As a photographer for National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), sociologist Lewis Hine documented child labor in American industry to aid the NCLC’s lobbying efforts to end the practice. Hine’s work resulted in a wave of popular support for federal child labor regulations put forward by the NCLC. In one of the earliest examples of documentary photography, Hine visited mills and factories all over the United States, opening an otherwise unavailable window into the somber working conditions facing America’s youth. When asked about his work on the subject Hine simply stated that he “wanted to show things that had to be corrected.”
The picture above was noted, “A moments glimpse of the outer world. Said she was 11 years old. Been working over a year. Rhodes Mfg.” and it would become one of the most iconic photos of Hines’ anthology. Hine indeed met with considerable opposition from the employers, who accused him of muck-raking. Sometimes he was banned from the premises, on other occasions the children were hidden from view when he arrived. Hine posed as a fire inspector, Bible salesman or insurance agent in order to gain access to the premises. Where he was banned from premises, he would photograph the children arriving at or leaving the factory….and he measured the children’s height by the buttons on his jacket.
After NCLC, Hine documented life in the steel-making districts of Pittsburgh, American Red Cross relief work in Europe, the construction of the Empire State Building and other human contributions to modern industry.