In 1908, Lewis Hine became the photographer for the National Child Labor Commitee. A prudent sociologist as well as talented with a camera, for a decade Hine travelled across the USA documenting the horrors of child labor.
Dressing as a fire inspector or a Bible salesmen to avoid suspicion, Hine snapped the awful and unsafe conditions child laborers were forced to work in, as well as conducting interviews with his subjects to humanise the photographs. Despite enduring persistent threats from factory owners and foremen, Hine’s persisted in his mission, and his photographs were instrumental in reforming child labor laws. As a result, Hine saved future generations of working class children from a similar fate.
There are more than 5,000 photographic prints in total in the NCLC collection, which are currently stored at the Library of Congress. Here are a sample of some the shocking scenes Hine captured – they’ll make you grateful that child labor is no longer an issue in the US.
Giles Edmund Newsom – Bessemer City, North Carolina
While working in the Sanders Spinning Mill, a piece of machine fell onto 11-year-old Giles’s foot, crushing his toe. As a result, he fell onto a spinning machine and his hand went into the unprotected gearing, tearing off two of his fingers.
Maud and Grace Daly – Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
Sisters Maud, 5, and Grace, 3, picked one pot of shrimp a day for the Peerless Oyster Co.
Arnao Family – Brown Mills, New Jersey
The whole Arnao family worked to survive, including three-year-old Jo, her six-year-old brother, and nine-year-old sister.
Frank P – Monongah, West Virginia
Frank P’s legs were cut off by a motor car in a West Virginia coal mine when he was 14-years-old.
Louis Birch – Wilmington, Delaware
12-year-old Louis told Hine he’d recently started working as a newsboy to help support his widowed mother, making just 10 cents a day.
Callie Campbell – Potawotamie County, Oklahoma
11-year-old Callie picked between 75lbs and 125lbs of cotton every day, and carried 50lbs of it when the sacks were full. She told Hine: “No, I Don’t Like It Very Much.”
Salvin Nocito – Brown Mills, New Jersey
Children like five-year-old Salvin were forced to carry pecks of cranberries for long distances to “Bushel men.”
Children Thrashing Corn – Dublin, Georgia
Hine captured these children thrashing corn during school hours on a farm near Dublin, Georgia. According to Hine, corn thrashing was considered “light work” and often fell to children in the area.
Ethel Shumate – Danville, Virginia
When Hine took this photograph of Ethel, she’d been working as a cigarette roller in a Danville factory for six months. She told Hine she was 13-years-old, but he seriously doubted her age.
S.D Ison and Family – Fries, Virginia
S.D Ison supposedly “worked some” according to Hine, but both of his sons on the right had been working in Washington Cotton Mills for four years when this photograph was taken. When Hine asked the smallest worker how old he was, the child didn’t know. But when the child looked to his father, Ison said he was “going on 14.”
Lillian Dambrinio – Bay St. Louis, Mississipi
11-year-old Lillian, who worked as a shrimp picker for Peerless Oyster Co., told Hine that the job “makes her hands sore.”
San Antonio News Boys – San Antonio, Texas
These three brothers started work as news boys every day at 6:00am (except Sunday) and would work until 9:00pm or 10:00pm at night. One of the boys told Hine: “We Don’t Go To School; Got To Sell Papers. Father Is Sick.”