Use this primary source imagery to analyze major events in history.
- Use this Primary Source to have students explore child labor during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
In the decades after the Civil War, drastic economic changes occurred in the United States. Technological innovations and industrialization led to a high demand for laborers in new factories, mines, and other areas. Owners increasingly hired children to work because they were cheaper to hire than adults and also were more adept at handling intricate machines with their smaller hands and bodies. In addition, compulsory education did not yet exist. Over time, child labor drew increasingly large numbers of critics who sought to reform labor laws to ban the hiring of children. Lewis Hine was a member of the National Child Labor Committee, an organization dedicated to supporting child labor reform. He traveled the country in the early twentieth century to photograph children and show the public the conditions they experienced.
- Who took these photographs?
- Why did he take these photographs?
- What impact might photographs have on the public that writing would not?
Figure 1: Garment workers, New York City, 1908.
Figure 2: Child laborers in glass and bottle factory, Indiana, 1908.
Figure 3: Boys working in an arcade bowling alley, Trenton, New Jersey.
- (Figure 1) What do you notice about the age range of the workers in this picture?
- (Figure 1) Describe the work environment shown in this photograph.
- (Figure 2) What do you notice about the age range of the workers in this picture?
- (Figure 2) Describe the work environment shown in this photograph.
- (Figure 3) What line of work do these boys appear to be in?
- (Figure 3) Modern standards allow for minors to work in certain fields similar to what these children are doing. Why do you think this is permissible?
Historical Reasoning Questions
- Consider the political reforms that were occurring in the United States during this time. How might these have influenced the push to end child labor?
- Compare Lewis Hine’s motivations for taking his photographs with other Progressive Era reformers such as Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair.