Young and Restless
January 1, 1900
Childhood in 1900 didn't really exist; until the mid-1800s, there wasn't a distinction between childhood and adulthood.
Most people lived on farms and the household was the central economic unit, not an office or factory. Children were expected to work from an early age, to contribute to the family's success, and to keep their opinions to themselves.
The father ruled the family without challenge, and mothers looked after the children's religious and moral education.
Child mortality was high, as a result of infectious diseases like diphtheria, tuberculosis and typhus, and from infections.
In the decades before 1900, all that has begun to change. The infant mortality rate has started to improve. Children are seen as more than little workers - they are seen as emotionally and psychologically dependent beings. They have become sentimentalized, and have been labelled weak, innocent, and vulnerable. Laws have been passed to protect them.
Juvenile courts have recently set up a new criminal system for youth. Previously, for most crimes, children were dealt with as adults. Now, wayward youth are given special consideration.
Recently, many churches have set up youth groups to keep children interested in religion and out of trouble.
As the new century dawns, children only make up about 3.6% of the workforce - down from about 10% in the mid-1800s. Church organizations and secular groups are created just for their welfare, and the courts treat them differently.
Yet, by Y2K standards, their lives are difficult. They work harder and at a younger age, and are much less pampered. They are expected to contribute more and complain less. They are subject to corporal punishment for "discipline and moral correction." Candy is a treat, not a constant. Consumerism, as we know it in the year 2000, just doesn't exist.
If you are a male teenager, you are probably up at 4 a.m. to milk the cows and do your chores on the farm before school, if you make it there. School is strictly a winter activity, and you have to trudge through the snow to the outhouse. If you live in the city and your family isn't well off, you are up at dawn to work long hours in a factory under really lousy conditions. Complaining will get you fired or a shot in the chops.
If you are a female teenager, odds are you're milking those cows too, and then helping your mother sew and make butter before the sun rises. In the cities, you are a live-in domestic servant, working for negligible wages 29 days a month. Book learning isn't a priority for you. On the bright side, you can sleep in until dawn.
In the 1870s, kids younger than 10 were still working in the coal mines, but minimum age laws have changed that. In Ontario, the minimum age to work in a factory is now 14 years. School is compulsory in most provinces until the age of 14 or 16.
In Quebec, school attendance is not mandatory, but the idea is being discussed. Some Francophone Catholics are opposed on the grounds that the State has no right to impose the learning of secular knowledge that "may be useful but also harmful when not based on a sound moral training" that only education under the control of the Church could guarantee. Consequently, for some time, the French-speaking people of Quebec will remain less educated than their English-speaking compatriots.