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Lewis Hine: Viewing America Through a Different Lens
Transcript of Lewis Hine: Viewing America Through a Different Lens
“There are two things I wanted to do. I wanted to show the things that had to be corrected. I wanted to show the things that had to be appreciated.”
(Lockett Par. 11)
1909- National Child Labor Committee
1919- American Red Cross
1930- Empire State Building
1905- Immigrants at Ellis Island
National Consumers League
Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union
Western Electric Company
Lewis Hine is famous for his child labor, Ellis Island immigrants, and American Worker photographs.
Lewis Wickes Hine was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 1874. He was originally a geography and nature instructor at the Ethical Culture School, which was founded by Felix Alder, a social reformer who started the school for poor children.
began in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries.
Children worked as scavengers, sold newspapers, shined shoes, swept the streets, and mined in the coal mines for low wages.
Factories and coal mines were the most dangerous jobs. Young boys worked in coal mines because they were small enough to crawl through narrow passages and tight spaces.
"Group Portraits: Some of the workers in the Farrand Packing Co. Baltimore, Maryland."
"Struggling Families: A family working in the Tifton Cotton Mill. Four smallest children not working yet. The mother said she earns $4.50 a week and all the children earn $4.50 a week. Husband died and left her with 11 children. Two of them went off and got married. The family left the farm two years ago to work in the mill. Tifton, Georgia."
When a child turned age 4 or 5, he or she was expected to work. Child workers were exposed to the real world. They were robbed of their childhood. They were forced to grow up.
In 1870, for the first time, the United States census included child laborers. “…there were 750,000 workers in the United States age 15 and under, not including those who worked on family farms or in other family businesses.” (Child Labor in America par. 2)
"Pastimes and Vices: 11:00 a.m. Newsies at Skeeter's Branch. They were all smoking. St. Louis, Missouri."
"Hine's photographs and narratives told of the children's physical and emotional abuse, their exposure to physical hazards and the dangers of the red-light district, including smoking, alcohol, and prostitution."
(Lockett Par. 9)
"Pastimes and Vices: Richard Pierce, age 14, a Western Union Telegraph Co. messenger. Nine months in service, works from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Smokes and visits houses of prostitution. Wilmington, Delaware."
This picture clearly illustrates the exposure to physical and emotional abuse.
America had no idea that child labor was a problem.
Oscar Neebe, a worker in a tea caddy and oil can factory, wrote “…most every day it happened that a finger or hand was cut off, but what did it mater, they were paid off and sent home… children working in factories has for the last twenty years made more cripples [Civil War].
(Child Labor in America par. 2)
As long as children were contributing to the family, no one cared. Education was not a priority.
"Group Portraits: Fish cutters at a canning company in Maine. Ages range from 7 to 12. They live near the factory. The 7-year-old boy in front, Byron Hamilton, has a badly cut finger but helps his brother regularly. Behind him is his brother George, age 11, who cut his finger half off while working. Ralph, on the left, displays his knife and also a badly cut finger. They and many youngsters said they were always cutting themselves. George earns a dollar some days usually 75 cents. Some of the others say they earn a dollar when they work all day. At times they start at 7 a.m. and work all day until midnight."
Lewis Hine’s goal was to remove child workers. Since he was working for the National Child Labor Committee, Hine had to find some way to investigate factories and capture the harsh realities of them.
"Newsies: 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. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania."
He learned their names, ages, work history and background, and compared their height to the machines. He had a connection with his subjects. Some of them did not know their age or the alphabet. “He gave voice to the children forced into labor before many of them could even tie their shoelaces, recite the alphabet, or spell their own name.”
(Lockett par. 9)
Terry Lockett wrote poems to a few of Hine’s photographs. She wrote a poem for his photo “The Mill” and titled her poem “Glimpse”.
“With jagged nails and numbed hands
a wren’s side glance for onlookers-
she tip-toed to the factory window
bathed her pallor face in the sunlight
(Lockett par 16.)
"The Mill: 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."
Child Labor Laws
Lewis Hine contributed to child labor laws. Many laws were passed, but they were often ignored.
