In this chilling real-life tale of a child's reality at the turn of the 20th century, John Spargo presents how children live, work and die. Focusing on the lives of rural children, Mr. Spargo interviews those who are not privileged and assesses how their children survive. This progressive exposé, published in 1906, corrected widespread misunderstandings about how children lived and survived.
The Plight of the Babies
Babies born into poor turn-of-the-century rural areas simply did not receive enough food on a daily basis. Mr. Spargo interviews one mother, whom he describes as intelligent and devoted to her children, who simply did not have the means to feed her children on a regular basis. Children are noted as lacking schooling in some areas and are described as "rickety" -- that is, unable to stand or walk properly due to malnutrition.
Mr. Spargo ventured into the coal mines of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where children as young as 6 worked, picking coal and bringing the product from the mines. The author attempted to do the job of one young boy and could only stand twenty minutes of work. The boys typically worked 10-hour days. When asked about school and God, one boy responded that "God must work in another mine, because I don't know him." The working conditions were inhumane for any person.
School children had it no better than their rural or working counterparts. The poverty level in the inner cities was at such a state that many children ate only when they attended school. Mr. Spargo ventured into one school district where a young boy, Mike, was washed four times before his various wounds would come clean. After two days of steady food, little Mike still looked as if he would have trouble standing.
John Spargo's Proposals
Spargo used his findings to propose social change in America. He argues that midwives need higher education to reduce infant mortality rates. He proposes that a mother become unemployable for a period of six weeks before and after the birth of any child to promote infant and toddler care and health. After birth, Spargo proposes the state step in to protect the child with laws regulating childhood labor and school attendance. The state of milk and infant food supplies, as well, Spargo proposes, need to be regulated to prevent spoiled milk and infant food from reaching children.
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