All the Children

The smallest child in the factories were scavengers……they go under the machine, while it is going……….it is very dangerous when they first come, but they become used to it.”

Charles Aberdeen worked in a Manchester cotton factory, written in 1832.

A Child's Place

Men of business and creative inventors are lauded for their contribution to the rise of the Industrial Revolution, but their success, esteem and wealth was built on the sweat and tears of the most vulnerable of society.  The strength and force of the Industrial Revolution was brought about by tiny hands with courageous hearts. They worked in squalid conditions and suffered abuse and neglect at the hands of employers, overseers and co-workers who lacked compassion and common decency.   Illness and death, ever present within the walls of the cotton mills and the deep pits of the coal mines, visited the youngest most often.

The Industrial Revolution did not give birth to child labour, for children have been involved with work throughout history.  Rather, industrialization was the fertile milieu that nurtured a dramatic increase in the use of children.  Factories and mines required workers to complete relatively simple tasks that could easily be accomplished by children.  Poverty and want produced a workforce susceptible to exploitation.

When there is progress in one area, there is progress in many areas.  Where there is injustice there are those who stand firm in their commitment to humanity.  For if one suffers, do we not all suffer?  The plight of the child workers did not go unnoticed.  Public outcry reached the ears of Queen Victoria and gave way to Parliamentary enquiries which culminated in two important pieces of legislation – the Factory Act (1833) and the Mines Act (1842).

A society is defined by individual choices, the most important being how to care for the next generation.

“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.”
Fred Rogers

72 thoughts on “All the Children

  1. Lovely post, Rebecca. It brings to my mind the words of basketball player Dikembe Mutombo: God put us here to prepare this place for the next generation. That’s our job. Raising children and helping the community, that’s preparing for the next generation.

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    • I LOVE that quote – it is a fitting way to complete this post!!! Thank you so much. I have just placed these words on a sticky note and placed it on my fridge and computer monitor.

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  2. Dear Rebecca, it’s a real pleasure to see that you are back from your holidays!!:) As you say children’s work, unfortunately, goes through history. My husband, for example, and his 10 sisters and brothers had to work (to paint and help the cabinetmaker) regulary in cellar to help the family to survive. I wish you a splendid day. Very best regards Martina

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    • My dear Martina, it is wonderful to be back to blogging and reconnecting within a wider community. How fortunate we are to be able to share insights across the globe. Over the past summer, I have been working on a family history which started when I went through my father’s photos that were in “slide” format. Your comment regarding your husband and his 10 sisters and brothers reminded me that we must remember our personal stories. In so doing we celebrate the life that has been given. Thank you for your comments!

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    • Neither can I, Pauline! I am at once appalled and mystified. I believe there is a connection between the way we treat our children and how we view the rest of our diverse world, whether it be animals, plants, eco-systems. I take great comfort that there are many who seek positive outcomes for all. I love this quote by William Wilberforce:

      “If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.” William Wilberforce

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  3. It’s always so frightening to think of children in factories. And, of course, it still happens in many places in the world. The machines themselves are so beautiful but so powerful.

    It’s good to see you blogging again, my friend.

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    • It is wonderful to be blogging again and reconnecting with this amazing community. I am enjoying my mini-research project on the Industrial Revolution. There are so many similarities with our Technological Revolution. The stories are fascinating, especially those who chose to challenge the status quo. Poverty is truly a “wicked” problem, which is by definition, difficult or impossible to solve because the dynamics keep changing. I keep on thinking of the quote by Soren Kierkegaard, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” I have gained a greater understanding of our current reality by taking a “look back.”

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  4. I’m glad you are continuing your blog on children. Children were and are still the most vulnerable of our society. Even now, children are used, abused and are subjected to danger. We often think that danger to our children is from some bad man or woman way out there someplace or from some third world country, but danger may be closer than we think. How important is our relationship with our children today–what a valuable subject. Thank you

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    • How very well said – thank you for your comments! I often think of the words of Nelson Mandela, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

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    • I agree wholeheartedly. Our ability to communicate and share ideas via new technologies allows us to encourage each other to seek positive outcomes. We live in a fast paced, ever change global world that demands our highest participation. What one generation started many decades ago, we have the privilege of continuing.

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  5. Profound words, “How to care for the next generation”. It’s incredibly sad to see child exploitations continuing in this day and age. Hubby and I have read some horrific reports lately on happenings in the Middle East and it’s heart breaking. I’m not sure if or how there’s a remedy. Sometimes it’s hard for me to wrap my head around it.
    Welcome back to the blogosphere.

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    • Thank you so much for the warm welcome back! I have enjoyed following your adventures over the past few months. The news is indeed heartbreaking and hard to comprehend from such a distance. I’ve been reading about William Wilberforce and his seemingly insurmountable challenge of slavery. He says it best: “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
      To me, the beginning is “knowing.” Our technology gives us the opportunity to share ideas, and encourage each other to seek positive solutions, first within our homes and local communities. Our individual efforts may seem small and insignificant, but joined with the efforts of others, anything is possible. I’ll let William Wilberforce have the last word:

      “We are too young to realize that certain things are impossible…So we will do them anyway.”

