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. Continue reading