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Title page for ETD etd-03302009-185146

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Carter, Linda Kay
URN etd-03302009-185146
Title Evening Schools and Child Labor in the United States, 1870-1910
Degree PhD
Department Economics
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
William J. Collins Committee Chair
Jeremy Atack Committee Member
Kathryn H. Anderson Committee Member
Robert A. Margo Committee Member
Stephen P. Heyneman Committee Member
  • nineteenth century
  • evening and continuing education
  • non-traditional education
  • education history
  • night schools
Date of Defense 2009-03-24
Availability unrestricted
During the nineteenth century, evening schools emerged to facilitate the education of working children and aid in the assimilation of immigrants’ children. To examine the diffusion and impact of evening schools, this dissertation brings together information from the Census, various Annual Reports of the U.S. Commissioner of Education, a number of states’ school superintendent’s reports and factory inspection reports, survey data on working youths in New Jersey, and a variety of secondary sources. I begin by piecing together a detailed history of the expansion and evolution of public evening schools (Chapter II). I then compile and econometrically examine a new dataset to assess the city-level determinants of evening school provision (Chapter III). Chapter IV examines the impact of evening schools on literacy and school enrollment of youths throughout the U.S., as well as the possibility for evening schools to have unintended consequences of drawing day school students into the evening schools and into the labor market. Chapter V augments this account with an exploration of a unique survey of working children in New Jersey that includes information on the length and type of schooling attended by the children.

The dissertation reveals a number of key insights. First, the historical literature emphasizes that the public evening school movement was motivated largely by the belief that education for the poor yielded significant positive externalities, and cross-city regression analysis further reveals that variation in immigrant population size and the extent of overcrowding in day schools had a significant influence on evening school provision. Second, while evening schools reduced the opportunity cost of school attendance by allowing full-time day work, they did not induce anything near universal take up of the schooling opportunity. The case study of working children in New Jersey suggests that the value of children’s time in evening home production and the enforcement pattern of schooling requirements strongly influenced children’s evening school decisions. Third, although evening schools were far from ideal educational settings, the micro-data suggest that they successfully promoted enrollment and literacy for working youths and the children of immigrants.

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