Monday, May 16, 2016

Schiller on Pearson on the Birth of the Birth Certificate

Writing for JOTWELL's Legal History Section, Reuel Schiller (UC Hastings) has posted an admiring review of an article by Susan J. Pearson (Northwestern University): "'Age Ought to be a Fact': The Campaign Against Child Labor and the Rise of the Birth Certificate,'" Journal of American History 101 (2015). Here's a taste of Schiller's review:
[A]s Susan J. Pearson’s richly detailed article demonstrates, before the political impulse to protect children from the dangers of industrial labor could succeed, the administrative state had to assert its power in another way. The most fundamental obstacle to abolishing child labor was not political resistance from business interests or immigrant families in need of income. Nor was it hostile courts with their concerns about federalism and freedom of contract. The most intransigent barrier to abolishing child labor was the fact that well into the twentieth century, the state had no way of knowing how old somebody was. In a world without state-issued birth certificates, enforcing age-based prohibitions on work was impossible.
This, then, is the story that Pearson tells: how the states and the federal government created the bureaucratic infrastructure to ensure that every child born in the United States had a government-issued birth certificate to verify their age. . . .
Read on here.

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