Lewis Hine, a New York City educator and photographer, thought that an image might convey a strong message. He was so concerned about child labor exploitation that he left his teaching profession to serve as an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. In addition to photographing children in factories and mines around the world, he published several books on the subject.
Lewis Hine was born on August 21st, 1869 in Chappaqua, New York. His parents were Irish immigrants who could not afford to send their son to college, but they wanted him to get an education. When he was only 12 years old, Lewis began working for a lawyer's firm to help pay for his tuition at Columbia University. After graduating in 1890, he took a job as a school principal in Puerto Rico where he lived for four years. When he returned to New York City, he opened a private school for boys during the day and photographed buildings for a living at night. This way he could continue to explore new ways of documenting the abuse of children across the country.
In 1897, Hine met Mary Moore Creighman, a woman with a vision who became one of the first female photographers in America. They married that same year and had two sons together. In 1901, Lewis founded the Children's Employment Commission of New York State which aimed to protect children's rights by obtaining safe and healthy workplaces.
The NCLC commissioned sociologist Lewis Hine to photograph children laboring in farms, factories, mines, and city streets to raise awareness of child labor abuses. Between 1908 and 1924, his photographs and stories inflamed public sentiment and prompted Congress to pass national child labor regulations.
These photographs were so influential that even today they are used by activists and legislators to draw attention to the dangers of child labor and to encourage laws prohibiting it.
Here are some other facts about child labor:
In 1910, only 7% of boys and 3% of girls between the ages of 10 and 14 were employed. By 1920, the percentage of young people employed had increased to 12% for boys and 5% for girls.
During World War II, more than 20 million Americans served in the military; this was approximately 40% of the population over the age of 17. Of these soldiers, nearly a million were under 18 years old. Nearly all states banned child labor during that time, with few exceptions. The main exception was for children who needed work to support their families; many states allowed them to be employed after hours or on Sundays if there were no substitutes available.
After the war ended, former soldiers returned to school while others wanted jobs so could support themselves and their families. This led to a decline in employment for children down to pre-war levels by 1950.
The goal of hiring children is not to train them, but to profit from their labor. Hine's documentary project and enthusiasm for change grew, and he left teaching in 1908 to work as an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), an organization founded to end child labor. The NCLC published hundreds of photographs like those taken by Hine that showed the harsh reality of life for many young laborers.
Hine believed that if people saw what they were doing, they would want to change their behavior. His images were a powerful tool for advocacy because they captured the pain, hardship, and injustice that children endured in industrial America. They also revealed the need for legislative action to protect children's rights. Hine took pictures at every NCLC event, meeting, and campaign stop to keep his work current and relevant. He traveled across the country to take photos in ten states over the course of eight years until he was hired full time by the committee in 1916.
Children were being employed in industries such as mining, factory work, and agriculture when Hine photographed them. The practice of employing children in dangerous conditions to extract resources from the earth or manufacture products had existed for many centuries before Hine's work exposed this abuse. Yet even though he witnessed these practices first-hand, Hine did not focus on events that happened after he shot the photo. Instead, he documented what was happening to children in the here and now.