their fitness for citizenship. As a matter of fact, the experiences into which these children are

(311) led in securing their jobs, often by overstating their age, generally in a purely casual and accidental manner, in leaving job after job or being laid off, in loafing between jobs, in overstrain, in being victimized by violations of the child labor law, and at best, in work which is monotonous, irregular, or in itself demoralizing, are such as tend in no way toward their proper physical and mental development.

On the other hand, nothing is finer than the eagerness of these poor children to share in the family responsibility. So long as the law gives them any choice in the matter, the children who are most ambitious and industrious are the ones who will feel it their duty to leave school if it means lightening in the smallest degree the family burden. Social workers who come in close contact with the family problems of the poor find innumerable examples of this desire on the part of very young children to assume some part of the family burdens. Thus a little boy from an immigrant Italian family who asked for help in finding work reported that his father was dead and his mother could not leave the three small children to go to work, and he looked upon the finding of a "job" as an imperative duty. When he was told that he was too small and undersized to go to work, he burst into tears, asking, "Who's going to support the family if I can't work?" A similar situation was that of a small Hungarian boy who was found to be working under age. When he was told that his working papers would have to be canceled he, too, wept bitterly and asked over and over again, " Who'll pay the rent ? Who'll take care of the children?" Fortunately in both of these cases the families were found to be eligible for "widows' pensions."

In another family, Elizabeth, who was the oldest of eight children, was very small and had reached only the sixth grade when she attained her fourteenth birthday. Her father was an invalid, and she at once looked upon herself as the head of the family and went immediately in search of a "job." With the

(332) assistance of a charitable agency, work was found in an office where she was to help with the filing, but when it was discovered that she was too small to reach the files, the employer was about to discharge her. Touched by her eagerness in asking if he had not some other work that she could do till she grew taller, because she had a sick father and seven little brothers and sisters to take care of, the employer found a place for her in another department.

There is no desire to minimize the value to the child of the sense of responsibility and family devotion, but this should not become a heavy burden while the child is too immature to carry it. As the child is prevented from allowing his affection for his family to drive him into wage-earning at the age of twelve, so he can be protected at the age of fourteen, when he is likewise too young to assume the responsibilities of family maintenance.

Leaving the question of "necessitous" children, attention must be called to the cases in which children leave school when their earnings are not needed in the home. Many parents in comfortable circumstances who, if required by law to do so, could keep the child in school until sixteen without any hardship or deprivation in the home, are so careless and indifferent or so shortsighted and unintelligent that they take the child out of school the moment the law allows them to do so. Such parents fail to realize the value to the child of the two additional years in school on the one hand, and, on the other hand, they do not understand the unprofitable nature of the occupations open to their children.

The director of the Employment Supervision Bureau on the basis of a careful study of the records of children who had applied for work and whose home circumstances bad been investigated, estimated that, in more than two-thirds of the cases, the families did not need the help of the children who were nevertheless obliged to leave school on the very earliest day the law

(333) allowed. In her testimony before the legislative committee she said that her records showed that the children are more often taken out of school by parents who wish to accumulate property, or who sacrifice the education of the child in order that they may pay the monthly instalment on a piano or some other luxury. In one neighborhood in Chicago where the people are thrifty and nearly all own their homes, the children are taken out of school on the very day they reach fourteen. The little girls go into the tailor shops where they earn as little as $1 a week and the majority do not earn more than $3 or $3.50 a week. There are many children who leave school only because they are fourteen and the law gives them that liberty. There are many who leave because the parents are ignorant of industrial conditions; - they think a child may learn a trade at fourteen, as formerly, but after a few months or a year these children regret that they have left school because they find that industry does not offer the thing they are seeking. But few children will return to school after they have once secured their working permits. There are children who leave school because they do not like school, but the schools are now providing industrial work which appeals to those who are not academically inclined and which will tend to keep more children in school.[10]

The following cases illustrate the waste that is occasioned by the "exemption" from school attendance granted to children who wish to leave school to seek employment between the ages of fourteen and sixteen.

Anna X_____, a clever little Bohemian girl, left school on her fourteenth birthday although it fell on May 17, and she ought at least to have finished the school year. Her father and her older sister had regular work at good wages, and there were no younger children. She had done unusually well in school, but the father would not listen to any argument that she should be allowed to remain. There was no pretext that her earnings were needed, but the father said the mother was away on a visit

(334) and the little girl could do the housework. She was an exceptionally nice child and had finished the fifth grade, although she had been in this country only four years, and she was eager to stay on in school.

