Photos of Child Laborers at the Turn of the 20th Century Changed Laws

Danger: Boys slice sardines in Maine in August 1911. The slippery conditions meant they suffered many cuts. One boy told Hine: 'The salt gits in the cuts an' they ache' photo credit: Library of Congress

When we think of laborers that built this country, the first thought for a lot of us is enslaved Africans.  But after slavery, the inhumane practice of using powerless or impoverished individuals to build America’s big business remained.  The country consisted of many immigrants and all were trying to find a way to build a life for themselves in this country. The industrial workforce was being built and now it included children of all ethnicities.

According to the Daily Mail, one teacher-turned-photojournalist Lewis Wickes Hine, singlehandedly gave those children back their lives.  He snapped photographs of the children between 1908 and 1924 that were instrumental in getting the labor laws changed.

His black and white photos are in the Library of Congress and they show stirring accounts of children working in sardine factories, the coal mines, and three-year-olds hulling berries in 5,100 photographs and 355 glass negatives.  But, it wouldn’t be until 1938 that the Fair Labor Standards Act would be passed into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The law still protects children under 16 from any form of employment that is “particularly hazardous,” with the exception of agricultural labor.

Read more here.

-J.C. Brooks

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