Lewis Wickes Hine's child labor photographs from the collection of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art

For ten years beginning in 1908, Lewis Wickes Hine (1874–1940) traveled thousands of miles between Maine and Texas photographing for the newly formed National Child Labor Committee.

A sociologist and pioneer in the use of photography to expose social injustices, Hine was a natural choice for the National Child Labor Committee.

His earlier photographs had illustrated the plight of immigrants arriving on Ellis Island and the rise of child labor in the booming industrial America of the early twentieth century.

In 1908 when the National Child Labor Committee hired photographer Lewis Wickes Hine to bring public awareness to the plight of child laborers in the United States, it was not unusual for elementary school aged children to work in the nation’s factories, farms, and city streets.

In 1910 children under the age of fifteen made up nearly a fifth of the nation’s workforce.

While several states had already passed their own child labor laws, federal legislation prohibiting most child labor was not passed until 1938 with the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The Fair Labor Standards Act specifically addressed the unsafe working conditions and lack of educational opportunities faced by many child laborers.

It also established the forty-hour workweek, a federal minimum wage, and overtime pay for workers in the United States.

The Amon Carter’s collection of seventy-two Hine photographs focuses on his portraits of child workers in Texas and Oklahoma, with a particular emphasis on children employed as newsboys, messenger boys, cotton-field workers, and mill workers.

“Eleven year old newsie who has been selling for three years. He gets up at 2:30 A.M. Sundays, and at 5:00 A.M. school days. Makes about $1.25 a day. Norval Sharp. Photo taken early Sunday morning.” — from Hine's field notes, 1913

“Eleven year old Western Union messenger #51. J. T. Marshall. Been day boy here for five months. Goes to Red Light district some and knows some of the girls.” — from Hine's field notes, 1913

“Scene in the cotton field of the Baptist Orphanage, near Waxahachie. These boys, from seven years old and upward, pick cotton, helping this man, outside of school hours.” — from Hine's field notes, 1913

“Dangerous work. Charlie McBride. This twelve-year-old boy has a steady job with the Miller & Vidor Lumber Company. He takes slabs out of the chute which has a moving endless chain to carry the wood up the chute. He passes the slabs onto other boy who saws them on an unguarded circular saw. Charlie runs the saw himself whenever he gets the chance. He is exposed not only to the above dangers, but to the weather. No roof even. Has been here for some months. ‘Get four bits a day.’ (fifty cents) Works ten hours.” — from Hine's field notes, 1913

Under adverse and often threatening conditions, Hine produced remarkable photographs that spotlight the ultimate cost of industrialization on the underprivileged and the need to break the cycle of poverty to free children to develop their potential. When faced with his powerful photographs, the public and lawmakers realized the importance of addressing the problem. His images inspired social change.
Lewis Wickes Hine's child labor photographs
Credits: Story

All artworks from the collection of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.

Produced by staff of the Amon Carter:

Jana Hill
digital engagement manager

Maggie Adler
assistant curator

Peggy Sell
interpretation manager

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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