"I wanted to show the things that had to be corrected"
March 2, 2005 3:12 PM   Subscribe

"George earns a $1 some days usually 75 cents. Some of the others say they earn a $1 when they work all day. At times they start at 7 a.m. and work all day until midnight".
Lewis Hine (1874 -1940), a New York City schoolteacher and photographer, felt so strongly about the abuse of children as workers that he quit his teaching job and became an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. Hine traveled around the country photographing the working conditions of children in all types of industries. He photographed children in coal mines, in meatpacking houses, in textile mills, and in canneries. He took pictures of children working in the streets as shoe shiners, newsboys, and hawkers. In many instances he tricked his way into factories to take the pictures that factory managers did not want the public to see. He was careful to document every photograph with precise facts and figures. Hine's original photo captions are here. More inside.
posted by matteo (19 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
By 1916, Congress passed the Keating-Owens Act that established the following child labor standards: a minimum age of 14 for workers in manufacturing and 16 for workers in mining; a maximum workday of 8 hours; prohibition of night work for workers under age 16; and a documentary proof of age. The law was later ruled unconstitutional on the ground that congressional power to regulate interstate commerce did not extend to the conditions of labor. Effective action against child labor had to await the New Deal.
Reformers, however, did succeed in forcing legislation at the state level banning child labor and setting maximum hours. By 1920 the number of child laborers was cut to nearly half of what it had been in 1910.

Lewis Hine also photographed adult workers. Work was actually a favorite theme of Hine's and he believed that the emerging modern technologies of the 1920's and 1930's would lift the burden of hard labor from them. He began in the 1920's a series of photographs he called "Work Portraits" which showed man and machine at work together. Perhaps his best known series from this group is his commission to document the construction of the Empire State Building from March 1930 to May 1931. At the conclusion of the project Hine published Men at Work, a picture book which summarized his theme.

Hine died in poverty, neglected by all but a few. His reputation continued to grow, however, and he is now recognized as an American master. And, ironically, his prints are now sold for 60,000 dollars.
posted by matteo at 3:18 PM on March 2, 2005

Robert Delpire, the original publisher of Robert Frank's The Americans, says that Lewis Hine has an heir, and his name is Francesco Zizola
posted by matteo at 3:22 PM on March 2, 2005

What a fantastic and heartbreaking post, matteo. Many thanks.

Of course such conditions continue in the rest of the world, where they are the rule rather than the exception.
posted by jokeefe at 3:34 PM on March 2, 2005

haunting. excellent post, as always, matteo.
posted by killy willy at 3:58 PM on March 2, 2005

If the hours I spent researching for term papers could be converted into a FPP, it might look something like this. Except it would be about the Holy Roman Empire and 2500 words long.

This is honestly a really well-constructed post. Lots of information. Like a small digital history lecture.
posted by Kleptophoria! at 4:03 PM on March 2, 2005

wow, nice post. my first though was 'hey, cool photos' but then i realized child labor isn't really all that cool.
posted by Mach5 at 4:20 PM on March 2, 2005

Great post.
posted by graventy at 5:08 PM on March 2, 2005

fantastic post, matteo. thanks.
posted by mr.marx at 5:23 PM on March 2, 2005

Most excellent links, and particularly this site... Furman Owens, 12 years old. Can't read. Doesn't know his A,B,C's. Said, "Yes I want to learn but can't when I work all the time." Been in the mills 4 years.
posted by naomi at 5:37 PM on March 2, 2005

The safety issues in some those Empire State photos for even the adults are unbelievable. No hardhats, welding masks, safety lines. Doubtless no hearing or breathing protection. No steel-toe boots?

It's hard not to look at these and assume life and health were held in somewhat lower regard back then.

I think folks need to remember a lot of this stuff was fought for by labor unions back in the day.
posted by scheptech at 6:03 PM on March 2, 2005

Philip Levine's fantastic book of poems called What Work Is uses the Hine photograph of the 51-inch-tall spinner on its cover. And though not about child labor in particular, I now always associate these poems with that era and those conditions. The title poem, one of my favorites.
posted by melixxa600 at 6:51 PM on March 2, 2005

Damn that old paper route!
posted by HTuttle at 6:53 PM on March 2, 2005

We actually have it good nowadays here (for legal citizen adults at least--undocumented workers here don't have it as good), thanks to activists and unions and horrible tragedies like the Triangle Shirtwaist fire.

Unfortunately, we've shifted almost all our manufacturing overseas where child laborers are making your Nikes and Kathie Lee Gifford and WalMart stuff, and basically everything, and they have little to no protections. Out of sight, out of mind?
posted by amberglow at 8:49 PM on March 2, 2005

While I'm horrified by the factory, cannery and textile shots, I can't help but be charmed by some of the newsies and messengers. I'm sure it was no picnic, but they look like some of the toughest, most streetwise guys on earth, see?.
posted by Scoo at 9:26 PM on March 2, 2005

I first learned of Lewis Hine's photography when reading Michael Ondaatje's In The Skin of A Lion. Highly recommended.
posted by mek at 10:35 PM on March 2, 2005

One shot I looked at from the Hine collection, I couldn't help but notice what appeared to be a look of pride on the face of a couple of the boys (a shoe factory, photograph taken outside).
posted by Goofyy at 3:26 AM on March 3, 2005

Truly a superlative post, matteo. I've seen many of these works here or there, but I never knew the photographer or his body of work. Thanks for all the links.

Following in his tradition - Child Labor and the Global Village: Photography for Social Change is a team of 11 photographers documenting child workers around the globe, from
garbage pickers and domestic servants to perhaps saddest of all, child soldiers.
posted by madamjujujive at 3:48 AM on March 3, 2005

One should keep in mind that these children are all working because they have to work. It's that or starve to death.

The problem is deeper than child labour.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:50 AM on March 3, 2005

Heartbreaking. And tragic to realize that even more dangerous conditions exist for children in countries that manufacture products for sale in the American marketplace. Nice post Matteo.
posted by dejah420 at 12:53 PM on March 3, 2005

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