Teach PA History
Dangers in the Workplace   
What to Know
Teaching Time
Teaching time: 2 50-minute sessions
Grade Level
High School
  • Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
  • History
Historical Period
  • Development of the Industrial Pennsylvania - 1877-1900
  • The Emergence of Modern Pennsylvania - 1901-1928

American labor fought long and hard to address the dangerous working conditions that existed in many industrial factories throughout the country. At the beginning of the 20th century most American states had no legal protection for laborers who sustained workplace related injuries. In 1908 Congress passed the Federal Employers' Liability Act, which outlined circumstances under which railroad workers could seek damages for injuries. However, most states had no analogous laws to compensate employees for lost wages and medical expenses incurred due to negligence and dangers in the factories. The work of Crystal Eastman, among other progressive reformers, prompted the creation of worker's compensation laws to address this issue.

This lesson will introduce students to the Pittsburgh Survey and the work of Crystal Eastman and Lewis Hine. Students will act as elected members of the state legislature and examine documents that reveal the horrific conditions under which steel workers labored in Pennsylvania. They will write their own versions of a workman's compensation law and explain the reasons for this law in an open letter to their constituent



Students will be able to:


 1. Analyze primary source documents for key content regarding working conditions in Pennsylvania steel mills.

 2. Analyze photographs to determine the types of dangers that existed in Pennsylvania's steel mills.

 3. Create legislation to address the problems of Pennsylvania workers.

 4. Formulate and express a decision about the need for worker's compensation laws in a letter to their constituents. 

Standards Alignment

  • History

    8.1.12. A. Evaluate chronological thinking.
    8.1.12. B. Synthesize and evaluate historical sources.
    8.1.12. C. Evaluate historical interpretation of events.
    8.2.12. A. Evaluate the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to Pennsylvania history from 1890 to Present.
    8.2.12. B. Identify and evaluate primary documents, material artifacts, and historic sites important in Pennsylvania history from 1890 to Present.

  • Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening

    1.2.12. B. Distinguish among facts and opinions, evidence, and inference across a variety of texts by using complete and accurate information, coherent arguments, and points of view.
    1.2.12. C. Examine the author’s explicit and implicit bias and assumptions, beliefs about a subject, use of fact and/or opinion, and/or the author’s argument or defense of a claim as related to essential and non-essential information
    1.5.12.A Write with a clear focus, identifying topic, task, and audience.
    1.5.12.B. Develop content appropriate for the topic.
    1.6.12. A. Listen critically and respond to others in small and large group situations.

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