I always feel a bit sorry for myself on Labor Day weekend, as it’s back-to-school time and usually I am engaged in a mad dash to get my course syllabi done. Of course this is ridiculous, as I have the cushiest job ever and most of the summer I’ve been free to do as I liked. It’s good to remind myself what labor really is, and nothing does that better than the photographs of Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940), who transitioned from educator to social activist, all the while armed with a camera. In 1908 Hine became the official photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) and began his life’s work: documenting child labor across the United States. This was a time when one in six children between the ages of five and ten worked outside the home in “gainful occupation”, and the percentage increases dramatically for children over the age of ten. The members of the NCLC began a successful campaign to end child labor and Hine’s often-haunting photographs were their chief weapon.
In the fall of 1911, Hine was in New England, then at the height of its industrial history, documenting child labor in Boston, Lowell, New Bedford, Lawrence and Salem. There are 17 photographs of Salem children, all accessible at the Library of Congress, which has a vast Hine collection. Most of the child laborers are shown outside of their place of work, presumably because their employers didn’t allow the conspicuous photographer inside. My favorite has always been this group of smiling girls, workers at the Cass & Daley Shoe Factory on Goodhue Street.
Caption: Group of girls working in Cass & Daley Shoe Co., Salem. Saw a number of children from 14 to 16 (apparently) and two or three probably under 14. Smallest girl in photo is Odella Delisle.
Smiling Salem girls, for the most part, a striking contrast to one of Hines’ most famous child laborers, Addie Card of North Pownal, Vermont, captured in August of 1910. Hines’ captions for this photograph are perhaps even more poignant than the image: an anaemic little spinner, 12 years. Girls in mill say she is ten years. She admitted to me she was twelve; that she started during school vacation and now would “stay.” Of course many have wondered what become of Addie Day: here is one exploration.
Back in Salem, a few more of my favorite Hine photographs from the fall of 1911: a group of somewhat serious boys outside the factory with some very serious men (the factory owners?) behind them, and young John Parent, quite alone despite the fact that there are people all around him.
Caption: Group, all working in #2 Spinning Room. Smallest boy (right hand end of front row) is Rene Barbin, 61 Perkins St. Next to Rene is Philip Beaulieu. Next to Philip is Alfred Corriveau, 14 Perkins St. Smallest boy in back row is Willie Irwin, 16 Perkins St. Next smallest in back row is Ernest Dionne, 5 Prince St.
Caption: Boy is John Parent, 14 Congress St. Works in Spinning Room #2, Fifth Floor.
There is only one Salem photograph in which Hine was allowed into the factory, where he photographed a ragged-yet-dignified Henry Fournier before some massive machinery. I’m sure Hine wanted to get the machines in his photographs whenever possible, because they represent both the work and the potential danger. A Smithsonian/National Archives traveling exhibition entitled The Way We Work (opening this weekend at Historic New England‘s Governor John Langdon House) includes a Hine photograph of child laborers in Georgia that is particularly haunting with regard to danger: small barefoot boys who appear as almost part of the machines on which they work.
Caption: Henry Fourner [i.e., Fournier?], 261 Jefferson St., Castle Hill; has been sweeper and cleaner in #2 Spinning Room two months.
Caption: “Bibb Mill No. 1, Macon, Ga. Many youngsters here. 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”.
August 31st, 2012 at 9:29 am
August 31st, 2012 at 11:09 am
Listening to the news the other day, I was startled to hear a Republican candidate start ranting about how child labor laws are preventing children from working, and are part of the reason for our current malaise. I stay out of politics on blogs—so sorry for introducing the subject, but in context with your post, naturally I think about it.
Totally irrelevant to the above, but as I was posting about summer exhibits in Maine, it occurred to me that you might be interested to know, for your next road trip, about the Frank Benson exhibit at the Farnsworth in Rockland (I’m mentioning it in open forum because I didn’t find an email link). Lovely show, all paintings done on North Haven Island where he summered.
September 1st, 2012 at 9:25 am
I have ancestors that started working in the coal mines at 14. Thanks goodness for labor laws. Now children can be children..
September 1st, 2012 at 2:57 pm
what a great collection of images, it reminds me of a play i used to work with called The Laundry Girls.. Though the girls were older it was still a wonderful play for opening the eyes of modern students to the wretchedness of these young working girls. and to actually play them on stage, using those irish textures and sounds was magic.. c
September 2nd, 2012 at 12:58 pm
Great post, and pictures.
September 2nd, 2012 at 8:20 pm
Fantastic images, and, yes a poignant reminder of true labour.
September 3rd, 2012 at 12:31 pm
Love this post! What a great reminder to be thankful for the day in which we live. Thank you. Jenny (www.thejennyjacobs.com)
September 3rd, 2012 at 12:38 pm
Reblogged this on thejennyjacobs and commented:
September 3rd, 2012 at 12:46 pm
Your post has unexpectedly evoked a flood of feelings for me. It is beautifully written, makes me sad for those children, makes me sad for children today – there but for the grace of activists go they…..and they’ll never know it. The photos you’ve chosen are perfect. The Library of Congress is such a treasure.
