We Have Marched Together: The Working Children's Crusade

by Stephen Currie

When Philadelphia textile workers went on strike in 1903 to demand a shorter work... read more

When Philadelphia textile workers went on strike in 1903 to demand a shorter work week, included among their ranks were hundreds of child workers, many younger than 12. These youngest laborers were trapped in a system in which economic hardship in their families and the demands of industry for cheap labor saw their childhoods consumed and their futures predetermined. Most would spend their entire lives as mill workers, laboring under conditions that were dangerous, sometimes deadly. Stephen Currie's profile of the Philadelphia strike and the plight of child laborers draws upon interviews with former child workers and other research to paint a portrait of the grueling working conditions for children and adults in Philadelphia's textile mills in the early twentieth century. This becomes the backdrop for his chronicle of the march led by famed labor leader Mother Jones, who took a group of the striking Philadelphia workers, many of them children, from Philadelphia to New York City to focus attention on the strike and the condition of child laborers in America. Currie's balanced narrative is clear about the facts, differing opinions, and gaps in knowledge regarding both labor issues and Mother Jones's crusade. He points out, for example, that no one knows how the children on the march felt about being put on display every time Mother Jones made a public speech, and that some marchers were angry when Mother Jones stayed in hotels while other marchers slept on the floors of union halls. But Currie also highlights Mother Jones's compassion and fierce determination to improve the conditions of workers. Throughout the text, archival photographs of child laborers in the United States during late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries put human faces on the all-too-human tragedy of abuse and exploitation for the sake of greed. (Ages 11-14)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 1997

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