The National Child Labor Committee was organized on April 25, 1904, at a mass meeting at Carnegie Hall in New York City attended by men and women concerned with the plight of working children.
They moved quickly to form an organization to gain the support of prominent Americans and to identify the extent and scope of the problem. In 1907 the NCLC was chartered by an Act of Congress and immediately began to garner support and move towards action and advocacy.
One of the first steps took place in early 1908 with the hiring of a tailor’s son from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, a budding anthropologist and photographer, Lewis Wickes Hine. His photographs would awaken the consciousness of the nation, and change the reality of life for millions of impoverished, undereducated children.
In 1912, one of the first goals of the NCLC was achieved: the establishment of a Children’s Bureau in both the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Labor. From 1910-1920, while publishing and disseminating the photographs of Lewis Hine, the Committee worked for the passage of state and federal legislation to ban most forms of child labor and to promote compulsory education in all states. When the Supreme Court ruled that federal legislation banning child labor was unconstitutional the NCLC turned its focus to the passage of a constitutional amendment banning child labor and to continued strengthening of state laws from coast to coast in the 1920s.
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The constitutional amendment fell just a few states short of passage in the early 1930s; the NCLC refused to be discouraged and continued to pursue its goals. The result was the triumphal passage in 1938 of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which contained strong NCLC-designed child labor provisions, and which passed muster with the Supreme Court. During World War II, the Committee kept vigil to make sure that employment shortages caused by the war did not weaken the newly-passed and implemented laws, and that children were not drawn back into the mines, mills, and streets. After the war, NCLC initiated the first national youth employment and training advocacy program to supplement its child labor work. In 1954, the organization added to that initiative with a program designed to underscore the educational and health needs of the children of migrant farmworkers throughout the nation.
Legislation advocated and partly designed by NCLC at the federal level in the late 1950s and early 1960s culminated in 1964 with the passage of the Manpower Development and Training Act, the Economic Opportunity Act and the Vocational Education Act.