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Take Action: Working to Stop Child Labor Today

In this lesson, students will first learn about the use of child labor in the cotton mills of North and South Carolina from the 1880’s through the 1920’s by listening to oral histories from former child mill workers. They will also research the use of child labor in today’s world. Students will then brainstorm and implement actions to stop child labor around the world, such as educating themselves and others about the issue, letter writing campaigns to governments and companies, and donating to organizations that work to stop child labor.

Grade 10 - Social Studies
Grade 8 - Social Studies

Classroom Time Needed: 3 class periods, or approximately 3 hours

Learning Outcomes
Curriculum Alignment
Materials and Resources
Additional Websites

Learning Outcomes

Students will know details about the lives of child workers in the cotton mills of North Carolina during the early 20th century.

Students will be able to empathize with former child laborers after listening to their oral histories as they talk about their experiences in the mills.

Students will know about the use of child labor around the world today, and understand the benefits of taking action to stop child labor and participate in civic life.

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Curriculum Alignment

North Carolina Standard Course of Study - Grade 10 Social Studies

Goal 4 : The learner will explore active roles as a citizen at the local, state, and national levels of government.

  • Objective 4.06 - Describe the benefits of civic participation.
  • Objective 4.08 - Participate in civic life, politics, and/or government.

North Carolina Standard Course of Study - grade 8 Social Studies

Goal 5 - The learner will evaluate the impact of political, economic, social, and technological changes on life in North Carolina from 1870 to 1930.

  • Objective 5.01 - Identify the role played by the agriculture, textile, tobacco, and furniture industries in North Carolina, and analyze their importance in the economic development of the state.

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Materials and Resources


Technology Resources

  • Computer and Internet connection, if streaming oral history excerpts from this site
  • Speakers
  • CD player, if burning a CD of oral history excerpts

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Teachers should listen to the oral history excerpts and review discussion questions.

Students should have some basic background knowledge about the Industrial Revolution and the conditions which contributed to the use of child labor.

Activity 1: Child Labor in the Past

This activity will need to take place in a computer lab, school library media center, or other space allowing all students access to information for research.

Briefly review with students the use of child labor during the late 1800's and early 1900's, in industries such as manufacture, agriculture, coal mining, garment work, and street vending of newspapers, food and other items.

Instruct students to research child labor in the cotton mills of the South, and take notes on their research. Teachers may want students to explore this site, or have them research the issue at the school's library.

Activity 2: Listening to the Words of Child Workers

Introduce the concept of an oral history, and discuss their value as we study important events. Mention that oral histories provide a chance for the "regular person" to record his or her experiences, not just the well-known or famous people often recorded in written history.

Explain that students will be hearing short excerpts from longer oral histories with former mill workers, recorded by historians and sociologists from the University of North Carolina in the 1970's.

Hand out the oral history transcript to students.

Play the first oral history - Alice P. Evitt (1 min 31 sec) and ask the following discussion questions:

  • Why did Alice quit her job at the Highland Park Mill?
  • Would you have stayed at work all night without any sleep, or would you have quit, as Alice did?

Play the second oral history - James Pharis (2 min) and ask the following discussion questions:

  • How did James injure his hand?
  • How would you have reacted in his place: a small child with a painful injury and no one to help?
  • How could such injuries have been prevented in the mills?

Play the third oral history - Harriet Herring (1 min 58 sec) and ask the following discussion questions:

  • How old was the young woman who taught Harriet to spin when she started working in the mills? (Approximately 7 years old. Harriet met her in 1919, when she'd been working for 20 years, meaning she began work in 1899. She was born in 1892.)
  • Harriet says that she had traveled across North America and attended 3 colleges before the age of 27, while the young woman had been working in the cotton mill for the past 20 years. What are some of the things you could not accomplish from ages 7 to 27 if you had to spend 10-12 hours a day, 6 days a week working in a cotton mill?

Ask students to describe a typical day for a child mill worker, based on what they've researched and heard in the oral histories. Teachers may ask students to write a brief response or to share ideas out loud as a group.

Activity 3: Researching Child Labor Today

Instruct students to research the use of child labor today, both in other countries around the world and the United States, and take notes on what they learn. Students may use resources in "Websites" or may use the resources in your school's library to complete this research.

Give students enough time to begin researching the issue. Teachers will want to closely guide this research, as difficult issues such as child trafficking and sexual abuse are sometimes discussed in the literature about child labor.

Divide students into small groups, and ask them to share what they learned during their research.

Next, ask students to brainstorm actions they can take to eliminate child labor today. Have one student in each group be the recorder, taking notes on the group's ideas.

Have each recorder write his or her group's ideas on the board, and review them with the class.

Explain to students that they will choose one of these ideas, and implement it to help stop child labor.

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Take Action Assignment:
In groups, we’ve come up with many ideas to eliminate child labor around the world. Choose one of these ideas and complete the action. Finally, write a response explaining what steps you took, how your action will help abolish child labor, and your personal reaction to the issue of child labor. Did your opinion or thoughts on child labor change after hearing the stories of child workers? How did you feel after acting to help stop child labor?

Students should be assessed by whether they successfully completed the action to eliminate child labor, provided justification for how the action will help, and explained their personal feelings and reactions to the issue of child labor.

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Additional Websites

Child Labor in the Past

Child Labor in the Cotton Mills

Child Labor in US History - Child Labor Public Education Project, University of Iowa

Child Labor in America - The History Place

Child Labor Today

Child Labor - Human Rights Watch

Child Labor FAQ's - Child Labor and the Global Village

About Child Labor - Child Labor Public Education Project, University of Iowa

What You Can Do to Help - Free the Children project

Complete oral histories

Alice P. Evitt

James Pharis

Harriet Herring