Teaching American History Project Lesson
  Tawnya Gamble

Author: Tawnya Gamble

Unit Title: The Progressive Era

Lesson Title: Child Labor in the Progressive Era

Subject: US History

Level: 12th Grade

Length of Lesson: One 106-minute block class period and one 55-minute period/Part of a 1-week unit on Progressive Era.


The Progressive Era is usually considered to be the time period of 1900-1920. The Progressive Era captures a spirit of age, signifying united Americans with a belief in progress. Changes in population, culture, capitalism, and an increase in population, led to sweeping changes in the life of many Americans. This brought on a desire to reform some of the many problems in American society. 

The Unites States population went from approximately 7 million people. There was an influx of immigrants to the cities fighting for low-paying jobs requiring long hours of often dangerous labor. Pay was so low, many families were forced to send their young children into the work force in order to survive. As soon as they were old enough, children were sent into factories, ship yards, mills, coal mines, and more to work long hours for very low pay. 

There were not any laws regulating child labor and it wasn’t until the census report of 1900 that Americans realized the numbers of children who were working to survive. In 1900 approximately two million children were working in mills, mines, fields, factories, stores, and on city streets across the United States. The 1900 census, which counted workers aged 10 to 15, found that 18.2 percent of the country's children between those ages were working. The census report sparked a national movement to end child labor beginning with the formation of the National Child Labor Committee in 1904. The National Child Labor Committee hired Lewis Hine, a photographer, to report and photograph various forms of child labor taking place in the country. 

The purpose of this lesson is to show different aspects of child labor in the United States during the Progressive Era, through primary source documents. Students must have a background of the Progressive Era and the conditions that led to child labor. 



  1. Students will be able to analyze the changes and causes that led to child labor in the United States.
  2. Students will analyze primary source documents on child labor to gain an understanding of the conditions of child labor.
  3. Students will research the background of child labor, Lewis Hines, and their own primary source to analyze


Standards: Nevada History Content Standards and Benchmarks

History Standard 7.0: 1860 to 1920: Students understand the importance and impact of political, economic, and social ideas.
Benchmark 7.12.7 Describe the effect of industrial technology innovations and urbanization on United States social and economic development.
Benchmark 7.12.9 Explain the motivations for groups coming to the United States and describe their contributions to United States society.
Benchmark 7.12.12 Explain the origins and issues involved in the labor movement.


In Class Student Activities:
Students will be placed in groups of 3-4 to analyze photographs 1 and 2 of child labor. Each group will complete a NARA photograph analysis sheet of their selected photograph (worksheet 1). 

Teacher and students will discuss unsanitary conditions, type of labor, ages of children. 

Students will complete web quest at the computer lab using Worksheet 2. In completing the web quest, they will research the history of child labor and the background and photographic work of Lewis W. Hine. 

Students will find their own primary source document on child labor, analyze it and create a story around the child/children in the photograph. 

Students must use 10 terms from the given vocabulary list in creating their story of no more than 100 words.

Download Supplemental Lesson Documents
Worksheet 1 - Photo Analysis
Worksheet 2 - WebQuest
Worksheet 3 - Primary Source Photograph Story
Vocabulary List: Child Labor
Image - Factory
Image - Seafood Workers


Extended Enrichment Activities:

Students will get into groups of 4-5 after they have completed their child labor story. Each student will be given the primary sources used and the stories that go along with them but not in any appropriate order. After reading the stories together, students must determine which story goes along with each primary source photograph and put them together. Each group should be given a different groups’ work to analyze. 

Teacher and students will come back and determine which primary sources were placed with the correct stories and discuss each. 


Materials List:


Evaluation /Assessment:
Assessment will be the completion of the Worksheets 1 & 2 – the NARA Photograph Analysis Sheet and the Web Quest.

Teacher will also assess stories written by students that will include the use of 10 vocabulary words and the proper use of them in the words in their stories stories.


Photograph 1: Scroll down to “The Factory” and use the photograph in the top row of three and the center photo.
Photograph 2: Scroll down to “Seafood Workers” and use the photograph in the top row and the far left photo.

Worksheet 1: NARA Photograph Analysis Worksheet