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A colored illustration of a "Match Girl," circa 1820.
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Image of a young girl in ragged clothing, carrying matches and a basket.

Credit: Courtesy of the NYPL digital gallery, New York Public Library

In the early 1800s, American reformers pointed to education as a key to solving childhood poverty, homelessness, and other social problems. By the early 1820s, the "match girl," who staved off starvation by selling matches on city streets, had become a powerful symbol of the poverty that was plaguing American cities, and the injustices of the nation's emerging free market economy.

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