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The Photographer of Mankind And Social Issues

Breaker Boys

Breaker Boys

Walker Sister, Ages  6 and 3

Walker Sister, Ages 6 and 3

Lewis W. Hine, Photographer of Child Labor

Lewis W. Hine was born September 26, 1874, to Douglas and Sarah Hine in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. His father died when Lewis was still a teenager so he put his education on hold to take care of the family. He found odd jobs, first in a furniture upholstery factory. There, he worked 13 hours a day, six days a week, making $4.00 for a week!

Lewis did continue his studies by way of Columbia University, New York University, and the University of Chicago. He began teaching at the Ethical Culture School and soon realized the camera could be a tool for his teaching. A mentor to Lewis, Mr. Frank Manny from the Ethical School had taken a better job in 1901 at the Ethical Culture School in New York. He immediately hired Lewis as an educator.

By now Lewis had married Sarah Rich (1874-1939) and had obtained his master's degree from New York University. Working for several organizations, he steadily began building his career. He worked for the American Clothing Workers, the National TB Committee, the Tenament House Committee, the Boy and Girl Scouts, and the Milbank Foundation.

In 1907, he was a staff photographer for the Russell Sage Foundation, a non-profit organization for the improvement of social and living conditions in the U.S. in 1908, Lewis left teaching and was hired by the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC). For the next decade, he focused his photographing child labor and concentrated on the Carolina Piedmont area, documenting child labor in the cotton mills.

Employers were none too happy seeing Lewis around their factories. It was dangerous and he was often threatened by foremen and factory police. But, he was determined to get his photographs, so he improvised and appeared as a fire inspector, a bible salesman, a recorder of machinery, and a post-card salesman.

Lancaster Cotton Mill

Lancaster Cotton Mill

Farrand Packing Co

Farrand Packing Co

Bibb Mill Company

Bibb Mill Company

1908 Glass Factory

1908 Glass Factory

His Later Years Photographing

In 1930, Lewis had the honor of documenting the construction of the Empire State Building. in order to get the best shots, he was determined to mimic the workers. At one time he was swung out in a basket 1000' above Fifth Avenue. Other times he hung above the city with nothing below but a sheer drop of a quarter-mile. Lewis didn't just take photographs, he somehow captured the human element.

Lewis Hine on Empire State Building

Lewis Hine on Empire State Building

Great Depression Era

During the Great Depression, Lewis was working for the American Red Cross, photographing the relief efforts in the south for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and life in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. He went on as chief photographer for the Works Progress Administration. In 1936, he worked on the National Research Project of the WPA. People and the government were losing interest, and funding from the government and corporate was declining. As a result, Lewis was financially broke and lost his home, went bankrupt, and applied for welfare.

It was not until 1938 that the Fair Labor Standards Act addressed child labor. And it is believed that Lewis' dedication to child labor contributed helped to end child labor.

Sadly, Lewis died in 1940 at the Dobbs Ferry Hospital, Dobbs Ferry, NY., age 66.

Lewis and his wife are buried in Ouleout Valley Cemetery, Franklin, New york.

Lewis Hine Collection and Quotes

A few of Lewis' quotes are :

  • "There is work that profits children, and there is work that brings profit only to employers."
  • Photography is empathy towards the world."
  • Photography can light up the darkness and expose ignorance."

After his death, his son Corydon donated his photographs and negatives to the George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY. Other places housing some of his collections are; Library of Congress, NY Public Library, and the International Photography Hall of Fame.

Lewis spent his life trying always to find the "soul" of his subjects in his photographs. He was definitely telling the story of human suffering trying to bring attention to the public. He died in poverty which is sad considering how much he gave to the public.


fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on September 18, 2020:

Thanks for reading. I appreciate it

Rosina S Khan on September 18, 2020:

This is an interesting account of Lewis W. Hine, Photographer of Child Labor. It's sad that he died in poverty in spite of how much he gave to the public. Thank you for this wonderful article, Fran.

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