From the Ashes, 1872-1900
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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May 5, 1879

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This ordinance was approved but the wording was again amended so that the workday was not to exceed ten hours in length. The city's law department had advised that a state act passed that February stipulated that ten hours was to be the maximum workday for inmates of city jails. And the superintendent of the house of correction had protested the eight-hour provision on the grounds that it would be difficult to hire men out for eight-hour days. Also if only eight-hour days were allowed, inmates would be unable to subsidize their upkeep in jail. He argued further that jail cells were stuffy and unhealthy places and consequently inmates would be better served if employed elsewhere for the additional two hours. Since the 1860s labor groups had advocated an eight-hour working day but had achieved only token successes. After the depression of the seventies this reform was championed again with renewed intensity.

The following is a partial listing of the Illinois Bureau of Labor Statistics' findings for adult males in the Illinois work force in 1882.

  Work Hours Per Day Average Daily Salary
Bakers 13 2.16
Blacksmiths 10 2.10
Cigar Makers 8.5 2.00
Laborers 10 1.50
Teamsters 11 1.80

Points to Consider

According to this ordinance, what exactly were jail inmates being required to do?

What was the significance of an eight-hour workday as opposed to a ten-hour one?

Which kinds of employers would have hired prison labor and which kinds of jobs would these prisoners have been employed in?

Should jail prisoners be required to work? Why?

See Related Document:

36 and 50

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