The belief that farm work is good for children is deeply rooted in agrarian ideals, which impute a wholesomeness to farming tied to its economic, social, and moral value to society. Nevertheless, in the context of the changing scale of work, community, and new ideas about childhood and education, Progressive reformers suggested that some farm work was unhealthy for children. To separate the agricultural labor that concerned them from the agrarian consensus, they developed a critique centered on education and industrialized agriculture. Restricting children’s labor to allow school attendance balanced two positives for farm children--education and work. Restricting child labor in industrialized agriculture simply recognized its divergence from the family farm ideal. Reformers succeeded modestly along this dual track by the 1930s. The boundaries of the agrarian framework limited further child labor regulation in agriculture, however--not until 1974 were age and hour restrictions on children’s field work applied across the industry--thirty-five years after similar protections had been provided in other industries, and exemptions continued for children working on family and small farms.

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