Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor, by Russell Freedman, ISBN 978-0395797266
Five out of five stars
One of the threads that has run through modern industrial societies since the industrial revolution began has been that liberal ideas start slowly, face opposition from conservative elements and eventually take hold and become an integral component of society. Child labor laws are one such idea. One of the most astounding facts I have ever encountered appears on page 16. It references a three-year-old girl named Angelica that made 540 artificial flowers a day in the tenement apartment where her family lives. Her wages for that day are five cents with no other benefits.
Lewis Hine was a crusader with a camera that traveled the United States taking pictures of children at work, often in the most dirty and dangerous of conditions. From the factories spinning cotton, to picking cotton in the fields to the coal mines, children were utilized as labor because their labor was cheap. Desperate parents needed every penny their family could earn when there was little in the way of social support.
Despite their being children and prone to having a sunny disposition, you can generally see the fatigue and despair in their faces. Hine’s pictures did a great deal to advance the movement against child labor, particularly in dangerous occupations. The text explains the images as well as a history of National Child Labor Committee and the legal steps that were taken. Congress passed child labor laws in 1916 and 1918, but they were struck down as unconstitutional by the U. S. Supreme Court.
The struggle to keep children in school and out of the factories did not succeed until the Great Depression, when the lack of jobs led to pressures to have adults with families fill them. The two-track social movements of compulsory education of children and preventing the youngest from working combined to largely eliminate child labor. As this book recounts, this humane action was not without a bitter struggle against conservative forces.