IT’S THE EARLY 1900S IN NEW YORK CITY.
Lewis Hine has just finished teaching for the day when he hears about yet another student who’s dropped out of school and started working in a factory to help her family survive. But this time, Hine decides to quit his teaching job and try to do something about it.
Child labor has a long history in America, beginning with the Puritans. In fact, boys as young as 10 were sometimes sent away from home to learn a trade. But the and the growth and expansion of American cities changed the face of child labor. Poor families often had no choice but to send their children into factories, mines and other dangerous environments, where they worked long hours for low pay. Hine wasn’t the only person to be disturbed by what he was seeing. In 1904, concerned citizens formed the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), and hired Hine to help document what was happening.
Hine thought that if more people could see how child workers were being abused it might change the way different industries treated young workers. So he packed up his camera and started traveling the country taking pictures of working conditions for the NCLC. He found ways to sneak into coal mines, meatpacking plants, textile mills and factories, where he’d take photos and talk to the young workers about their experiences. The NCLC placed Hine’s photographs in their reports, got them published in newspapers, and shared them with lawmakers as evidence to support the need for reforms.
While the dangerous conditions facing child workers continued for many years, Hine’s work helped activists and politicians put pressure on different industries. His photographs and interviews provide lasting images of a time before worker protection laws and regulations.
Investigate the primary sources related to American child labor laws. How are these sources designed to persuade or influence you? How do these sources support the idea that civic action can have an impact? Make your case.
Have your students take this challenge and make their case! To begin, send your students to this website with this challenge’s code.
Industrial Revolution: The period of time in the 18th and 19th century when machines began being used widely to produce goods.
Civic Action: Individual and group actions taken to improve or identify areas of concern or causes to address.