Louise Y_____, another little Bohemian girl, left the eighth grade on April 30, the day of her fourteenth birthday, and got a position in a local store at $2.50 a week. The family were in comfortable circumstances, and her earnings were not needed in the home. The father and two older children had good jobs, and there was only one younger child. Her work at the store lasted only a few weeks, and she then applied for assistance in finding other work. An effort was made to persuade her to return to school, but she could not be persuaded and said if she could not find a job she would just stay at home, although she had admitted that her help was not needed in the house.

In some cases, the parents are dead, and the older brothers and sisters demand the child's employment. Such was the case with Anna G_____, a German-Polish girl whose parents were dead, whose brothers earn $33 a week and had only Anna and one younger child to support. They thought, however, that since Anna might lawfully work, she should do so, and by so much relieve them of her support.

Sometimes the parents insist on the child's leaving school because of discouragement at the child's failure to progress in his school work. In the case of an Italian boy, Tony Z_____, his father kept him in school until he was fifteen and then got tired of sending him to school because he "was not learning anything." On investigation it was found that although Tony was nominally in the fifth grade, he could neither read nor write. The principal said that he had promoted him from time to time "to encourage him," but it appeared that he had never sent the boy to the Child-Study Department. When taken there by the social worker who had become interested in his

(335) behalf, he was found to be very subnormal and a fit subject for such a subnormal room as he could have attended in a neighboring school if he had been sent earlier to the department for examination, The father had, however, grown too discouraged to listen to any advice and insisted on taking the child out of school since the law permitted him to do so.

It is sometimes possible to return to school a child who has not finished the eighth grade if his earnings do not appear to be needed in the home, but little effort seems to be made at present to return the child who has graduated. In many cases these children are eager to go on to the high school and realize, as their parents do not, that there is little chance of their finding work before they are sixteen and every chance of their spending the intervening two years wastefully and of not being able to get a good position when they reach the age of sixteen. These children do the same work as those who have not graduated, and have the same difficulty in finding work.

Such is the case of Ethel A_____, an American child with American parents, the father a steamfitter earning $35 a week. In this case the child's parents refused to allow her to go to high school although she was very eager to do so. She applied to the Employment Supervision Bureau for assistance in finding work six months after she left school. An agent of the bureau called at the home and endeavored to persuade the mother to allow the girl to take a business course in a high school, and called the mother's attention to the fact that the girl had had only one week's work during the six months since she had been out of school. The mother wavered, but only temporarily, and refused finally and peremptorily to allow the child to go to school.

Another neat, nice-looking little girl who had graduated from the eighth grade was Gertrude B_____. She had not yet had a position and the Employment Supervision Bureau endeavored to find some office work for her. When she was

(336) first interviewed she was told that someone would see her mother and try to get her returned to school, but she said, " My teacher was over to see my mother and just talked her head off, but it didn't change my mother's mind one bit." The girl looked so young that up to the time of the report it had not been possible to find work for her; but although her father was willing, her mother firmly refused to allow her to return to school.

Sometimes the fact that the child was "graduated" is held by the parents to entitle him to a work certificate, even if he is not fourteen, and if the certificate cannot be obtained, to justify his going to work without one. Such was the case of Max C_____, who was born March 25, 1901, and graduated from the eighth grade in June, 1914. The family was in very comfortable circumstances. The father was a machine operator; a brother, twenty-one, was a moving-picture operator, and an older sister worked in an office. While the boy was still in school and before he was fourteen, he worked after school hours and on Saturdays for a tailor, running errands, and earned $3 a week. He graduated from the eighth grade three months after his thirteenth birthday, but did not go to high school because he did not like school, and he wanted to work. He was not old enough to get a certificate, and therefore worked without one in a coat shop where he earned $5 a week. Three months later he got a job with a vaudeville company, singing, and he earned $23.50 a week. He had traveled with this company for six months before he was fourteen years of age. After nine months he lost his voice and had to give up his position, and is now drifting about.

