Lewis Hine – Children at work

Lewis Hine is an american photographer known for the governmental missions he took part in at the beginning of the 20th century.

Lewis Hine - ?
Lewis Hine – ?

In 1904 a group of progressive reformers founded the National Child Labor Committee, an organization whose goal was the abolition of child labor. They hired teams of investigators and among them, Lewis Hines, a New York City schoolteacher who left in 1908 his position to travel all around the country to documente child labor.

Lewis Hine’s photographs depicte children working in mines, factories, in cotton fields, farms or in the streets as Newsies. Every picture were carefully documented with precise facts and figures, Hine interviewing the children on some pretext with scribbled notes. The powerfull story those photos could tell were indeed believed to be instrumental in the effort to pass legislation against children labor. To that end, the NCLC organized exhibitions with photographs and statistics to dramatize the plight of these children: in the late 19th and early 20th centuries many children were drawn into the labor force as the demand for labor grew (the number of children under the age of 15 who worked in industrial jobs for wages climbed from 1.5 million in 1890 to 2 million in 1910 (1).) Hopping that those pictures were going to move politicians and their voters, those photographs are defined with this mission as political as artistic, going beyond their documental aspect with the intention to move the viewer… This is how Hine himself defined a good photograph as “a reproduction of impressions made upon the photographer which he desires to repeat to others”.

Today, about 5,000 of those investigate photos are hold by the Library of Congress. The New York Public Library presents also online a selection of his work, concerning labor, housing and social conditions in the United States or else the famous pictures from the Empire State Building under construction.

In 1916, the Congress passed a first bill establishing new child labor standards: a minimum age of 14 for workers in manufacturing and 16 for workers in mining; a maximum workday of 8 hours; prohibition of night work for workers under age 16; and a documentary proof of age. Unfortunately, this law was later ruled unconstitutional. Effective action against child labor had to await the New Deal. But by 1920 the number of child laborers was already cut to nearly half of what it had been in 1910. (sources: National Archives)

(1) official statistics from the American government

Lewis Hine (1874-1940), was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. After studing sociology in Chicago and New York City, he became first a teacher and then a photographer, working for many governmental missions. He died in NYC at the age of 66.

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