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Girl carrying a globe with a fat businessman sitting on top, drawing, ca. 1912

The 1900 U.S. census revealed that nearly two million children worked in mills, mines, fields, factories, and city streets. The shocking revelation set off a national movement to end child labor. The National Child Labor Committee, founded in 1904, joined other groups to lobby Congress for protective laws. Editorial cartoons like this drawing kept the issue in the public eye.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Girl carrying a globe with a fat businessman sitting on top (detail), drawing, ca. 1912

Is Child Labor Law Constitutional?

It took Congress and the Supreme Court decades to agree that federal regulation of child labor was constitutional. Senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana introduced the first federal child-labor bill in 1906. That bill failed, but Congress passed subsequent bills in 1916 and 1919, only to see them struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. Finally, in 1941, the Supreme Court reversed its earlier opinions, recognizing Congress’s power to regulate child labor as stipulated in the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act.

Congress and the Supreme Court have interpreted the Constitution differently on some issues. Through opposing laws and legal decisions spanning a quarter century, the two branches eventually agreed that legislation regulating child labor is constitutional.