In such cases as this, the law should protect the boy against himself and his own foolish boyish impulses. In a very considerable number of cases, the parents are anxious to keep the boy in school, but the boy prefers "knocking about" trying different jobs and loafing between jobs. Such boys think of leaving school only because the law permits them to do so.


For example, there is the case of Fred D_____, a bright Italian boy, whose father earned good wages and was anxious to have his boy stay in school. He was in the first year in high school when his fourteenth birthday came, although he was six years old when he came to this country. But he was " tired of school," and although he had no "job" in sight he left school. His father said the law helped him to keep his child in school until he was fourteen, but after that he was left helpless, although he wanted his boy to be better trained and educated than he had been.

A similar case is that of Willard M_____. He came from a good home, did well in school and could perfectly well have gone through high school, but he had just "got tired of school" and decided to go to work. His parents got him a job in a railroad office and he is not doing badly. But he will surely feel later the lack of the further education he might have had.

Thus at present the children who could perfectly well afford to stay in school are now leaving on the slightest pretext because they know that the law permits it. Such children and their parents need the protection of a more adequate compulsory school law, and the state needs the means of thus raising the intelligence of its future citizens.

Sometimes it is a girl who refuses to submit longer to the discipline of the schoolroom. Three girls in the eighth grade who sat together and were unruly were told by the principal that unless they studied more they would be unable to graduate at the end of the year. They forthwith demanded their working papers and left. Fortunately, the vocational supervisor to whom the principal sent them was able to show them how foolish they were and they returned to school.

The case of Della Y_____ is a very good example of a child who did not need to leave school. Her family was in very comfortable circumstances, her relationship to the school was pleasant, and she merely left because the law allowed her

(338) to do so. Della left school two weeks after her fourteenth birthday, although she was in the eighth grade, and the principal reported that she was doing good work and that it was a misfortune that she should be allowed to leave school before her graduation. The family was not in need of her earnings, for the father and an older brother and sister were working. The mother said that she had tried to keep Della in school, but the girl had been offered a position at a near-by dry-goods store, had insisted on leaving school, and had gone to work without a certificate. Within a few days the manager of the store had discovered that the girl had no certificate, had reprimanded the department manager for taking her on, and discharged her. A visitor from the Employment Supervision Bureau where she had applied for help visited the home, and the mother said that she could not possibly get the girl to go back to school, and that if she did not get a certificate and go to work, she would simply be on the street. Another attempt was made to persuade the child to return to school, but it was useless, and the certificate was finally issued.

Much is said about the fact that children get tired of school, as though the school had little to offer them and their continued enforced attendance were perhaps of slight importance. The school is of course sometimes at fault here, since an occasional teacher is guilty of thinking that a troublesome child is learning very litttle (sic) and might just as well leave school as remain to be a nuisance to the teachers. Moreover, it is at least open to question whether or not the schools are doing all they might do to counteract the prevalent assumption that the fourteenth birthday means the end of school, and whether the schools are as yet doing their part in educating children not to think of fourteen as an age of possible withdrawal from school.

This is not the place to discuss, if we were able to do so, the phenomenon of adolescence, but the importance that has been assigned to the fact that the boy or the girl wearies of the sorely

(339) needed discipline of the school seems at times to be given exaggerated emphasis. The schools obviously are not beyond the possibility of improvement, but with all their weaknesses there is certainly no other agency that can so well serve these children at the time when their minds are most eager and awake. It is surely a fatal error that they should be allowed to slip away from the beneficial and illuminating influences of the one educational agency that can reach them, only to be thrown without supervision into uneducative work or into the life of the streets.

The present law requires that children between fourteen and sixteen must be either at school or at work. There are, it has been pointed out, many reasons why the law should be changed and no children allowed to leave school to go to work before the age of sixteen. But whatever the age at which a child is granted an employment certificate, no such certificate should be issued until employment has actually been found for him. That is, no employment certificate should be issued unless the child has a definite promise of a job, such as a signed statement by an employer that he is ready to employ the child on a certain day. The recent report of the Children's Bureau on the Connecticut employment certificate system is emphatic upon this point and says that "if an employment certificate is to be in reality what its name implies and not merely a permit to leave school for any purpose whatever," then it must not be granted unless the authorities have knowledge that the certificate is required for purposes of employment. "On the other hand, if the child has no position promised this requirement prevents him," the report of the Bureau points out, "from getting out of school merely to roam the streets."[11]