Massachusetts passed the first statewide law of obligatory education laws for children in 1853.
The Keating-Owen Act of 1916- established a minimum working age of 14, limited hours, and attempted to regulate interstate commerce. Unconstitutional in 1918.
Fair Labor Standards Act 1938-limited working hours to 40 hours a week, prohibited ages 16 and under to work in dangerous jobs. Ages 14 and 15 can work jobs that are non-manufacturing, non-mining, and non-hazardous during vacation and outside of school hours.
This law is still enforced today.
Being a foreigner was often exaggerated by the media and advertisements. They created negative ethnic and racial images.
They were visualized as worthless and dumb.
"Italian child finds her first penny, 1926, Ellis Island."
"Italian family on ferry leaving Ellis Island."
“toiling painfully upward from the moment they reached Ellis Island”. (Seixas 385)
Climbing into America
The immigrants still moved onward and upward no matter how physically, emotionally, or mentally painful it was. He wanted to humanize the immigrants and show the world that they were no different than Americans. They were people with feelings and aspirations.
Immigrants were forced in the ghetto of the cities and were also forced to work for low wages. In their words, a normal 12 hour, 7 day work week was “a good job, save money, work all time, go home, no spend [sic]…”.
Photography was a way for Lewis Hine to capture the positive light of his subjects. This art was “a way to illuminate the world, to foster knowledge, understanding and sympathy.”
(Denzer p. 50)
Besides his social reformer goals, his artistic goal was “the highest aim of the artist is to have something to relate and to know how to select the right things to produce a story.”
(Denzer p. 49)
His work was neither self-expression nor a way to capture his subject’s expressions, but a way to provide information and truth to the world.
Worker at Work
The ‘worker at work’ was a part of Hine’s positive documentary. He wanted his subjects to feel appreciated and take pride in their work. He wanted to change the way Americans viewed the working class.
The Empire State Building
Around the age of 52, Hine documented the construction of the Empire State building in 1930. It took one year and 45 days to complete. From May to November, he climbed up stairs, sat on steel beams, and dangled a quarter-mile above streets in a box that was specifically made for this purpose.
The worker at work was Hine’s hero. Not only did he want the change America’s perspective on the working class, he wanted to change the worker’s view on the work. He praised the workers.
Postal Service in the Big City “With their quick eyes and deft hands, women are everyday becoming more valuable in the exacting work of the postal service… war necessity proved how excellently dependable they are.”
(Hine p. 12)
"Cities do not build themselves, machines cannot make machines, unless back of them all are the brains and toil of men… the more you see of modern machines, the more may you, too, respect the men who make them and manipulate them.” -
“A good photographer is not a mere reproduction of an object or a group of objects- it is an interpretation of nature , a reproduction of impressions made upon the photographer which he wanted to repeat to others…important things are to be emphasized.”
(Denzer p. 52)
Without the worker, the work could not get done.
"Noon hour. All are working here. Newberry South Carolina 1908."
The Sky Boy
As an American citizen of the United States, a photographer, and a social reformer, Hine captured all of the issues that needed to be corrected or solved. He wanted to correct child labor, and he did so by photographing children in the harsh working conditions, comparing their height to the large machines, and writing captions that created sympathy. He also wanted to alter the American’s perspective on immigrants, and he did so by emphasizing their aspirations and positive feelings. Lastly, he wanted to emphasize the American worker, the worker at work, and he did so by his captions.
He left a legacy in history for social reformers and photography. His responsibility was to provide facts and evidence to change society, and he succeeded.
Child Labor photos courtesy of The History Place 1998-2014
Irish Immigrant photo courtesy of NYLP Digital Gallery
Immigrant Family photo courtesy of Evergreen State College
Climbing Into America photo courtesy of University of Illinois at Chicago
Russian Steel Workers photo courtesy of History Matters.
Photograph by Lewis Hine, ca. 1931. Courtesy of
George Eastman House
Empire State Building courtesy of Lisa Marie Migliorisi
Women at Work courtesy of Los Angeles Photo Festival
courtesy of Museum of Modern Art
courtesy of Britannica
All rights reserved to Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940).