The Photos That Helped Bring an End to Child Labor

At the turn of the 20th century, the Industrial Revolution had led to a need for workers, and in the pursuit of cheap labor that was less likely to unionize, many companies turned to hiring children, often putting them in dangerous conditions for long hours and low pay. As the cries for child labor reform began to grow, one man's photos helped to humanize the movement and spur the change. This great video tells the story of his work.

Coming to you from Vox, this excellent video tells the history of Lewis Wickes Hine. In 1900, almost two million children (1 in 5) under the age of 16 were employed, many working in highly dangerous jobs for low pay, such as operating factory equipment or coal mining. As outcry against this practice grew, the National Child Labor Committee hired Hine to travel the country and photograph and interview child laborers; in his travels, he would end up taking portraits of children as young as four. His images are powerful, and his careful documentary work gave them more context and helped spur the passage of legislation that brought these practices to an end and undoubtedly improved or even saved the lives of countless children throughout the country. Check out the video above for more on his outstanding work.

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9 Comments

Great video on Hine.
The power of images continues to change the way we view our society.
The work of so many journalists today help shine the light on the plight of people in every corner of the world.
Sadly, the scope of injustice is almost a soul crushing realization.

C Fisher's picture

Nice. Made me think of Nellie Bly and Ten Days in a Mad-House.

The whole Darkroom series by Vox is really good.

I know some people have some hatred for Vox but at least watch that series, it is really interesting.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Child labour started way before the Industrial Revolution, it has existed as long as humanity. And it still exists in many parts of the world. If you mean child labour in the US, maybe then you are correct.

A child working for and with his family on a farm or in a small business is not likely to be abused and exploited like children were by industrialists.

Motti Bembaron's picture

You are right of course, however, many (many) children did not work for a family business or farm, they worked in huge mines and factories in appalling and dangerous conditions. The sad truth is that many were actually sold by their own families. Still happens today in the Middle-East, Africa and Indian subcontinent.

William Howell's picture

I read something, a while ago, that put child labor into perspective; which is not the best, a child dying of starvation or working a job?
No one wants to see kids work an actual job, so first thing to go away, when a society or country achieves mass middle class wealth of its citizenry, little kids working, that is the first thing dispensed with.

But why are industrialists so opposed to birth control and adequate pay for parents, so that such an awful choice isn't the only one? Because of cheap, cheap, cheap labor, and more profit.

William Howell's picture

It ain’t just industrial overlords that are opposed to birth control! I say be fruitful and multiply.
As far as adequate pay, who gets to decide, what is adequate?

Let me pose a question; if you, Michelle, were an industrialist, would you be “cheap cheap cheap” and seek “more profit,” thus keeping your company viable or would you turn over financial decisions to a cadre of Social Justice Warriors and let them decide?