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Keating-Owen Child Labor Bill, photograph by Lewis Hine, ca. 1916

In 1916 Representative Edward Keating of Colorado and Senator Robert Owen Jr. of Oklahoma introduced a federal child-labor bill. This poster explained that many states already restricted child labor and urged public support for a national child-labor law. The Keating-Owen Act, which prohibited interstate commerce in goods produced by factories employing children, was the first child-labor law to pass Congress.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Keating-Owen Child Labor Bill, photograph by Lewis Hine, ca. 1916

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.