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Compulsory Education Overview

Modern compulsory attendance laws were first enacted in Massachusetts in 1853 followed by New York in 1854. By 1918, all states had compulsory attendance laws. One reason for the acceptance by the states of these laws was the belief that the public school was the best means to improve the literacy rate of the poor and to help assimilate an immigrant population that grew at a high rate between the mid nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Another explanation is that as children were required to attend school for a number of years, factory owners found it more difficult to exploit the cheap and plentiful child labor. This argument is substantiated by Alabama’s decision for a period of time to repeal its compulsory attendance law due to pressure put upon state authorities by a company opening a large textile mill in that state. This industry was notorious for its use of child labor.

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