History ETDs

Publication Date

Winter 12-2019


Child labor was a traditional subsistence and agricultural practice throughout the rural Southwest. Between 1890 and 1940 a series of changes occurred within agriculture, ranching, and rural land/labor patterns in New Mexico and Texas. However, child labor remained a useful economic strategy for families well into this period, because it remained grounded in environmental challenges, cultural practices, agrarian ideologies, and children’s social and physical development. Agribusinesses took advantage of this labor pool, while schools and communities continued to allow children to labor, believing it to be either necessary or beneficial.

Families and children continued to have agency to determine the exact nature of their labors, though economic and political crises of the 1930s and 1940s drove families out of rural lifepaths, so child labor was no longer an effective strategy after those decades. After its real decline, it rapidly transformed into a key piece of rural family and public memory.

Level of Degree


Degree Name


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Jason Scott Smith

Second Committee Member

Barbara Reyes

Third Committee Member

Elizabeth Hutchison

Fourth Committee Member

David Atencio




child labor, family, rural, Southwest, memory, agriculture

Document Type