When we were kids, we spent our days at school and happily playing on the grass, but it would have been very different if we lived 200 years ago. In the 19th century, child exploitation was the norm. Children working in the factory or in the mines from the age of 6 or 8 years. They worked more than 12 hours a day and were paid three to four times less than adults. Ten years before the Jules Ferry Law on Compulsory Secular Education was passed, hundreds of thousands of children were still working every day. In 1868, one in ten workers was under 15 years old. Sleeping in math class is still less stressful…
1. Little Savoyard Chimney Sweeper
From the seventeenth century until the beginning of the twentieth century, children were employed to clean the chimneys of European cities because adults were too old to fit in chimneys. The vast majority of these children came from Savoy (an area that was not French at the time) because their workers were known to be hardy and not dizzy.
Since the Savoyard families were very poor, they hired their children from the age of 6 to go to work in Paris. Employers promised families to feed and house their children, but this was not the case. Children were cruelly exploited (they worked 12 to 14 hours a day) and often had to beg to survive. Many of these little chimney sweepsmen die at a very young age, due to accident or disease.
2. Children in the mines
The first child miners were employed in the mineral mines of the Vosges Islands in the 1570s, and children were important employees because they were the only ones able to enter the narrowest of galleries. The boys pushed the charcoal carts in danger of being run over, and the girls climbed the stairs with blankets on their backs in danger of falling. These children work from the age of 5 or 6 and for more than 12 hours a day. Sometimes they were asked to stay underground for two days in a row for a pittance.
3. Children in textile mills from 4 years old
Children were employed in all kinds of industries, but in France textile mills were the most employed. The small size and flexibility for kids are very useful for cleaning the loom and sneaking back in to re-tie the threads. In the area of Torkoeng in 1790, almost half of the staff were children and it so happened that some drowned in the pits where the wool was washed. The smaller the company, the less control it has, so it happens that girls at the age of 4 or 5 are forced to sew lace for more than 12 hours a day.
4. Child exploitation in the circus
In the 19th century, when school was still very scarce, children were employed in circuses (sometimes against their will) to escape life on the streets. These children, sometimes very young, are either put out there by their parents who get paid or picked up in circuses and theaters after being abandoned.
5. Children in factories in the printing press and glasswork
All over the world, children are considered cheap labour, and France in the 19th century was no exception. Child labor makes it possible to employ all family members at the same time, allowing manufacturers to create a break with more traditional rural business. In addition, lower wages for children put downward pressure on adult wages. In metal forging plants, children from 4 years old are employed to train them as soon as possible. At the Ardèche print business, chiefs ask adults to come as often as possible with their children.
6. Little Parisian ragbis baby
In the middle of the 19th century, the litter box had not yet appeared and waste piled up on the streets of the capital. The slingers are the ones who take care of recovering the waste, sorting it and reselling it as best they can. They are considered outcasts, but they are paid more than some workers and occupy a central position. At that time, 30 or 40,000 people, men, women and children, were engaged in garbage collection every day.
7. Street vendors who sleep outside
Under the old regime, abandonment of children became more than common. In 1787, the number of abandoned children out of a population of 26 million was estimated at 40,000. These children are often entrusted in institutions but still many of them survive from begging or selling on the streets: fruits, flowers, or things of all kinds. Some vendors work on behalf of their parents and cannot return in the evening unless they have raised enough money.
8. Those who worked in the countryside
Since ancient times, child labor has been minimized. Long before children were employed in factories or construction sites, rural children worked with their parents on farms, fields, or businesses. The work was as difficult as the adults, but sometimes they were assigned tasks that required more dexterity or agility. Some rural children were placed as city servants with wealthier families.
9. Children’s sellers in the capital auction
Until the 1950s, newsstands were mostly boys who started working at the age of six. These newspaper owners hired kids to claim the front page and attract the curious. Unlike the kids in the mines, these kids were well treated and didn’t work all day but were clearly underpaid too.
10. Shoe clips
Before 1950, the skimmer’s job was to clean the shoes of townspeople and help them avoid mud with shingles. After the construction of cobblestones and sidewalks in Paris, abrasives became shoe polishers and these positions were often filled by old people or young boys. They are very cheaply paid but the work is less difficult than anywhere else.