Children in the 19th Century

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Children in the nineteenth century were usually faced with poverty and lived in the urban slums. Progressive reformers, who were generally people from small towns who later lived in cities, focused primarily on these children and their problems. The goals of the reformers were to change the meaning of childhood and help people understand how children should really be treated. A child growing up in the nineteenth century was expected to live an adult life by an early age. “In the colonial period in America, once children became toddlers they were considered as miniature adults-in-the-making.” (Twenty-First Annual Report 1901) They would do chores and labor even at the age of six. Some would enter the work force and be exposed to harmful environments. Parents at this time struggled to support their families due to the low wages and unemployment rate. Due to this, children were raised in poor environments and sometimes neglected by their parents. According to a Child Neglect Case, “A girl of four was suffering from an injured knee, and could not leave her bed… The city physician was notified, but was refused admittance by the parents.” (Twenty-First Annual Report 1901) This quote shows that parents, especially those that often drank, did not care much for their children and often showed no attention to their health or well-being. Parents would try to find places to dump their child in order to get rid of the responsibility and fortune it cost to raise them. In order to change the meaning of childhood, progressive reformers created the children’s Bureau. It was an organization started by two women, Julia Lathrop and Grace Abbot, who tried to educate mothers on the proper way to care for their children. The Bureau also collected the first reliable statistics on infant and young children mortality. Mothers would send the Bureau letters of concern dealing with their problems with children seeking advice and help. One mother had wrote, “My mother taught me nothing, I...
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