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FSC Child Labor in the US Discussion

FSC Child Labor in the US Discussion


Photography can light up darkness and expose ignorance.” –Lewis Hine

The demand for child labor increased dramatically in the U.S. during the late 19th century. By the turn of the 20th century, children less than 16 years old comprised approximately 20% of the American workforce. That’s nearly 2 million child laborers. Children as young as 5 years old worked long hours, earned less pay than adults for the same work, rarely went to school, and suffered injuries and illness working in coal mines, factories, farms, and on the streets.

Unlike adult laborers who had successfully organized labor unions during the late 19th, and early 20th centuries, children had little to no power to curb exploitative labor practices. Several U.S. states passed legislation to regulate child labor; however, employers often violated these laws without repercussion, preying especially on immigrant and orphaned children. In 1904, activists formed the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), and hired sociologist and photographer Lewis Hine to photograph and interview child laborers from across the U.S. Hine spent several years documenting the nation’s child labor force. His work, and the lobbying of the NCLC, led directly to the founding of the Children’s BureauLinks to an external site., – a federal government Links to an external – in 1912. Yet, the federal government did not end the exploitation of children in the workforce until Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938.

Child Labor Newsies.jpeg

Hine, Lewis W. 2 A.M. February 12,1908. Papers just out. Boys starting out on morning round. Ages 13 years and
upward. At the side door of Journal Building near Brooklyn Bridge
. New York, New York (State). 12 Feb. 1908.
Photographic Print. Prints and Photographs Div., Lib. of Cong.

Child Labor Girls GA.jpeg

Hine, Lewis W. Adolescent Factory Girls in Macon, Georgia. ca. 1908-1912. Photographic Print. Prints and Photographs
Div., Lib. of Cong.

Child Labor PA Breaker Boys-1.jpeg

Hine, Lewis W. Breaker Boys, Pennsylvania Coal Company. ca. 1908-1912. Photographic Print. Prints and Photographs
Div., Lib. of Cong.

Child Labor Richard Pierce.jpeg

Hine, Lewis W. 14 year old Richard Pierce, Western Union Telegraph Company Messenger, Wilmington,
works from 7am to 6pm, smokes and visits houses of prostitution. ca. 1908-1912. Photographic
Print. Prints and Photographs Div., Lib. of Cong.


Hine, Lewis W. “I cut my finger nearly off, cutting sardines the other day.” Seven year old Byron, Eastport,
ca. 1908-1912. Photographic Print. Prints and Photographs Div., Lib. of Cong.

STOP! Before you answer the Questions you must read or SKIM the Discussion 1 Reading Part 1 Links to an external site. and Discussion 1 Reading Part 2Links to an external site. WHY? Review the Discussion Post Instructions.

Discussion Question Set:

1. Examine the above photos taken by Lewis Hine, paying close attention to the captions. Which image resonates with you the most, and why?

2. Despite decades of advocacy for reform, Congress did not pass legislation to protect America’s children from oppressive labor practices until 1938. Why do you think child labor reform took so long?

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