Vintage: American Child Laborers by Lewis Hine (1900s-1910s)

Vintage: American Child Laborers by Lewis Hine (1900s-1910s)


In 1908 Lewis Hine became the photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), leaving his teaching position. Over the next decade, Hine documented child labor, with focus on the use of child labor in the Carolina Piedmont, to aid the NCLC’s lobbying efforts to end the practice. In 1913, he documented child laborers among cotton mill workers with a series of Francis Galton’s composite portraits.

Hine’s work for the NCLC was often dangerous. As a photographer, he was frequently threatened with violence or even death by factory police and foremen. At the time, the immorality of child labor was meant to be hidden from the public. Photography was not only prohibited but also posed a serious threat to the industry. To gain entry to the mills, mines and factories, Hine was forced to assume many guises. At times he was a fire inspector, postcard vendor, bible salesman, or even an industrial photographer making a record of factory machinery.

Boy stands next the machines that he has been working at for some months at the Avondale Mills, Birmingham, Alabama, November 1910

Boy stands next the machines that he has been working at for some months at the Avondale Mills, Birmingham, Alabama, November 1910. Photo: Lewis Hine

Boys after working, Birmingham, Alabama, 1910

Boys after working, Birmingham, Alabama, 1910. Photo: Lewis Hine

Boys climb up on the spinning frame to mend the broken threads and put back the empty bobbins, Macon, Georgia, 19 january 1909

Boys climb up on the spinning frame to mend the broken threads and put back the empty bobbins, Macon, Georgia, 19 january 1909. Photo: Lewis Hine

Boys working in Ewen Breaker of Pennsylvania Coal Co., South Pittston, January 1911

Boys working in Ewen Breaker of Pennsylvania Coal Co., South Pittston, January 1911. Photo: Lewis Hine

Breaker boys, Hughestown Borough, Pennsylvania, 1911

Breaker boys, Hughestown Borough, Pennsylvania, 1911. Photo: Lewis Hine

Newsies at Skeeter's Branch, St. Louis, Missouri, May 9, 1910

Newsies at Skeeter’s Branch, St. Louis, Missouri, May 9, 1910. Photo: Lewis Hine

Midnight at glass works, Indiana, 1908

Midnight at glass works, Indiana, 1908. Photo: Lewis Hine

Infants working in Avondale Mills, Birmingham, Alabama, 1910

Infants working in Avondale Mills, Birmingham, Alabama, 1910. Photo: Lewis Hine

Eight-year-old boy driving horse rake, Western Massachusetts, 1915

Eight-year-old boy driving horse rake, Western Massachusetts, 1915. Photo: Lewis Hine

5-year-old after day's work, was tired and refused to be photographed, Biloxi, Mississippi, 1911

5-year-old after day’s work, was tired and refused to be photographed, Biloxi, Mississippi, 1911. Photo: Lewis Hine

Coal breakers, South Pittston, Pennsylvania, January 1911

Coal breakers, South Pittston, Pennsylvania, January 1911. Photo: Lewis Hine

Coal breakers in break-time, Pennsylvania, 1911

Coal breakers in break-time, Pennsylvania, 1911. Photo: Lewis Hine

Children at Whitman Street dump, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, 1912

Children at Whitman Street dump, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, 1912. Photo: Lewis Hine

Newsies smoking at Skeeter's Branch, St. Louis, Missouri, May 9, 1910

Newsies smoking at Skeeter’s Branch, St. Louis, Missouri, May 9, 1910. Photo: Lewis Hine

Sweeper and doffer boys in Lancaster Cotton Mill, Lancaster, South Carolina, 1908

Sweeper and doffer boys in Lancaster Cotton Mill, Lancaster, South Carolina, 1908. Photo: Lewis Hine

11-year-old girl picking cotton, Oklahoma, 1916

11-year-old girl picking cotton, Oklahoma, 1916. Photo: Lewis Hine

14-year-old boy has been working in cotton mills for 6 years, Cuero, Texas, 1913

14-year-old boy has been working in cotton mills for 6 years, Cuero, Texas, 1913. Photo: Lewis Hine

15-year-old messenger boy working for Mackay Telegraph Company, Waco, Texas, 1913

15-year-old messenger boy working for Mackay Telegraph Company, Waco, Texas, 1913. Photo: Lewis Hine

A little spinner in a Georgia cotton mill, 1909

A little spinner in a Georgia cotton mill, 1909. Photo: Lewis Hine

A little spinner in the Mollohan Mills, Newberry, South Carolina, December 3, 1908

A little spinner in the Mollohan Mills, Newberry, South Carolina, December 3, 1908. Photo: Lewis Hine

5-year old picking cotton, Comanche County, Oklahoma, 1916

5-year old picking cotton, Comanche County, Oklahoma, 1916. Photo: Lewis Hine


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