Photographer Lewis Hine Captured Child Labor In Action
10 Of His Newsboy Photographs In New York City 1908-1910
In turn-of-the-century New York, child labor, with some kids working seven days a week, was not uncommon.
Working as an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), Lewis Hine (1874-1940) documented working and living conditions of children in the United States between 1908 and 1924. Over 5100 prints and 355 glass negatives were donated to the Library of Congress in 1954 by Mrs. Gertrude Folks Zimand, acting for the NCLC in her capacity as chief executive.
Hine didn’t just focus on newsboys and New York City , but turned his camera to all trades in which children were engaged and traveled all over the United States photographing the grueling work done by boys and girls, sometimes as young as five-years-old.
Hine captured the children candidly or in simple poses, without staging. His portraits can evoke strong emotions.
In New York City you needed a news badge to sell newspapers. Laws were set up to prevent very young children from engaging in work. The laws were usually ignored by the children, their families and/or the authorities.
When looking at these photographs there are several things to notice. The first is the expression on the boys’ face. The next is the clothing. Their shoes always stand out, usually the condition varies from fair to horrendous. Considering how much walking a newsboy would do in what could end up being a 12 hour plus day, it is natural that shoes would break down.
The rest of the attire that newsboys wear is also interesting. The shirts, pants and jackets are stereotypically shabby, but rarely are the boys wearing rags. These kids were battling for sales and tried to make themselves as saleable as the newspapers they sold. Finally pay attention when possible to the background, which is of course, New York City. The buildings, stores, streets, vehicles, sidewalks and people – always intriguing.
For the newsboys, one of the common tricks was to go into a bar with only a few papers and tell the customers these were the last papers you had for the day and after they were sold you would then be able to go home. The sympathetic bar patrons would usually buy the remaining copies and then the boy would go outside grab some more newspapers he had stashed and proceed to the next bar and repeat the scene.
Newspapers were generally two cents per copy. On a good day a “newsie” might make between 25 and 50 cents.
For each subject Hine photographed, I can’t help but wonder how their lives turned out? Are their descendants aware that these photographs exist of their ancestors?
Previously we did a feature about a similar 1910 newsboy photograph taken by Paul Schumm. Amazingly the family of the newsboy got in contact with us to fill in some blanks.
The caption under the photographs were written by Hine at the time the photo was taken as he spoke to his subjects to get information. Sometimes the caption has some details, other times almost none except the month and place the photo was taken.
Abraham Jachnes in front of the New York World Building February 1908.1 A.M. near the World Building, ready to start out. Larger boy Abraham Jachnes, 13 years old. Newsboys Lodging House, 14 Chambers St. Has not been home for 6 months because step-mother has been trying to put him into a House of Refuge. Could not get name of smaller boy, but he was younger, probably 11 years old. These boys are hanging about and snatching and occasional sleep in sheltered spots. Location: New York, New York
Joseph Blata in Union Square July 1910
Union Square Newsie. Joseph Blata, 7 years old. Lives in Basement, 306 E. 11th St. Collects discarded papers and sells them to storekeepers. Location: New York, New York
The unnamed competition to Joseph Blata another boy in Union Square who also collects discarded newspapers, July 1910.
Frank and Johnnie Yatemark are standing at The Bowery. Brother tandems were common in the newsboy trade.
The next unidentified newsboy is at 125th Street, taken July 1910 either in the early morning or late afternoon based upon the long shadows. This newsboy was among the cleanest and best dressed of Hine’s many subjects. Notice the 3 women watching the boy make his sale as Hine captures the moment. The man in the bowler has quite a load in his jacket and is obviously not worried about pickpockets.
Standing in the middle of Herald Square this unidentified forlorn looking newsboy who appears to be about 7-years-old. He has the world weariness look of a man. The photograph caption that Hine used, “Johnson wins” refers to the boxing “match of the century.” Jack Johnson defeated James Jefferies in 15 rounds in Nevada on July 4, 1910. Typically extra” editions of newspapers were put out to inform the public of sporting results or important late breaking news items.
Joseph Lehman stands in front a bar with his newspapers in July 1910. There is something sad and disturbing about this disheveled child. Joseph’s eyes show a lack of sleep. As he has already prematurely aged it is easy to imagine what this 7-year-old will look like as a man.
Finally William Tobias, among the happiest looking newsboy’s in February 1909.
William Tobias 80 Grattan St., Brooklyn -12 yrs old. Boy was starting for the subway to sell papers on “trains until 6 A.M. “Cause termorrer dey haint no school and I kin sleep all day and sell again at night.” “All de barkeepers is me customers.” Asked him how he could sell at night. “I just keep out’n de way of de cops.” Weighs 60 pounds. Tall for age. Location: New York–Brooklyn.
What became of William Tobias? Click here to find out.