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  6. A most interesting post, dear Rebecca… I am guessing that maybe after the Rusian Revolution things changed… But it was a very though process as the very beginning of the Industrial Revolution as you have well highlighted … Mainly to children and women!… Thanks for sharing… Have a great weekend ahead! … Love! Aquileana ❤

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    • Thank you, Aquileana for your presence and comments – much appreciated! Vancouver’s weekend weather forecast: sunshine and fair weather, perfect for long walks. Revolutions change the way we think, the way we act, the way we behave – it is systemic. I have enjoyed looking back at this time because it has given me insight into our present reality. I often wonder what those who live 100 years from now will think of our society. Have a wonderful weekend, my dear friend!!! 🙂

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    • Thank you so very much for joining the dialogue. Children are society’s most valuable asset. They represent our future. How we treat them will determine what that future will look like. That thought gives me pause: to think that our actions have repercussions beyond our lifetime. Have a wonderful weekend!

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  7. Great to see you back in the blogging community Clanmother. This seems to be a very timely post, given the refugee situation, which is so heartbreaking. The line “the strength and force of the Industrial Revolution was brought about by tiny hands with courageous hearts” in particular struck a chord with me.

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  8. Ja, die Geschichte wiederholt sich, es gab Völkeranderungen auch in früheren Zeiten. Zum Beispiel gaben die Gemeinden (Kommunen) in der Schweiz armengenössigen Bürgern Geld, damit sie in ein anderes Land oder nach Amerika auswandern konnten. So sparten diese Kommunen weitere Zahlungen!
    Ich freue mich auf deine weiteren interessanten Ausführungen.
    Sei willkommen. Ernst

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    • Vielen Dank für Ihr Einblick in diese Zeit. Die Geschichte hat eine Art, sich zu wiederholen. Die Frage, die ich frage: Kann ich aus der Vergangenheit lernen? Ihre Kommentare werden sehr geschätzt. Danke nochmal.

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    • Indeed it is! What I find heartening is that progress is being made, simply because we are seeing the need and responding accordingly. There are many voices, many opinions, many ideas – but one thing is certain, we all believe that children are a priority. Child labour laws came into being during the Industrial Revolution because men and women had the moral courage to fight for the rights of these children. We continue in their footsteps.

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  9. I remember learning for the first time about these little children who crawled underneath the machinery for various reasons, and the ruthless way a lot of employers handled those workers. When you discover something in history like that, don’t you wish you had a time machine to go back, educate and change everything ‘before’ it got to that dire situation? But altering history may also have some unexpected dire consequences. Probably just as well we don’t have such machines! 🙂

    Even today there still are employers (in our so called civilised world) who make great wealth from exploiting their workers or even consumers. It’s often done in a very different way, perhaps with loans through banks, or maybe their workers spend unhealthy amounts of time staring at computer screens with high levels of stress. Very different of course, and children are spared the dangers, much has changed for the good, but I’m sure it still exists in a very hidden way.

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    • Thank you for adding to our discussion, Suzy. We may not be able to change the world, but we can change our thoughts and by doing so, we change our world, the people who we come in contact with, beginning with family and friends. I often thing of the powerful words of Elie Wiesel:
      “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

      May we all shun indifference and seek positive outcomes for our world, one day at a time…

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  10. Sorry I missed a piece out there! I meant to say, I learned for the first time about those children in my school history lessons – long time ago. So sorry about that Rebecca, it would help if I finished my sentences! 😉

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    • I agree wholeheartedly – it is difficult to understand the need for more and more, when less suffices. Thank you for stopping by and adding to the dialogue. What has become clear to me as I look back is that there were courageous men and women who worked tirelessly, without compensation, for the rights of the children. Many of these stories are lost in the folds of history, but their contribution is written in the lives of those who benefited from their actions. And that gives me hope!

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  11. A most interesting post, Rebecca. I’ve just completed a poem, not yet published, that I’ve written to take to my writing circle; it’s about child abuse and its consequences. This is a recurring theme for me at the moment. A poem I wrote for a local NPD competition was about children working in a carpet factory.
    I’ve always enjoyed the work of Charles Dickens, who was a children’s champion in so many ways – full of admiration for a man who highlighted their plight.

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    • I would love to read/hear that poem. I agree about Charles Dickens – in fact, I’ll be writing a post on his contribution, which was extraordinary in transforming society’s idea on labour, in particular child labour. I really enjoy following your blog. Have a wonderful day!

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  12. Hello Rebecca 🙂

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2220768/

    The above is a great tv series from my local tv company back in Manchester. I also grew up just down the road from this mill which is now a museum, http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/quarry-bank/.

    I think these are great points you make in these posts, we would visit quarry bank mill from school and one points that was made however was that the workers were housed and given work and compared to people living in city centre Manchester they had lived longer. However at what price, working often all day until late and I am sure suffering abuse, with the fear of being sack held as a constant worry and method of more abuse , yes not good !

