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JAMA 100 Years Ago
December 8, 2004


Author Affiliations

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2004;292(22):2791. doi:10.1001/jama.292.22.2791

One hundred and twenty years ago Dr. Percival, of Manchester, England, was asked by the justices of the peace of that city, to inquire into the causes of a serious epidemic among the factory employes. After personal investigation of the conditions, Dr. Percival reported in favor of placing the mills under legislative control, especially as regarded hours of work, which, in his opinion, were so long as to be a contributory cause of disease through confinement and exhaustion. In consequence of his representations the magistrates passed a resolution that they would not allow parish apprentices to be bound to owners of mills in which children were obliged to work in the night or more than ten hours in the day. This resolution is said to be the earliest recorded attempt of any public body to limit the hours of children’s labor. The earliest child labor legislation, therefore, owed its origin to the spirit of scientific inquiry into questions of public health, and it seems proper that this same spirit should still take the initiative whenever public health is menaced through lack of proper legislation.