Mother Jones and the March of the Mill Children

By Penny Colman; The Millbrook Press; 1994; pp 43

Plot: Meet the greatest hell raiser in America. Mother Jones, for the uninitiated, was a tireless crusader for workers’ rights, but especially for the rights of children. In the early 1900s, American children as young as 6 labored for 10 to 12 hours in textile mills, and factory owners encouraged families with six to eight children to apply. In 1903, Mother Jones organized a band of child textile workers—many with missing fingers and bowed backs–and marched them more than 100 miles from New York City to Oyster Bay, New York, to meet then-President Theodore Roosevelt, at his vacation home. Along the way, Mother Jones drummed up support for her cause: outlawing child labor and the need for child education. Remarkably, Roosevelt refused to meet Jones and her army; instead, he met her demands for a federal law prohibiting child labor, by deferring to states’ rights.

Genre: Non-fiction

Reading Level: Ages 8 to 11

Review: Given the recent efforts to deny labor unions collective bargaining rights, Mother Jones is due for a comeback. I chose the 100th anniversary of the tragic triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire to read this book to my children, stopping every several pages to discuss current events. For instance, Main’s Governor LePage is backing legislation that would allow teens to work 32 hours a week at a six-month trial sub-minimum wage. Who do you think employers will hire? (They will hire teens instead of adults.) What do you think will happen to the teens at the end of the six-month trial period? (They will be fired and another teen will be hired.) What do you think adults think of this law? (Are they protesting?) I am not sure kids would pick this book and read it on their own volition, but this is a book whose time has come … again.

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