World War I changed how many governments viewed their responsibilities toward children. While previously they had largely kept their hands off, the war took a huge toll on children’s health, child labor, and education. Governments felt more of a need to step in.
In the U.S., what did the government do around this time?
Congress passed a laws restricting child labor, though it was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the 5-4 decision Hammer v. Dagenhart. Congress then passed a constitutional amendment banning child labor in 1924, but it was only ratified by 28 of the required 36 states.
This May 1919 article explains why:
Before the war it seemed possible for statesmen to ignore the existence of children. What happened to the millions of young people of every great nation was, prior to August 1914, of slight interest to governments. Before the great war, it is perhaps safe to say that no Cabinet meeting of any great power had at any time devoted its full attention to the national problems raised by the very existence of children.
Every government knows now that such neglect is no longer compatible with national safety either in war or in peace. Military mobilization and the great test of industrial efficiency during the war revealed weaknesses appallingly vast. Neglect, it was perceived, was silently doing damage hardly less great than enemy invasion. Because of this realization, and not because of any newfound tenderness for children, governments generally have begun to give serious thought to childhood.
Child labor would only be banned in America in 1938 under FDR, with the Fair Labor Standards Act. And this time, the law was never struck down by the Supreme Court.
Magna Charta of Childhood: Representative of Great Britain, France, Belgium, Serbia, Italy, and Japan Are Joined With Americans in Evolving an International System of Child Welfare
Published: Sunday, May 25, 1919