Glassware Manufacturers to Fight Child Labor Amendment

by Mark Nye
Issue No. 235 - November 1992

Sometime before July 1924, the United States Congress approved and sent to the individual state legislatures, a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution that dealt with child labor laws. The July 21, 1924 issue of China, Glass and Lamps carried a report of the American Association of Flint and Lime Glass Manufacturers opposition to the proposed amendment.

The following is part of the text from that report. Unfortunately, the available copy was not complete. However, enough remains to give today's reader an understanding of the manufacturers' position at the time the amendment was proposed. There is no record of Mr. Bennett's (or the Cambridge Glass Company's) position on the issue. Officially, since he was on the Association's Board of Directors, he would have opposed passage of the amendment.

"An organized opposition to ratification of the child labor amendment tot he Federal Constitution in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and other glass-making states, was determined upon at the annual meeting in Atlantic City on Monday, July 14, of the American Association of Flint and Lime Glass Manufacturers.

"The Legislatures of eight or nine states in which the industry is a factor of more or less influence will be asked officially by the Association and personally by its members to refrain from ratifying the amendment on the grounds that it is subversive of, rather than helpful to, the interests of many of the working minors it seeks to protect.

"Bitter denunciation of the amendment was voiced in a long address by Calvin B. Roe, vice president of the Fostoria Glass Co., of Moundsville, W. Va. He assailed it as the offspring of socialist agitation and declared its provisions would lay waste a great multitude of boys, who ordinarily might be perfecting themselves in the rudiments of skillful trades and occupation in which they might, with profit to themselves and to the nation, well spend their lives.

"Thomas McCreary, superintendent of the Phoenix Glass Co, Monaca, PA, also denouncing the amendment, said that employers in the glass industry had submitted too tamely to domination in this and many other matters. He asserted that 90 percent of the organized glass workers knew the amendment to be absurd and that it would rob the industry of many desirable apprentices, but that they too silently followed in the footsteps of Samuel Gompers and other leaders who had espoused the amendment.

"None of the speakers, however, evinced anything but a firm belief that the amendment would be speedily ratified by the necessary 36 states and several counseled the wisdom of doing nothing to oppose the adoption of the amendment by any action. The convention finally voted, however, to peititon the various legislatures in which the industry is a factor, and the sense of the meeting appeared to favor the suggestions of Mr. Roe and others that the manufacturers should back up the petitions by their personal activity in the legislatures".

At this point, the report went on to cover routine business of the annual meeting including the elevation of Mr. Arthur J. Bennett as a director of the organization. After its coverage of routine matters, the report continued with excerpts from Mr. Roe's address.

"Mr. Roe in his discussion of the Proposed Twentieth amendment, which gives Congress power to limit, regulate and prohibit the labor of persons under 18 years of age, said in part:

"The way for its passage has been so carefully prepared along political lines that I doubt if the majority of our citizens even knew that it was being considered by Congress. It was nurtured by union labor, the socialist party and many so-called progressives working within both old political parties. These elements also very carefully and skillfully guided a dozen or more National Women's organizations, all of whom are welfare enthusiasts, to aid and support this proposition. Sentiment in its favor was so carefully developed that few members of Congress had the courage to dispute its passage for fear their motives would be questioned. However, some strong arguments were advanced against its passage, but Congress seems to have been led to believe that this amendment was what the voters back home wanted, so they passed it.

"As you know, Congress has already passed two Child Labor Laws that were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, so now they propose to change the Constitution to satisfy those designing persons who for years have been guiding their forces favoring Federal laws on this subject. Their object is not so much to protect the childhood of America, or to increase the demand for labor, but through the enforcement laws that will naturally have to follow the adoption of this amendment to make it effective they expect to be able to very materially change the form of this government.

"To prohibit a boy or girl from engaging in industrial employment until he or she reaches the age of 16 or 18 years is an injustice to the child. When an ambitious child attains the age of 16 he begins to feel that he should be making proper use of this time and should be earning money that he really can call his own. He should have as wide a field as possible from which to choose his work so that he can find by experience the work for which he is best fitted. Under the present Child Labor Law the child is prohibited from working at many jobs which would not prove detrimental to the development of the child. Why make it worse?

"There are those who believe they have the child's interest at heart when they make laws that prevent him from seeking employment, but they have carried the idea so far that they are really working against the child. Especially is this true of those children to whom education makes no appeal; they will not study and when forced to attend school idle away their time or find ways to keep from studying. These children learn by actual participation rather than through study and the present laws deny them the privilege of seeking employment that would prove interesting and profitable.

"If a child grows up in idleness he is likely to remain an idler. To get best results out of a machine we must keep it oiled and running smoothly. If we permit it to idle for a number of years a great deal of work is required to get it in running condition and those years have been years of waste."

At this point the report continued on to another page, which was not present.

The proposed amendment was not ratified by the necessary 36 state legislatures and thus did not become a part of the United States Constitution. (In 1932, an amendment dealing with the terms of office for President, Vice President, Senators and Representatives was proposed by Congress. It was ratified the following year and became Amendment 20 to the United States Constitution).

The glass industry relied heavily on the use of boy labor that was relatively inexpensive. Elimination of boy labor and replacing them with those over eighteen years of age would have greatly increased their manufacturing costs. Because of this, the Glass Industry, and its Trade Associations, were not exactly unbiased participants in the debate.

Change the subject matter, names and dates without changing the rhetoric and the report could have been from a current journal. Nothing really changes!