Child Labor

Comments of State Senator Elmer Hough on the child labor law, from Journal of the Senate of the State of West Virginia for the Thirty-Fourth Regular Session Commencing January 14, 1919.

On third reading, coming up in regular order for consideration was read a third time and passed with its title.

On the passage of the bill,
The ayes were:
Messrs. Sinsel (President), Arnold, Bloch, Burr, Chapman, Coalter, Cobun, Dodson, Duty, Fox, Frazier, Gribble, Harman, Hunter, Johnson, Lewis, Luther, Montgomery, Morton, Poling, Sanders, Scherr, Staats, Stewart and York - 26.

Mr. Hough voting "No."

Absent and not voting:
Messrs. Burgess, Kump and Vencill - 3.

Pending the calling of the roll, when Mr. Hough's name was called, that gentleman said:

"In explanation of my vote on this bill I desire to say: At a former session or sessions of the West Virginia legislature, a child labor law was passed, and a compulsory school attendance law, which were in conflict, and the child was made a violator of the law either in the labor department or the school department of the state, and opened. a channel for the child to acquire bad impressions of the law of the land. That is why I made some effort the other day to have the child labor law and the school code law, as proposed to this Senate, compared and harmonized by the appropriate committee before we passed either measure.

The legislature of 1917 attempted to follow the federal child labor law, as we are now trying to do, but, understand, the supreme court has made some adverse rulings on the federal law since.

The child labor law we now have before us is more complicated and its application will work a tremendous influence in shaping the character, habits, and disposition of the growing generation in many ways in the wrong direction, on account of its impracticable application, and with its doctrine largely in direct conflict with moral laws that must be observed in caring for the growing child.

The bill reads well, in theory sounds well, and has the endorsement of many clubs, societies and organizations, who often resolute for publicity and play to the popular chord, and I presume this legislature will enact this bill into law, notwithstanding not a single demand for this bill comes from the people whom the law is intended to benefit.

In my life, I have been closely connected, in an executive capacity, with schools in country, town and city, and I have had much to do with their relation to industry as it affected the humblest family to the family of the millionaire, and I feel that the true education for the youth of today is in industry almost as much as in the school room, and the two should be more closely united under proper moral and civil regulations for the child. But this bill has the opposite effect and widens the breach between the study-room and the industrial training usually craved by the child.

With my experience in a public capacity, I also have with it the domestic experience of raising a family of six sons, and I know the strict application of this bill would have been a handicap, and the strict application of the bill to family, school and industry, as they are related in the first senatorial district, will be impossible in the majority of cases coming within the perview of this bill.

Senate Bill No. 114, now passed, cares for dependent children, and makes operative the mothers' pension law, and our child labor laws should dove-tail with these laws, but this bill does not fit.

The present child labor laws cannot be enforced in the first senatorial district, and I cite one case of four boys being denied five days wages to four different mothers, and five days of their schooling, and five days work and materials lost to employer, and if I had not accidentally seen these boys in their difficulty and helped them to meet the requirements of the law, they would have given up in disgust, or have broken the law by falsehood. This is one of many cases I could cite under misfit child-labor law, which is nothing near as complicated as this bill, the practical application of which, I may say, is well illustrated in the picture drama 'Intolerance.'

The children are not sold, but actually stolen and ripped from the mother's bosom by blind society in its craze for good and patriotic reputations.

The demand for this bill comes, mostly from clubs, societies and organizations which are generally void of the practical experience of the application of the subject matter in this bill, - composed mostly of misguided, well-to-do mothers, women not patriotic enough to own children, disappointed maids, and men lovers of the limelight - all illusioned to reform and save the American youth, but not charged with final responsibility like that of the senators who are obliged to answer for the good or bad in this bill.

I conclude: The practical application of the bill will inculcate into the child disrespect for parent, instil idleness, indolence and laziness in the child, and disgust the American youth with civil laws hard to obey, that are out of harmony with moral law, and interfering with education he seeks and should have, to say nothing of the inconvenience, loss and damage to industry which it will work in the first senatorial district and in the state at large. I am convinced the enactment of this bill into law will be a feeder in disguise to the dangerous unrest now permeating the whole land, and I therefore vote against the bill - 'No.' "


West Virginia Archives and History