When child workers grow up
January 16, 2008 6:55 PM   Subscribe

In the early twentieth century, photographer Lewis Hine took now-famous photographs of American child laborers. In the nearly hundred years since Hine took those photos, surely many viewers have wondered what became of the children he documented. Freelance historian Joe Manning has taken it upon himself to find out.

Previously. Another effort to shed light on the subject of an iconic photograph.
posted by craichead (20 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Oh my gosh, this is wonderful. And some of the stories even have sort of happy endings. "That 'little anemic spinner' had lived to be 94 years old!" Hurray!
posted by jessamyn at 7:03 PM on January 16, 2008

one of the many ironies of outsourcing, of course, is that America eventually ceased to use her own children as slaves only to subcontract the dirty work to third world countries, where children as young as the ones that horrify us in Hines' photographs now, duly enslaved, merrily sew the clothes that end up on our First World, enlightened backs.

I wonder what Lou Dobbs thinks of this.

(another interesting "what happened to them" fact is that Hines died forgotten and destitute -- after all, shining the light of truth all over the most unpleasant dark corners of that perfect system, unbridled capitalism, has never been a good career move).
posted by matteo at 7:36 PM on January 16, 2008

The Addie Card story is definitely worth the read. Thanks for the link!
posted by meinvt at 7:40 PM on January 16, 2008

Very good reads. Thanks!
posted by cerebus19 at 8:08 PM on January 16, 2008

Hey, neat! The cover to one of my favorite books of poetry.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 8:27 PM on January 16, 2008

The story about how Warren Frakes' life turned out made my day. I'm not sure exactly why.
posted by nzero at 8:35 PM on January 16, 2008

Freaking awesome. I read the Addie Card story, so interesting! Thanks for the post.
posted by wowbobwow at 8:42 PM on January 16, 2008

Hah! I've been trying to remember Hine's name for about a month now. So glad you cleared that up...

I remember doing a report in school using Hine's photos to illustrate the damages of child labor. It's great to see some follow up on pictures that caught my attention so long ago. He did a fascinating job, especially with the Addie Card story.
posted by librarylis at 8:43 PM on January 16, 2008

Great post, thanks craichead!
posted by amyms at 9:15 PM on January 16, 2008

What strikes me is the number of dead ends Joe Manning runs into. So many families who are so indifferent to their origins.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 11:16 PM on January 16, 2008

Great Post. Really, really interesting.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:21 AM on January 17, 2008

Some background

The Lowell Mill Girls Go on Strike

Many links to related material

If you're ever near Lowell, MA, a visit to the Boott Mills is worth the time.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:46 AM on January 17, 2008

Outlawing child labor in brutal, dangerous environments is another symptom of the ever-present nanny state. Is a five year-old not entitled to the sweat of his brow?

posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:41 AM on January 17, 2008

These are fascinating. I also enjoyed the Frakes story.
posted by mecran01 at 5:54 AM on January 17, 2008

The Addie Card story is worth the price of admission all by itself. I was riveted for the better part of an hour. Many thanks for this terrific post.
posted by languagehat at 6:57 AM on January 17, 2008

Great post. thanks.
posted by nax at 7:14 AM on January 17, 2008

What strikes me is the number of dead ends Joe Manning runs into. So many families who are so indifferent to their origins.
That reminds me of a friend of mine, who once told me that the only things she knew about her grandfather's background were that he grew up in an orphanage and that his parents were Gypsies. I found it extraordinary that she could know those two tidbits and not want to know more. But as she pointed out, growing up in an orphanage had probably been a really painful experience for her grandfather, and he'd grown up in a heavily Eastern-European part of the U.S., where there was still a lot of old-country stigma associated with being a Gypsy. He didn't want to talk about his past, because it wasn't a fun subject. I bet that's also true of a lot of the people in Hine's photographs. Their descendants don't know much because the topic was off limits.

Having said that, my great-grandmother was exactly the right age and circumstances to have been a child in a Hine photograph, and I know a fair amount about her, even though she died before I was born. My mom, who was close to her, would be happy to regale any interviewer with stories, photographs, recipes, etc. And my great-grandmother's life story was a lot like many of the ones that Manning tells. She couldn't be classed as a huge American success story, but she ended up basically ok. My mom thinks that she went to great lengths to keep her children out of the workforce for as long as possible, though, which I suspect says something about how she viewed her own childhood.
posted by craichead at 10:31 AM on January 17, 2008

Terrific post.
posted by chihiro at 9:13 PM on January 17, 2008

I loved this too. Thanks.
posted by Lezzles at 3:50 PM on January 18, 2008

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