Upon sorting through my many vintage photos in my iPhoto Library (see previous post.) I thought long and hard about these three images. They each show three children of the same time period, early 20th century, but from different lives - the affluent and the penniless, the pampered and neglected, the shielded and the vulnerable, the assured and the dejected. As always, the luck of one's birth often charted their destiny. Many not so fortunate children were forced to work to help sustain their families and help determine their family's survival. According to the Bureau of labor statistics, in 1900 the U.S. workforce registered 24 million workers age 10 and above. The 1900 census counted 1.75 million workers age 10-15. By 1910 it was 2 million.
In doing a little research online I came upon the name of the famous photographer, Lewis W. Hine.
He was born in Oshkosh,Wisconsin in 1874. As a teacher at New York's Ethical Culture School, he promoted the use of photography as an educational medium. He frequently took his students to Ellis Island to photograph the thousands of immigrants who arrived each day. Eventually he realized that his passion was in photojournalism.
In 1907 he became the photographer for the National Child Labor Committee where for the next decade he documented child labor in America. The purpose of his work was to help the committee's lobbying efforts to end the practice. He also worked as a photographer for the American Red Cross, the Tennessee Valley Authority and as chief photographer for the WPA's ( Works Progress Administration) National Research Project. After government and corporate patronage died out, Hine was consigned to live the rest of his days in the same level of poverty he had once illuminated. He died in 1940. The Library of Congress holds more than 5000 Hine photographs, with another 15,000 in several other repositories.
Here are just a few of his photos showing a young spinner in a Vermont cotton mill, child laborers in an Indiana glassworks, a young girl in South Carolina, and young boys working in Macon, Georgia. Also there is a family of workers making garters, and seafood workers where children of all ages are present.
Hine's work is still amazing and stunning today. It should make us stop and think as this new year unfolds how much we now have and the people - including children - of meager means who long ago toiled to get us here.