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Primary Sources from the Cutting Room Floor: Extending the Child Labor Primary Source Set

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When the Library’s education team creates one of our primary source sets for educators, the most difficult part of the process is deciding what to leave out. Searching for items to go into the sets often takes us into unfamiliar online collections, leading to unexpected discoveries and then lively debates about which items best represent the scope of the set and will be most useful to teachers. Naturally, making those choices means that many intriguing and useful items get left out of the sets. Here’s a behind-the-scenes peek at some of the items that did not make it into a recent set on Child Labor, as well as pathways to further discovery.

The Background section of the Child Labor Primary Source Set Teacher’s Guide notes that in 1938 “the Fair Labor Standards Act became the first effective piece of federal legislation to regulate child labor.” The pertinent section on child labor is available at LOC.gov in the United States Statutes at Large collection, “the collection of every law, public and private, ever enacted by the Congress, published in order of the date of its passage.” Students in a civics class might explore the Bound Congressional Record, a record of the debate and proceedings that occur on the floor of Congress, to identify and evaluate the debates of the 75th Congress around drafting and passing the law. 

Text of child labor section
U.S. Statutes at Large, Volume 52, 75th Congress, Session 3 (1938).

Another way to find additional items related to the topic is to work from items in the set to find related items or collections. For example, the set includes this cartoon of a woman labeled “The state” leading children away from a factory and toward school. Scrolling to the bottom of the item page reveals a group of “More items like this” that includes additional cartoons as well as an exhibit panel featuring a similar cartoon by the same artist.

Students might also explore the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) collection with a click from any item from that collection. For example, the set includes a photograph of an NCLC exhibit, and searching the collection for “exhibit panel” yields many more examples of the panels that made up the exhibitions. Exploring this way allows students to see the cartoons and photographs as the NCLC used them in their work to reform child labor laws. Another way to find more items from something in the set, such as the cartoon, is to click “child labor” under Subjects in the right column of the item record to discover more items, including legislation and visual images, such as this magazine cover.   

The items in the primary source set can be used individually, combined, or can lead to even more discoveries in the Library’s online collections. Please leave a comment to tell other readers what your students discover!

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