Again, whatever the age at which an employment certificate is issued, it is essential that for the first two years after the child leaves school to make the difficult transition into his working

(340) life the school should continue to have supervision over him. That is, although attendance at school may cease to be compulsory provided the child is legally at work, school attendance should be required if he is out of work. The state should take no chances with the demoralizing results of idleness. The boy or the girl who does not work should not be allowed to "loaf " but should be required immediately to return to school. In order to know whether or not children are at work, employers of juvenile labor should be required to send notice when a juvenile worker leaves his employment. There are, of course, difficulties in the way of enforcing such laws. Fortunately, some states have already made experiments with the sending of such notices and there is available some testimony with regard to the best methods of carrying out such a plan. The Children's Bureau, for example, offers much valuable comment on the use of termination notices in Connecticut. To quote again from this valuable study of the Connecticut system:

"The provision that unemployed children must go back to school is the most difficult part of the law to enforce. In the first place it is entirely dependent upon the sending in by employers of termination notices. If the employer fails to send this notice the child may be either unemployed and not in school or illegally employed for months unless he is accidentally discovered .....

"A second reason for the difficulty in getting unemployed children back to school is that no provision is made in the schools for profitably utilizing their time. In some places these children are put in ungraded classes, but as they have already passed the educational test for a certificate this provision does not by any means fill their needs. Where in the absence of ungraded classes they are put back into the regular grades their condition is even more unsatisfactory, for they find themselves in a lower grade than they would have been in if they had remained in school, and at the same time in the company of children who are in many ways less mature than themselves .....


"Recognizing the lack of opportunity in the schools and the lack of welcome there, the agents of the State board of education, instead of attempting to send unemployed children back to school, often attempt to find new positions for them."

Before the return of unemployed children to school can be systematically enforced, special rooms or schools must be provided for them. Otherwise they will, of course, upset the school routine. Moreover, as the investigators of the Children's Bureau point out, " The ordinary schools . . . . are not adapted either to hold the interest of children who have been at work but are temporarily unemployed or to give them the kind of instruction which they need."

A satisfactory program for the care of children who have just completed the period of full time compulsory attendance should require a further period of compulsory attendance during a few hours each week at continuation schools provided to meet the special needs of working children. This is obviously not the place for a detailed discussion of the work of continuation schools. Attention must, however, be called to the fact that boys and girls leaving the public schools to go to work should not suddenly be released from all educational influences and from all supervision and control by the educational authorities. The continuation school, largely developed in Germany and to a lesser extent in England and Scotland, has been devised to meet this need. In the words of Professor Sadler: "The purpose of the continuation school is to provide at convenient hours further instruction for those who have already left the day school and have entered upon the practical work of life whether as apprentices or as independent wageearners or in the duties of the home."[12],


In 1909 the English Board of Education submitted to Parliament the report of the "Consultative Committee on Attendance, Compulsory or Otherwise, at Continuation Schools," and the findings of this committee should be carefully studied in our own country. The committee emphasize the fact that in England as in our American cities and states, the years from fourteen to sixteen are years of "educational leakage," that children of fourteen are not "fitted when they leave the day schools to be transferred to their various callings or occupations without further school attendance"; and the report notes that at present the permanent interests of the community are not protected "from the injury which is done to the character and prospects of individuals as well as to the civic welfare and economic resources of the nation by educational neglect during adolescence and by deteriorative conditions of early employment. The committee find that at the most critical period in their lives a very large majority of the boys and girls in England and Wales are left without any sufficient guidance and care. This neglect results in great waste of early promise, in injury to character, in the lessening of industrial efficiency and in the lowering of ideals of personal and civic duty.

"That there is need in this country for the systematic encouragement of suitable and practical kinds of continued education beyond the now too early close of the Elementary

(343) Day School course is the conclusion which has been reached by all those who have recently investigated the subject."[13]

It is essential, if the continuation school is adequately to meet the needs of these young working children, that attendance should be compulsory and that the working hours of children should be so adjusted that they may be able to attend day sessions. The old method of continuing the education of children leaving school at fourteen was to provide good evening schools for them, which duplicated the work of the day schools and provided for the ambitious boy or girl a chance to graduate from the eighth grade or the high school. It has been proved that this method is wholly inadequate. Young children just leaving school to go to work cannot, without undue fatigue, attend evening classes after a day's work in a factory or an office. The German system of compulsory day continuation classes, which permits no school for working children to be open after seven o'clock in the evening, is the only rational method of meeting this problem.

