Children in Progressive-Era America

Children in Progressive-Era America


"Newsboys and bootblacks shooting craps," 1912. Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

In This Exhibition

In twenty-first century American society, childhood is popularly understood as a time of innocence, learning, and play. At the end of the nineteenth century, however, children made up part of the country’s workforce, and labored on farms and in factories. When they were not working, they enjoyed great independence in leisure activitiesbe it in a loud city street or a peaceful country lake. Often, children were far from adult supervision.

Reformers during the Progressive Eraa period of social activism and political reform across the United States between the 1890s and 1920stook a great interest in child welfare. Through organizations and legislation, they sought to define what a happy and healthy childhood should be in the modern age. Immersion in nature was central to what the Progressives prescribed, and children’s organizations and camps offered a suitable combination of supervision and open spaces.

The formula for a healthy childhood was further refined in postwar America. Children were given a distinct place in the family and home, as well as within the consumer market with the emergence of teenage culture and buying power.

Credit: This exhibition was created as part of the DPLA's Public Library Partnerships Project by collaborators from the Digital Library of Georgia and Georgia's public libraries: Greer Martin, exhibition organizer.