    I also remember the fact that many of the kids came into the mills having lost their families or have been abandoned as unwanted, as such they worked all their young lives and in fact all their lives in these places with no where else to go and not possibility of getting out of these conditions .

    Thank you again for such a great post that reflex’s upon these times and the lives of these kids and the adults who worked along side them, they are the forgotten of the so called industrial revolution, it is on their backs that many are remembered my name yet who’s names we do not know !

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    • Thank you Nigel for this TV series – I found the episodes and am looking forward to viewing them in the next few weeks. It is authentic and extremely well documented. I appreciate your comments – they add so much to this dialogue. Children are the link to the future, to the continuation of humanity. They should be our first priority. I often wonder if people forget what it was like to be a child.

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  13. This is an incredibly insightful post. I’ve waited awhile since the last one, and it’s worth it.
    Child labor, slave labor & indentured labor should all be tools of the past. The people who employ(ed) these tactics are an ugly breed.
    I speak out against child labor when it comes up, sign petitions & donate to causes.
    Yet, It’s still here! Child labor still exists.
    Heard from an acquaintance ( awhile back) that the children in the rug factory where she once lived were lucky. After all, they only worked 6 hours a day, went to school for 4 & were fed decently. ????
    Sigh!
    Thanks for this fab post! As someone in the Fashion Industry, I appreciate the lesson on where the wealth comes from.

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    • I agree with you wholeheartedly! Child, slave and indentured labour is unacceptable, especially since we have ample evidence that there are better ways in which to increase productivity. Adam Smith, the pioneer of political economy declared, “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” That was back in the 1700’s!!! I take comfort that there are many people working together to achieve better outcomes.

      Kailash Satyarthi who shared the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize with the courageous Malala Yousafzai, said, “Child labor perpetuates poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, population growth, and other social problems.”

      I think you will appreciate this excerpt from his response to the Nobel Peace Prize, wherein he said that “in our lifetime we can end child labour.”

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      • Thank you, Rebecca, I did enjoy the video. Kailash Satyarthi has a positive outlook, and as he is in the trenches, I will choose to believe him. He is a voice of hope.
        What a world!!!! Man’s inhumanity to man is a theme that needs to die.

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      • Oh Resa, I agree wholeheartedly. Sometimes we feel our actions are ineffective against seemingly insurmountable challenges, but when we come together to problem solve, there is great hope.

        “Today, I see thousands of Mahatma Gandhis, Martin Luther Kings, and Nelson Mandelas marching forward and calling on us. The boys and girls have joined. I have joined in. We ask you to join, too.”

        Kailash Satyarthi

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  14. A concise piece where you really packed a lot of power in your words, Miss Rebecca! So sad to think of children working like that, but it was certainly a common occurrence. Thanks for sharing this important piece of history with us.

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    • Thank you so much for stopping by and for your comments. Every day we make decisions that influence our world; and when we join with like-minded people – oh, what great things we can accomplish, together. May we chose the path of compassion. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Jane for taking the time to add to this dialogue. The past allows us to recognize the areas that need to be addressed within our individual spheres of influence. I especially like the quote by Maya Angelou:

      “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

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  15. So interesting that you are writing about this because I am reading about silver and cooper mining in the old west, and hat making from felt in the UK. Both of which are linked in an odd way. They used mercury to refine the product which led to mercury poisoning in the people who worked in the production. Inhaled mercury posionsing causes tremors, slurred speech, and mental deterioration which is the origin of the term, “mad as a hatter.” You know all this, I’m sure, but I didn’t. We visited Clark’s “The Silver Kings Mansion” in Butte Montana. That’s a long story, but these masters of industry were masters of exploitation. They chewed up families and spit them out when they became ill or maimed or slowly died from their work. So many died early in service to capitalism. And yet work and productivity are so ingrained in our psyches that we equate it with moral good. The influence of puritanism and capitalism combined.
    Now we have people working in cubicles, swilling antidepressants, working in unpleasant situations, wondering why they are unhappy, seeing shrinks like I used to be.
    It took me leaving all this to see.
    I think we have been sold a false bill of goods.
    The more we congregate in cities, dependent on items we purchase, and homes we pay mortgages on, the more enslaved we become.
    Trying to free oneself from this dependence as much as reasonably possible, and returning to a more natural life style is good for our souls and our psyches.
    As The Pope explained, capitalism without compassion is evil.

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    • Cindy – you and I are in accord. We become so immersed in our careers, striving to succeed, to support our families, that we somehow lose track. We normalize our environment, attempting to climb a ladder that is situated in quicksand. We don’t stop and ask, “am I alright?” When I look back at the individuals who stood firm in their belief that there could be a better way, I am encouraged to to the same. Compassion, generosity, kindness – these qualities make up the kindling wood for change, for transformation. And it starts first with us. It’s personal. Today marks the fourth anniversary when I decided to open a new chapter in my life. The adventure continues…

      I had to read up on the The Silver King. I found this link – fascinating!

      http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-copper-kings-precipitous-fall-44306513/?no-ist

      Thank you for your contribution to this discussion. I agree – “capitalism without compassion is evil.”

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