Segregation, Integration and Inclusion in Early Years.
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Philanthropists, religious leaders, doctors, journalists, and artists all campaigned to improve the lives of poor children. In 1840, Lord Ashley (later the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury) helped set up the Children’s Employment Commission, which published parliamentary reports on conditions in mines and collieries. The shocking testimony contained in these reports inspired Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous protest poem “The Cry of the Children” (1844). Shaftesbury went on to become president of Ragged School Union, an evangelical organization which established hundreds of schools for the poor. Famous child-savers like Mary Carpenter and Dr. Thomas Barnardo taught in Ragged Schools before opening their own institutions for destitute youths. Dr. Barnardo described some of his missionary efforts in the Children’s Treasury (see ), while investigative reporters like Henry Mayhew tirelessly documented the dire conditions endured by many working-class families.
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The novels of Charles Dickens, the most popular author of the Victorian era, also reveal an intense concern about the vulnerability of children. When Dickens was twelve, his father was imprisoned for debt and he was sent to work in a blacking factory, an incident that haunted him his whole life. His novels are full of neglected, exploited, or abused children: the orphaned Oliver Twist, the crippled Tiny Tim, the stunted Smike, and doomed tykes like Paul Dombey and Little Nell. Like Barrett Browning, Dickens was galvanized by revelations of real-life horrors facing the poor. Oliver Twist (1837) was written in response to the draconian New Poor Law of 1834, which had been inspired by the theories of utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham. This law relegated the needy to prison-like institutions called workhouses, splitting up families and subjecting them to repugnant living conditions and hard labor.
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Poor children who survived infancy were often put to work at an early age. In the 1830s and 40s, many children labored in textile mills and coal mines, where working conditions often proved deadly. Girls as young as five went into domestic service as nurses or maids to wealthy families. Rural children worked on farms or in cottage industries, while thousands of urban children worked as street hawkers, selling matches or sweeping crossings (see ). Child labor was not new, but as industrialization continued it became more visible, as masses of ragged, stunted children crowded the city streets.