GHDI logo

Elementary School Pupils as Messengers and Workers (1878-1890)

Social reformers understood how adversely child labor affected children’s health and school performance; but they also had to consider the economic pressures facing poor families. The following observations by a Hamburg elementary school teacher (1888-1890) and a clerical school inspector in the city of Greiz (1878) illuminate this dilemma: Some schoolboys allegedly worked up to 200 hours per month in addition to the time they spent in the classroom. On the other hand, one family was driven into desperate circumstances because regulations forbade their eleven-year-old son (who had not yet learned to read properly) from taking employment.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 3

I. Observations of a Hamburg Teacher (1888-1890)

If a healthy, strong twelve- to thirteen-year-old boy seeks to earn a few pennies on his afternoons off from school by providing messenger services for a businessman or doing other kinds of light work and in this way helps alleviate some of his parents’ worries about the family’s daily bread, then this can be endorsed without a doubt. Such activity can harm neither him nor the school, because there is enough time left over for relaxation, play, and quiet intellectual work. Indeed, it may even be beneficial to him insofar as these tasks, which entail a certain degree of responsibility, become a kind of classroom for his later life.

If, however, this employment occupies the boy before 7:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m., or even demands both the morning and the evening, so that each month he puts in over 100 – and even up to 200 – hours of work outside of school; if the nature of his work is such that it requires the full physical strength of an adult; if it not only cuts into the sleep that is so essential to the boy in this most intense phase of his development, but also deprives him of rest on Sunday – then I think we have long since passed the point at which the boys’ bodies and minds and school education can continue without being adversely affected.

I have devoted my attention to these working pupils by taking notes on their number, their age and type of employment, their daily work schedule, the additional hours of work they perform on their afternoons off from school and on Sundays, their hourly wages, and their employers. From these notes, the following items are worth mentioning:

The percentage of employed pupils who work before 7:00 a.m. and after 9:00 p.m. was as follows for the second class:

After Easter, 1888, about 12%;
After Easter, 1889, about 25%;
After Easter, 1890, about 27%.

first page < previous   |   next > last page