I have a great deal of knowledge about 1912 in the U.S. because I did my master’s degree thesis on that year. I am certain that more than one of you will wonder how I can possibly ask such a question considering what things were like then and what they are like now. I am going to present here what 1912 looked like in many of America’s east coast and mid-American cities. The west coast was not at all developed save for San Francisco, and to a lesser degree, Seattle.
Child labor, such as seen above, was unfortunately very commonplace in 1912. Many states had labor laws restricting children under the age of 14 from working in factories. But states such as South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama had no such laws and children as young as 10 were found in workplaces. The picture above was taken in North Carolina in 1908.
These children were sent to work at such a young age because working class families were having great difficulties in just putting food on their tables. Of course they also had trouble with living conditions, health care, and clothing. They were forced to make choices between buying a pair of shoes or buying a loaf of bread. The people most affected with the new immigrants of the day, mainly eastern and southern Europeans.
The early 1900s saw the rise of the Progressive movement. These were people who immersed themselves frequently in immigrant neighborhoods. Most notably were Jane Addams who founded “Hull House” in Chicago to help immigrant women, and Margaret Sanger who brought her nursing skills to the lower east side of New York to help the immigrant women there. Both women believed that health care in the United States failed to meet the needs of these immigrants. These immigrants clustered in particular portions of America’s cities. These people were viewed as ignorant and draining the resources of the communities they lived in as well as taking jobs for those born in America.
Images like the one above were unfortunately very common in 1912 but are we heading in that same direction today?
In 1912 there was no federal tax on personal income. People took home every penny they earned. Still, America’s wealth existed largely in the hands of a very few. Industrialists of the day joined associations dedicated to their particular product. These associations in turn lobbied Congress to do their will, usually successfully. They convinced Congress that their desires were always good for all Americans.
In 1912 unions were extremely weak, and seldom won any strikes. Industry was largely unregulated. Child labor laws were basically non-existent. There was no minimum wage.
I am not suggesting that we are definitely going to return to just the way it was in 1912, that would be foolish. What I am saying is, there are those who are trying to change existing laws that would effectively return us to a state similar to that in 1912.