Jennifer Robin Terry

  • Fellowship year:2016-2017
  • University: University of California- Berkeley
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: United States
  • Dissertation Title: Priceless Breadwinners: The Business of Denying Child Labor in America
  • My dissertation interrogates the intersection of culture, politics, and childhood by examining myths that influenced the exemption of specific sectors from the child labor provision of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The common historical narrative on child labor in America claims that the practice ceased to be a problem with the passage of this New Deal legislation. Yet, my research reveals the error in this assertion. In some sectors, cultural myths regarding the nature of work and childhood influenced legislative exemptions by denying the exploitative reality of certain types of employment. As such, children who worked in these sectors were denied the labor protections extended to other minors under the FLSA.
    My project makes a significant contribution to the historical study of U.S. child labor regulation. Current historiography situates this subject firmly within the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. There has been little attention toward understanding the regulation of child labor in the post-1930s period. This is primarily because historical studies of child labor in the United States tend to draw subject matter from northeastern and southern industries that were covered by the FLSA. As a result, child labor as a topic of historical inquiry has become fixed in time and place. This has rendered other forms of child labor largely invisible to the historical record. The fact that child labor in the post-New Deal period has received little attention attests to the enduring legacy of the myths that deny it. My dissertation begins to fill a void in the historiography by recasting child labor as a modern issue. It also aims to prod further interrogation of the myths that provide the basis for cultural traditions and practices.