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Child Labor. Lewis Hine. The Quest.

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the quest
The Quest

Hine travelled the country taking pictures of children working in factories. In one 12 month period he covered over 12,000 miles. Hine worked for the National Child Labour Committee for eight years. Hine told one audience: "Perhaps you are weary of child labour pictures. Well, so are the rest of us, but we propose to make you and the whole country so sick and tired of the whole business that when the time for action comes, child labour pictures will be records of the past.“

In 1916 Congress eventually agreed to pass legislation to protect children. As a result of the Keating-Owen Act, restrictions were placed on the employment of children aged under 14 in factories and shops.


Life at the Textile Mills

  • My name is Mary Jane Washington. I am an eleven-year old textile mill worker. I was born on March 10, 1824. I am one of eight children. There are five girls and three boys in my family. I came to work in the Lowell textile factory because my family was large and we are needy. Before I became a textile mill worker, I was an ordinary kid. I liked to help my mother with housework.
  • Thursday - April 16, 1835 Today at the factory, my friend Rachel Lincoln passed out from all the humidity in the air. Rachel had been coughing all week and we told her to tell the company owners that she was getting sick from the poor working conditions. When the company found out what had happened to her, they told us to stay at our looms and not to help. Then they told her to go and lay down for an hour and then come back and tend to her loom. Rachel did as they said and came back in an hour. When she was at her loom, she turned to cough and her machine hit her in her head! The company owners fired her and told her she would never work at another mill because she was too careless. This astonished the other women and made them more furious about this job. Now they were about sick of it.
  • Friday - May 1, 1835 Today they lowered our wages and raised our hours. Now we work for 16 hours a day and the company doesn't make an effort to try to fix the atrocious working conditions. They thought we would stand for this but most of the women do not. They turned out to protest. I admired them for this but I could not protest with them. My family would suffer a great amount if I got fired. So I stayed for my family's sake. The women held a rally outside the factory and protested against this new rule. The company owners tried to hush them because they didn't want other people to hear. After a day of protesting, they realized that the company owners weren't listening to their demands so they decided to leave. Some of the girls depended on this job to support their families. Now what were they going to do?
A moment's glimpse of the outer world. Said she was 11 years old. Been working over a year. Rhodes Mfg. Co. Lincolnton, North Carolina.
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.

One of the spinners in Whitnel Cotton Mill. She was 51 inches high. Has been in the mill one year. Sometimes works at night. Runs 4 sides - 48 cents a day. When asked how old she was, she hesitated, then said, "I don't remember," then added confidentially, "I'm not old enough to work, but do just the same." Out of 50 employees, there were ten children about her size.


The life of the newsie aged children prematurely. Getting up early, staying up late, most of them homeless and scrounging for nickels and dimes to survive, the 19th century newsboy got by on emulating adulthood.


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.


Work in the coal breakers is exceedingly hard and dangerous. Crouched over the chutes, the boys sit hour after hour, picking out the pieces of slate and other refuse from the coal as it rushes past to the washers. From the cramped position they have to assume, most of them become more or less deformed and bent-backed like old men. When a boy has been working for some time and begins to get round-shouldered, his fellows say that “He’s got his boy to carry round wherever he goes.”

  • The coal is hard, and accidents to the hands, such as cut, broken, or crushed fingers, are common among the boys. Sometimes there is a worse accident: a terrified shriek is heard, and a boy is mangled and torn in the machinery, or disappears in the chute to be picked out later smothered and dead. Clouds of dust fill the breakers and are inhaled by the boys, laying the foundations for asthma and miners' consumption.

At the close of day. Waiting for the cage to go up. The cage is entirely open on two sides and not very well protected on the other two, and is usually crowded like this. The small boy in front is Jo Puma.


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.


Manuel the young shrimp picker, age 5, and a mountain of child labor oyster shells behind him. He worked last year. Understands not a word of English. Biloxi, Mississippi.

Willie, a Polish boy, taking his noon rest in a doffer box at the Quidwick Company Mill. Anthony, Rhode Island.

Hiram Pulk, age 9, working in a canning company. "I ain't very fast only about 5 boxes a day. They pay about 5 cents a box," he said. Eastport, Maine.


Three boys, one of 13 yrs., two of 14 yrs., picking shade-grown tobacco on Hackett Farm. The "first picking" necessitates a sitting posture. Buckland, Connecticut.

camille carmo age 7 and justine age 9 the older girl picks about 4 pails a day rochester mass
Camille Carmo, age 7, and Justine, age 9. The older girl picks about 4 pails a day. Rochester, Mass.