For example, in England during the 64-year reign of Queen Victoria, the Industrial Revolution became a reality. Thousands of people moved from rural areas into London's crowded, squalid slums.
Adults sought employment in factories and other venues while their children, many as young as 6 years of age, were put to work in impossibly demeaning jobs, which paid a pittance and often endangered their health and their very lives.
-- Chimney sweep: Young boys were small enough to climb into chimneys and sweep them free of the heavy, acrid buildup of soot. The children were often permanently deformed from twisting their bodies into tight places; sometimes they smothered to death.
-- Bootboy: If a young boy were lucky enough to be taken into a country home owned by landed gentry, he might have bed and board in exchange for polishing the boots and shoes of the owner, and of the "gentlemen" who hunted in muddy fields during the day and who needed additional shiny slippers for evening wear.
-- Bird boys: Little fellows might also find work at the "manor house" shooing birds out of the fields from sunup to sunset.
-- Buffer lass: If the bootboy and bird boys had a little sister, she might add another shilling or two to the family income by polishing tableware and sharpening kitchen utensils. It was a job which often claimed little fingers and inflicted serious wounds.
-- Matchgirl: A little girl could earn two shillings a week by standing at a table 12 hours a day making matches. She cut the sticks and dipped them in white phosphorous, which was poisonous. These children were often became ill while being abused and ill-fed.
-- Rat catchers: Owners of taverns and other establishments paid little boys "by the pelt" to catch live rats and put them in sacks. The rats were then thrown into a circular enclosure where dogs devoured them to the amusement of onlookers.
-- Slit-gut girl: Young girls could find employment near the docks where the fishing ship unloaded. They slit the catch, scooped up the entrails, which were sold to flower merchants, who mixed the guts with manures for rose garden mulch.
-- Pure collectors: Before the days of the ever-popular and handy "pooper scooper," little boys were paid to seek out the waste of small animals, scoop up the findings by hand and then turn it over to tanners, who used the foul material in solutions for processing leather.
Without an education or "position," the poor young adults and older laborers had to work in disagreeable, deplorable and dangerous jobs. They had no choice. It was a matter of survival, or go to the "work house" where work for bed and board and the general conditions were equally difficult to endure. Some of these jobs, which were low-paying, back-breaking, dangerous and injurious to health, included:
-- Tanner: Men were required to deflesh and dehair cow hides. Tanners sloshed around in bacteria-laden ankle-deep pools which gave off an unbearable odor and caused typhus and other diseases.
-- Engine cleaner: Steam locomotives had fire boxes which had to be raked clean of ashes. This was a dangerous and exhausting task.
-- Dock porter: Hundreds of men were needed to load and unload cargo from ships which were constantly arriving and leaving port. Heavy bales of sugar, hundreds of other commodities and even timber needed to be lifted and placed in designated areas for further transporting. A wise dock porter tied a string around his knees to prevent the rats which scurried off the ship from running up his britches legs.
-- Stoker: A "bloke" who signed on to shovel coal into the engine-furnaces of steamships. It was heavy work, hot work, unhealthy work and dangerous work. When an education couldn't provide the means toward earning a living, then the lack of it had to depend on the "brawn" to provide, as long as the body and lungs could function.
-- Crossing sweepers: Over 100,000 horses were in the city of London during this period. Ladies wore long, trailing dresses. Crossing sweepers kept the walking crossings swept clean of horse manure, so the ladies would not soil their frocks when they visited the inner city for afternoon tea, shopping and an evening of dining and theatre.
There are many other examples of menial jobs taken by both children and adults during the early days of the Industrial Revolution in England.
Poor children worked as beasts of burden in the coal pits in England and Wales. Their lives and their futures were irrelevant. They had no status and not anyone to raise them above their misfortunes.
How wonderful it is that the boys and girls I saw recently receive their high school diplomas have status in our community; their lives are relevant and important in today's overall society. Because of the education they have gotten thus far, and will attain in the future, speaks volumes of the progress the human race has made with regards to "respecting children" and the vital importance of educating them.