With regard to the question of making attendance at continuation schools compulsory and not voluntary, attention is called to the following emphatic statement from a recent study of the continuation school:

"If there is one point upon which authorities who have had experience of voluntary and compulsory continuation schools in England, Germany, and America, agree today, it is upon the necessity of a compulsory system. All over Germany one hears the same tale . . . . . . We only adopted the compulsory principle when the voluntary had broken down .. . . . . The desire and power to attend continuation classes does not depend solely on the willingness of the employer to allow such attendance

(344) but on a dozen variable conditions, due to family, health, employment, surroundings, prospects, and so forth. In any case it must always leave out of account just that section of the children who most need the regular influence of humane and sympathetic persons."[14]

The compulsory continuation school provides a definite practicable method of keeping in touch with children after the period of full-time compulsory attendance has come to an end.

Not only are continuation schools needed as a connecting link between the schools and the child who is thrown suddenly into the working world, but there is need also of a bureau of employment supervision which shall save the child the wasteful "hunt for a job" and see that he is placed in work to which he is suited and in which he may advance. Such a bureau will also prove to be indispensable in connection with any attempt to return boys or girls to school when they are out of work. For if the official school employment bureau can find no suitable "jobs" for them, it is obvious that they must be kept in school until such jobs are available. Moreover the existence of such an employment bureau will be of great service if an attempt is to be made to prevent any child from leaving school until a promise of work has been secured for him.[15] This work of supervising and guiding the working child, however, is at present in a large measure palliative. For it is apparent that no method of " guidance " can succeed with uneducated children

(345) too young for any kind of successful work. " Employment supervision " or " vocational guidance " for boys who are allowed to leave school at the fifth grade or earlier and to whom nothing is open but errand-boy jobs or low-grade work in a box factory must necessarily be only a half-way remedial measure. It may succeed in finding for the boy the best employment that exists under the circumstances, but that best will be very poor. That is, no amount of supervision or guidance in finding work will take the place of adequate elementary education. With the raising of the child labor and compulsory education age, the field of work for such a bureau will, of course, be very widely extended.[16]


  1. See Appendix VII for an account of this bureau, which was organized in connection with this investigation into the working of the compulsory law.
  2. Superintendent's Bulletin, February 21, 1916, p. 50.
  3. See Revised Statutes, chap. 122, sec. 140.
  4. The present superintendent of compulsory education has, for example, more than once called attention to the need of such provision for children over fourteen, and in a recent report of the Chicago Board of Education he strongly emphasizes "the necessity for better provision for the correction and care of children between fourteen and sixteen years of age who are beyond parental control and who prefer idleness to school attendance or employment . . . . . The only recourse under present conditions against a fourteen-year-old truant who has committed no other offense than truancy, is to charge him with incorrigible or delinquent conduct and to ask his commitment to the John Worthy School or to St. Charles. The former is a prison school where the worst type of delinquent boys is sent. St. Charles has not sufficient capacity to provide for urgent delinquent cases. it is therefore a question of consistency for one state law to provide for compulsory attendance up to the age of sixteen while another state law-the parental school law-provides for truants only between seven and fourteen years, and bars the truant between fourteen and sixteen. "-Fifty-seventh Annual Report of the Board of Education of Chicago, p. 138.
  5. See chap. v, "Parallel Development of the Illinois Child Labor and Compulsory Education Laws."
  6. See ante, P. 230, note, and Appendix VII for an account of the work of this bureau.
  7. The last report of the Chicago school census taken by the Department of Compulsory Education contains the following statistics relating to children between fourteen and sixteen (School Census, 1914, p. 15):

    Attending public or private schools   73,070
    "Out of school and out of work for thirty consecutive days" 942
    "Working      14,854
    Total population between ages of fourteen and sixteen     88,866

