These haunting child labor photos are only a fraction of the thousands taken by investigative photographer Lewis Wickes Hine, born one hundred and forty years ago on September 26, 1874. Hine used his camera as both a research tool and an instrument of social reform. In 1908 he was hired as the photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) and spent a decade documenting child labor in American industry to aid the NCLC’s lobbying efforts to end the practice. Hine worked tirelessly, staying out at all hours to capture images of children working on city streets, or bluffing his way into mills and factories where he would not have been welcome otherwise.
Other examples of Hine’s work can be found in his series of photographs for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), documenting life in the mountains of eastern Tennessee, and for the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) National Research Project, highlighting changes in industry and their effect on employment:
A Variety of Jobs; A Bowery bootblack in New York City. .
A Variety of Jobs; George Christopher, Postal Telegraph, age 14. Been at it over 3 years. Does not work nights. Nashville, Tennessee. .
Child Labor; Breaker Boys, Pittston, PA, USA, 1911. A mixture of frowns and smiles on the faces of child miners. The soot on their faces makes the viewer wonder what’s gotten into their lungs. .
Francis Lance, 5 years old, 41 inches high. Sells regularly. St. Louis, Mo, May 1910. .
Newsies; Francis Lance, 5 years old, 41 inches high. He jumps on and off moving trolley cars at the risk of his life. St. Louis, Missouri. .
Newsies; Michael McNelis, age 8, a newsboy [seen with photographer Hine]. This boy has just recovered from his second attack of pneumonia. Was found selling papers in a big rain storm. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. .
Spinner in Lancaster Cotton Mills. Lancaster, S.C., 12-01-1908 .
The Mill; Some boys and girls were so small they had to climb up on to the spinning frame to mend broken threads and to put back the empty bobbins. Bibb Mill No. 1. Macon, Georgia. .
Tommy Hawkins, 5 years old. Sells papers. Is 41 inches high. St. Louis, Mo, May 1910 .
Addie Laird, 12 years old. Spinner in a Cotton Mill. Girls in mill say she is 10 years old. She admitted to me that she was 12 years old, that she started during school vacation and now would stay. North Pownal, Vt, February 19
Born September 26, 1874, investigative photographer Lewis Wickes Hine used his camera as both a research tool and an instrument of social reform. This photograph is one of a series given to the Children’s Bureau by the National Child Labor Committee. The almost five hundred photographs represent a fraction of the approximately 5,000 photographs Hine took for the committee to document working and living conditions for children.
November 1913. “Some of the young workers (not the youngest) in the Kosciusko Cotton Mills. Superintendent objected to my taking photographs. Location: Kosciusko, Mississippi.” Photograph by Lewis Wickes Hine. View full size.
Joseph Severio, peanut vender, 11 years of age. Been pushing cart 2 years. Out after midnight on May 21, 1910. Ordinarily works 6 hours per day. Works of own volution. Don’t smoke, all earnings go to father. Wilmington, Delaware, May 1910. By Lewis Wickes Hine.
Children going through Whitman Street dump (1912) .
Lewis Hine - Spinner, Augusta .
Miners: View of the Ewen Breaker of the Pennsylvania Coal Co. The dust was so dense at times as to obscure the view. This dust penetrated the utmost recesses of the boys’ lungs. A kind of slave-driver sometimes stands over the boys, prodding or kicking them into obedience. South Pittston, Pennsylvania.
January 1911 .
Laura Petty, a 6 year old berry picker on Jenkins Farm. “I’m just beginnin’. Licked two boxes yesterday.” Gets 2 [cents] a box. Rock Creek, Md., 06/07/1909 .
Newsboy; Little Fattie; less than 40 inches high. 6 years old. Been at it one year. (St. Louis; 1910) .
Pastimes and Vices; A group of newsies playing craps in the jail alley at 10 p.m. Albany, New York.. .
A typical group of Postal Messengers. Smallest on left end, Wilmore Johnson, been there one year. Works days only. The postal boys are not nearly so young in Norfolk and also other Va. cities, as are the Western Union Boys. .
A Variety of Jobs; Bowling Alley boys. Many of them work setting pins until past midnight. New Haven, Connecticut. .
Lewis Hine child labor a heavy load - 1909 .
Boys picking over garbage on the dumps. Boston, Mass.,October-1909
Nadie comprende a otro. Somos, como dijo el poeta, islas en el mar de la vida; corre entre nosotros el mar que nos define y separa. Por más que un alma se esfuerce por saber lo que es otra alma, no sabrá sino lo que le diga una palabra -sombra disforme en el suelo de su entendimiento.
Fernando Pessoa.Libro del desasosiego. 14-6-1932
Foto: Lewis Wickes Hine. Trampero en la mina Macdonald. West Virginia. 1908