In the United States, the Civil War had not yet happened, and slavery was still legal. People were already concerned about slavery and advocating its abolition. This theme appeared in the literature of the time, including children’s literature. Frederick Douglass, a former slave, published his autobiography in 1845.
Society was becoming more industrialized and urban. Populations had already started shifting from the countryside to the big cities, and factories were increasing the production of consumer goods.
For many, being a child during these years was difficult. Child labor, even for rather young children, was still legal in the United States and would remain legal, in some form, for many more years. Children growing up on family farms would naturally engage in farm chores, supervised by parents and older siblings, but as the country became more industrialized, children were increasingly used in factories. Concerns were raised about the hours that children worked and the dangers involved in operating certain types of machinery. Poor families and immigrants often relied on money that their children earned to help make ends meet, and industries profited from their cheap labor, which made it difficult to keep rules and limits in place for the children’s welfare.
Children from more affluent families were more likely to focus on education rather than working, although many did not pursue higher education. In those days, not many jobs required college degrees, and more people could get decent jobs with a high school education or less. (Back when I was studying journalism, my teacher explained that newspaper articles are traditionally written at about an 8th-grade reading level (roughly age 13 or 14 in the United States), partly to make them accessible for different age groups and reading abilities and partly because, for a long time, that was about the standard education level of adults who could read.)
The following is a list of the most recognizable works from these years:
- The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (1820)
- To a Skylark by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1820)
- The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe (1827)
- The Book of Morman by Joseph Smith (1830)
- Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville (1835)
- The Tinderbox by Hans Christian Anderson (1835)
- The Princess and the Pea by Hans Christian Anderson (1835)
- Thumbelina by Hans Christian Anderson (1835)
- Peter Parley’s Universal History by Samuel Goodrich (1837)
- The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe (1841)
- The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe (1842)
- The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe (1843)
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
- The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass (1845)