    This table is somewhat difficult to understand because it is not clear whether or not the 942 children who are said to be neither at school nor at work for thirty days are children with employment certificates or children supposed to be attending school but absent from school. Nor is it clear whether the children classified as "working" were actually employed or merely reported as employed because they had been given working papers and were out seeking work. In any event, although to those who have experience in the work of finding "jobs" for children it seems almost incredible that the number of children between fourteen and sixteen who were neither at school nor at work was only 942, yet attention may be called to the fact that if this be the correct number, it must be accepted with the understanding that it gives only a flashlight view of the situation. One thousand children may be out of work. one month and another thousand children out of work another month, and so on. So that during the year several thousands of children would have had the demoralizing experiences of idleness. Since the writing of this chapter a very exceptional situation with regard to the employment of children has developed. See note at end of chapter.
  8. The records of these children were transcribed by Miss Chamberlain, of the University of Chicago. The cases were selected at random from the records that gave the complete employment history of children who had had their working papers for at least one year.
  9. Report of the Illinois Child Labor Committee: Why Illinois Wants a New Child Labor Law: A Digest of What the Sub-Committee Found (1915).
  10. Report of the Illinois Child Labor Committee: Why Illinois Wants a New Child Labor Law: A Digest of What the Sub-Committee Found, p. 5.
  11. Employment Certificate System in Connecticut p. 39.
  12. It endeavors to meet the needs of both sexes. It presupposes a sufficient basis of elementary education but, where that is defective, attempts to supply it. The lower age-limit of its pupils varies according to the age at which boys and girls are released from compulsory attendance at the elementary day school. In the more advanced stages of work the continuation school includes many different forms of adult education. The higher age-limit of its province is therefore undefined. The task of the continuation school thus falls into two main, though not clearly demarcated, divisions-the elementary and the advanced. Its work is in part general education, but increasingly (though by no means exclusively) technical. its function is two-fold: to prepare its pupils for the efficient discharge of the duties of citizenship and to increase their power and skill in breadwinning occupations. For those who leave the elementary school at thirteen or fourteen years of age and cannot proceed to a secondary school, the continuation school attempts to give during adolescence and early manhood or womanhood such opportunities of further training as the exigencies of employment may permit." M. E. Sadler, Continuation Schools in England and Elsewhere, p. 689.
  13. See Great Britain Board of Education, Report of the Consultative Committee on Attendance, Compulsory or Otherwise, at Continuation Schools. Cd. 4757 (1909) 1: p. 16. And see Sadler, op. cit., chap. xxv, "Should Attendance in Continuation Schools Be Made Compulsory in England? "
  14. R. H. Best and C. K. Ogden, The Problem of the Continuation School (London, 1914), p. 56.
  15. This system has been successfully tried in many English cities through the co-operation between the public juvenile Labour Exchanges and the local educational authorities. See our pamphlet, already referred to, entitled "Finding Employment for Children Who Leave the Grade Schools to Go to Work, with its bibliography of English books and pamphlets dealing with the subject. See especially, F. Keeling, The Labour Exchange in Relation to Boy and Girl Labour, and A. Greenwood, Juvenile Labour Exchange and After-Care.
  16. Conditions with regard to the employment of children have suddenly changed since this chapter was written. The abnormal industrial conditions that have arisen from our "war prosperity" and the cessation of immigration have brought a great and pressing demand for labor. The scarcity of immigrant labor has led to a temporarily increased demand for boys and girls under sixteen years of age. Department stores and factories that a few months ago were refusing to employ anyone under sixteen years of age are now advertising for boys and girls between fourteen and sixteen. One of the packing companies in the stockyards is employing children under sixteen to do the unskilled work that immigrants formerly did.
    At present there are not enough boys and girls to supply the demand. Employers complain that they have had "ads" in the daily papers for two or three weeks at a time, yet no one has responded. Firms which paid an initial wage of $4.50 a week are now offering $6.00 a week to errand boys of fourteen. Employers say that their agents have been walking the streets in search of boys and girls. It has not been unusual for an employer to offer fifty cents or a dollar a week more to an errand boy delivering a package to him, in order to get the boy to accept a position with him.
    The situation is demoralizing to the child. The great demand for boys and girls causes them to change positions frequently, and the continual shifting makes for unsteady habits. The principals of the elementary schools say that children who are leaving school have positions promised, and it is the prospect of an immediate job that is causing many to leave school. It is not surprising to find that there are also more complaints that children are working in violation of the child labor law. There is also serious danger of overwork. One employer who has not been able to get enough girls to do his work has been giving work to little girls of fourteen employed in his shop, to take home to do at night.

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