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These Photos Ended Child Labor in the US


Photographs have the power to bring issues to the forefront of public consciousness and spark change in society. Here’s a 6.5-minute video by Vox that tells the story of how photographer Lewis Wickes Hine helped end child labor in the United States.

In the year 1900, the US Federal Census revealed that there were 1.75 million children younger than 16 that were employed and working jobs across the country in places such as farms, mills, factories, and mines.

The non-profit National Child Labor Committee wanted to raise public awareness on this issue, so it hired American sociologist and photographer Lewis Wickes Hine to travel across the country and use his camera to document the plight of the working children, some of whom were as young as 4.

Photographer Lewis Wickes Hine.

His photos and interviews with the kids were published in many newspapers and magazines.

Children employed at the Pennsylvania Coal Company’s mine in South Pittston in 1910.
Little Lottie, a regular oyster shucker in Alabama Canning Co. Bayou La Batre, Alabama. 1911.
Child workers at a glass and bottle factory. 1908.
John Howell, a newsboy in Indianapolis. Starts work at 6am and makes $.75 some days. Hine’s shadow can be seen in the frame. 1908.
Pennsylvania coal breakers, AKA “breaker boys.” 1912.
12-year-old Addie Card, a spinner in the North Pormal Cotton Mill. February 1910.
A young spinner in a Carolina Cotton Mill. 1908
Sadie Pfeifer, a Cotton Mill spinner in Lancaster, South Carolina. 1908.

You can find a large collection of Hine’s photos from the project in the Library of Congress collection.

Hine’s work resulted in a widespread movement in which the public urged state governments to pass laws ending child labor. The photos were instrumental in putting an end to child labor in the United States as a whole, and Hine was successful in using his camera as a tool for social reform.