Jump to Navigation

Children in Kansas - 1890s-1920s

Centennial School in Montgomery County

For most children growing up in Kansas in the 19th century, life was centered around the family farm. When settlers first reached Kansas every member of the family had to work hard to survive, including the children.

While assisting their parents with daily chores, children learned valuable skills they would need as adults.

During the late 19th century childhood was recognized as a separate stage in life. For centuries before, children were dressed as and expected to act as miniature adults. They were considered adults much sooner than children in the modern era, and most were expected to begin careers or families at the age of 16. This shift occurred due to the changing roles for children, who were no longer required to work quite as hard, or become adults as fast. The acknowledgment of this separate stage is reflected in the special clothing and toys produced in this era and the emergence of separate childhood activities.

In 1887 Kansas opened the Soldiers' Orphans' Home in Atchison for children of Union soldiers and sailors. This was the first such facility in the state for children who had lost their parents. At first limited to veterans' children aged five and under, regulations were altered in 1889 to admit all "dependent, neglected or abused children" between the ages of two and 14. The name was changed to the State Orphans' Home in 1909. This home protected orphan children, and gave them a chance to enjoy their childhoods.

School attendance was another important facet in acknowledging childhood. In earlier years children would be schooled at home, if their parents could read or write, or sometimes by a local church. Later towns built schools for children to attend. In the 1860s the average school term was around three months. As a rule, older boys and girls went to school during the winter months when they could be spared from their farm chores. By 1920 the school term had been lengthened to eight months and attendance was mandatory.

Kansas was a leader in child labor reform. The state's first major child law in 1905 restricted children under 14 from working in factories, meatpacking houses, or mines. This law impacted nearly 2,000 Kansas children. Today childhood is considered an important life stage. Education as well as playtime are valued developmental activities for children.

Entry: Children in Kansas - 1890s-1920s

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 1969

Date Modified: July 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.