Thank you for bringing such a wonderful topic to the forefront this Labor Day. No guessing why you were ( rightfully ) chosen to be Freshly Pressed!
September 3rd, 2012 at 12:48 pm
What a lovely comment, thank you! I certainly agree about the Library of Congress.
September 3rd, 2012 at 12:54 pm
Excellent post.very emotional pictures.Then poverty was a merciless master.Regards.
September 3rd, 2012 at 1:15 pm
And I can’t get my daughter to walk the dog SHE wanted — and she doesn’t belong to a union. Great post. Pictures like that remind us how we’ve evolved as a country, and yet, almost encourage the same practices in others. For what, cheap sneakers? We’ve become a disposal nation, whether it’s clothing, furniture, or household goods. I’d rather have one windbreaker instead of four, pay a bit more, and know that someone was getting paid a decent wage — hopefully, in this country. Simply put, we have too much stuff.
September 3rd, 2012 at 1:47 pm
This photography is amazing. If I remember my history classes right, it really helped to create social change. Thanks for sharing!
September 3rd, 2012 at 1:59 pm
Reblogged this on Shark Tank Monsters and commented:
Child Labor Sharks still exist today.
September 3rd, 2012 at 2:03 pm
how sobering the photos are. the problem is, child labor still exists in 3rd-world countries as well as child trafficking for domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. http://www.humantrafficking.org/
September 3rd, 2012 at 2:53 pm
Great post. Thank you
September 3rd, 2012 at 3:29 pm
Thank you so much for reminding us where we started — and how much further we still have to go, with only 7 percent of private sector workers now unionized and only 12 percent of public sector.
September 3rd, 2012 at 6:59 pm
Great post, fantastic photos and I enjoyed your commentary.
September 3rd, 2012 at 7:02 pm
So well done…thanks for the post! My grandmother was a ‘mill girl’ in Lowell at the turn of the last century, though there’s no record of the kind of work she did. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!
September 3rd, 2012 at 7:12 pm
Reblogged this on Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé and commented:
We forget too quickly what it was like in the United States before the Child Labor Laws and women won the right to vote.
Middle class? What was that in America before the labor unions arrived?
September 3rd, 2012 at 7:16 pm
Reblogged this on GroundUp and commented:
A great remembrance on Labor Day. A great caution as to what a Romney-Ryan budget would mean were they elected to lead us.
September 3rd, 2012 at 7:23 pm
As others have pointed out, child labor still exists in other countries and it will make a comeback here without constant struggle. The working class must become fully class-conscious and take power in order to completely put an end to child labor and all forms of slavery and exploitation in the world.
Another interesting fact: the first Monday in September isn’t the real labor day. There is an International Workers’ Day on May Day (May 1st) that began in the U.S. and spread internationally, but isn’t officially recognized or celebrated in the U.S. I encourage everyone to take a look at the Wikipedia entry on Labor Day for an interesting history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_Day
September 3rd, 2012 at 7:58 pm
Thanks for sharing and helping to put everything into perspective. Wow….Thank God HIne took these photos and the practice of sending children out to work such dangerous jobs is (supposedly) a thing of the past.
September 3rd, 2012 at 8:00 pm
Reblogged this on Cari's Choices and commented:
These photos certainly give weight to the saying ‘a picture tells a thousand words’.
September 3rd, 2012 at 8:01 pm
Haunting indeed. Thanks for the history lesson. I’m trying to become more aware of such things around the world – it’s hard to believe that was here just a few generations ago.
September 3rd, 2012 at 8:08 pm
Puts a little perspective on a few things. Great post! Thanks for sharing. Glad it was freshly pressed!
September 3rd, 2012 at 8:20 pm
beautiful photos… Its hard to believe this part of our “history” wasnt too long ago, and the conditions aren’t much better in some places.
September 3rd, 2012 at 8:50 pm
Very powerful way to end my Labor Day. Thank you for posting this.
September 3rd, 2012 at 10:15 pm
Sadly it still happens today in other parts of the world. Children are the main labor force for many of the products we import. In some countries children are even sold off by their “heroin addicted parents” to heartless people who use them for prostitution. A great reminder for us to protect our children, no matter what it takes.
September 3rd, 2012 at 10:45 pm
This is an awesome post I did not have my first job until I was 18 and it was because my parents wanted me to enjoy my youth. It is so awesome to see how we have really come to value our youth and the short period of childhood.
September 3rd, 2012 at 10:52 pm
Wow- I agree with Katherine- not so long ago at all. I think of how far we have come in some ways but that there still are children out in this world who are suffering this kind of abuse.
Very appropriate and well done for today of all days- thanks!
September 4th, 2012 at 12:16 am
Scaaary, amazing how kids back then had to grow up fast! Kids today need a smack in the head cause they don’t know how good they have it! Thanks for sharing!
