Lewis Wickes Hine (September 26, 1874 – November 3, 1940) recorded child labor in the United States. His pictures were instrumental in changing the child labor laws.
“[Photographers are] the Human Document to keep the present and the future in touch with the past”
Lewis Hine, who was best known for his use of photography as a means to achieve social reform, was first a teacher of botany and nature studies at the Ethical Culture School in New York. It was while he was teaching that he was given a camera by the head of the school. In his hand, the camera became a powerful means of recording social injustice and labor abuses.
Hine’s interest in social welfare and in reform movements led him in 1905 to begin his first documentary series; immigrants on Ellis Island. In 1908 he left teaching to become an investigator and photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), and between 1908 and 1916 he traveled extensively photographing child-labor abuses. Hine would manage to gain access to the sweatshops and factories where children were employed, and then, if he could, photograph them at work. Hine inveigled his way into factories by posing as an insurance agent, bible salesman, postcard seller, or industrial photographer. Once inside, Hine quickly would go about his business of photographing the children working. Having been a teacher, Hine was comfortable talking with children and would attempt to get as much information as possible regarding their living conditions, the circumstances under which they were forced to work, and their name and age. If he was unable to determine a child’s age by speaking to him, Hine would surreptitiously measure the child’s height against the buttons on his vest and estimate the child’s age by his height. If Hine was not able to gain admittance to a factory, he would wait outside the gates and photograph the children as the came to work. He visited children and families who worked at home and he wrote with impassioned sarcasm of the “opportunities for the child and family to enlist in the service of Industry.”
Everyone had a story. Joe Manning has been curating Lewis Hine’s work. He tells the story of Addie Card:
In the fall of 2005, I was hired by author Elizabeth Winthrop to find the descendants of Addie Card, a 12-year-old cotton mill worker in Pownal, Vermont, who had been photographed by Lewis Hine in 1910, for the National Child Labor Committee. Hine, who died in 1940, was one of the great photojournalists of the 20th century.
Winthrop had recently completed Counting On Grace, a novel inspired by Addie’s photo. She wanted to find out the real story of Addie, who had been identified by Hine as Addie Laird. Previous attempts by others had come up empty. Amazingly, Winthrop was able to quickly determine that Addie’s last name was actually Card. With that information, she learned that she had married at 17. But after the 1920 census, Winthrop could find no record of Addie or her husband, or if they had any children. That’s when she turned to me for help.
Within two weeks, I had located and contacted Addie’s granddaughter. In two more weeks, I was standing before Addie’s grave. Just after Christmas, Elizabeth and I met and interviewed Addie’s great-granddaughter, descended from the adopted daughter of Addie’s second marriage.
Source: Museum of Photographic Arts, Library of Congress