Northern Illinois University

Northern Today


April 5, 2010

History professor James Schmidt has a new book out that sheds light on child labor, law and industrial accidents in the United States during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

James Schmidt and the cover of his book

Schmidt will deliver a talk on the book, titled “Industrial Violence and the Legal Origins of Child Labor” (Cambridge University Press), at 2:30 p.m. Friday, April 23, at the Thurgood Marshall Gallery in Swen Parson Hall. 

The book traces how law altered the meanings of work for young people in the United States during this era. Rather than locating these shifts in statutory reform or economic development, it finds the origin in litigation that occurred in the wake of industrial accidents incurred by young workers.

Drawing on archival case records from the Appalachian South between the 1880s and the 1920s, the book argues that young workers and their families envisioned an industrial childhood that rested on negotiating safe workplaces, a vision at odds with child labor reform.

Local court battles over industrial violence confronted working people with a legal language of childhood incapacity and slowly moved them to accept the lexicon of child labor. In this way, the law fashioned the broad social relations of modern industrial childhood.