September 4th, 2012 at 12:20 am
September 4th, 2012 at 12:26 am
Love those old pics. Thanks.
September 4th, 2012 at 1:35 am
Reblogged this on Music is Madness and commented:
September 4th, 2012 at 2:35 am
Oh man, evil times.
September 4th, 2012 at 2:57 am
Reblogged this on Vampyre Fangs and commented:
People forget what these days were like. Thank goodness we have child labour laws! Just about every good thing we have in society now… child labour laws, 40 hour work week, weekends, social security, unemployment insurance, welfare, paid sick leave, maternity leave, childen’s aid societies, product liability legislation, minimum wage, health and safety standards, gov’t regulation of industry, etc… all came as a result of how horrible things were 100 years ago.
September 4th, 2012 at 7:08 am
Reblogged this on Finding chaos in the order and commented:
I really enjoyed this
September 4th, 2012 at 7:20 am
Wonderful post! Thank you for including the links in the article, read them as well! Good research product on the genealogist.
September 4th, 2012 at 9:06 am
Great history lesson. Thanks for sharing this and the link to Joe Manning’s history of Addie Card. Fascinating.
September 4th, 2012 at 10:58 am
I enjoyed your thoughtful and informative posting, the photos were very special. It’s amazing to me sometimes how the divide is so wide even now. You have some young people who have no concept of what work is, let alone hard work, nor why they should be required to do it, yet these ones: some almost in single digits and pre-adolescent did a “man’s worth” to help their families and were sometimes proud of what they accomplished.
September 4th, 2012 at 11:52 am
Wonderful post for Labor Day. Thank you!
September 4th, 2012 at 12:37 pm
These are such striking photos, and makes me glad our country has come as far as it has. I immensely enjoyed reading the exploration of finding out what happened to Addie Card…love those kinds of historical stories. Congrats on Freshly Pressed!
September 4th, 2012 at 12:57 pm
Thanks for sharing this. They really worked hard back then. Connie
September 4th, 2012 at 2:42 pm
Thanks for the reminder.
September 4th, 2012 at 3:41 pm
What a wonderfully researched, superbly written, and beautifully illustrated post! I just want to personally let you know that the unstated message of your essay came across loud and clear: today’s children simply are not pulling their fair share!
When I stop to think about all the cash flow my children should have already generated for our household, I could go ballistic. At least I can take immediate action to make-up for lost time, so when Labor Day rolls around next year, my two little darlings will have a better understanding of what holiday is all about.
Keep up the good work. Now as for you two kids, you better get back to work!
September 5th, 2012 at 7:21 am
just showed this to my nine year old son who whines when I ask him to clean his room. thank you for the sobering reminder how lucky and spoiled we all are.
September 5th, 2012 at 9:34 am
Wow, what an incredible archive collection of photos…It is so interesting to see how society has changed in its exploitation of children, which undoubtedly still occurs all over the world today.
September 5th, 2012 at 11:35 am
Reading your post reminded me how the concept of “childhood” has changed over the years.
September 5th, 2012 at 3:56 pm
wow such an incredible little snippet of history! thanks so much for sharing. that article on addie day was really interesting.
September 5th, 2012 at 8:13 pm
Reblogged this on Work In Progress and commented:
This post, “Factory Girls and Boys,” documents how common child labor was in the early years of the 20th century. The photos make me very angry.
September 5th, 2012 at 8:13 pm
We owe those kids a lot. Today, they are replaced by illegal alliens. Both worked to help feed their families. Kids still work in the far east for pennies a day. Many times they are sold into the job by parents. People will do many things we don’t like to see just to make a better life for themselves.
September 6th, 2012 at 12:18 pm
Fascinating and haunting…
September 7th, 2012 at 3:17 am
A really thought provoking piece that was a terrific read and insight. Many thanks for putting this out here for us all to read.
September 12th, 2012 at 9:37 pm
I found your piece to be very touching and a good reminder of how far we have come as a country in terms of our own laws. However I couldn’t help but connect it to all of the underage labor that occurs in countries abroad. These underage workers are employed by factories who work to make American consumer products. So while we have come so far in our own country, these issues still occur and our country is a major cause of it. Maybe the use of pictures, such as the one above, would be good way to spread today’s child labor issues.
September 12th, 2012 at 10:16 pm
[…] United States, Work In looking through recent blogs, I found a nice piece that was written by Donna Seger in respect to labor day. She posted about what true labor was in the early 1900′s for young […]
September 15th, 2012 at 8:38 am
Have to remember that child labour under dangerous conditions, is happening in various parts of Africa, India and Middle East.
March 6th, 2019 at 1:03 pm
I was hired by Shaw’s Poultry on Broadway 2 weeks after my 16th birthday, back in 1963. My son Nicolas got his first job at 15, several years ago. Both jobs were part time, a big difference from our earlier family members.