Tracking Down Lewis Hine’s Forgotten Child Laborers

5 minute read

Joe Manning, a 71-year-old retired social worker from Florence, Mass., has for years had an eerily powerful connection to the early 20th-century photographer Lewis Hine. Perhaps the premier chronicler of the atrocious working conditions endured by laborers — of all ages — in early 20th century America, Hine, mired in debt and living on welfare, died in 1940. Manning was born the next year.

“Some have suggested I am Hine reincarnated,” he muses. Indeed, Manning does bear a strikingly similar physical resemblance to the great photographer and sociologist, whose pictures of the infamous slums, mines, mills and tenement homes of early 1900s America also documented the bleak, brutal lives of men, women and children whose labor fueled the nation’s industrial revolution. Hine’s seminal work provides one of the most comprehensive records of labor conditions ever produced in America. Originally shot for the National Child Labor Committee, Hine’s pictures were intended to bolster the case for child labor laws, especially those covering the country’s most dangerous and, quite literally, deadly work environments. Eventually, more than 5,000 of Hine’s prints were donated to the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress, where they remain accessible to the public via the Internet.

Which is where Joe Manning comes in.

In 2004, after retiring from a three-decade career as a social worker, Manning learned from a friend that she was writing a novel based on a 1910 Hine photograph of a Vermont mill girl. Hine’s caption, in shorthand, read simply: Addie Card, 12 years old. Spinner in North Pownal Cotton Mill. Vt. Girls in mill say she is ten years. She admitted to me she was twelve; that she started during school vacation and new [sic] would stay.

Intrigued (and later, obsessed), Manning worked to uncover any information he could on Addie, eventually locating her daughter, and then her granddaughter. He learned that Addie had died, at the age of 94, in 1993.

Narendra Modi
India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime-ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, displays the victory symbol to supporters after casting his vote in Ahmedabad, India, on April 30, 2014Left: Lewis Hine | Right: Photo provided by Addie's Family

In the course of his research, Manning was able to show Addie’s grandkids the Hine photograph of their grandmother, the first time any of them had seen it.

“Addie’s story lives on,” Manning told TIME. “Her family wouldn’t have had that without this project. It humanizes these kids [in Hine’s pictures] to see them at their later ages.”

Fascinated by the idea that Hine’s subjects grew up and escaped from the often-horrific working conditions of their childhoods, Manning set out to locate more of Hine’s subjects and their descendants, compiling oral histories and family memories.

Today — nearly nine years after retirement and the first stirrings of his Hine project — Manning has researched the backstories of somewhere between 300 and 400 of Hine’s subjects (“I’ve stopped counting,” he muses). Many of his findings are published on his website,

“I began to understand that the most important thing was to get these pictures to the subject’s descendants,” he says, “while they still knew and remembered the person. If I can do that for people, why wouldn’t I? In the end, giving people back their own history is a mission for me.”

Manning admits to a strong feeling of kinship with Hine. (“It’s incredible how much I look like him,” he laughs.) Detested by factory managers who saw him as a nuisance and rabble-rouser, Hine assumed a variety of personae – including a Bible salesman or insurance agent — in order to gain access to the workplaces he needed to photograph. Once inside, he documented the labor conditions and produced a monumental typology of the workers — usually children — and their stories. Hine’s exhaustive studies formed such a comprehensive portrait of his time that they comprised a whole new category of documentation, granting countless photojournalists in the decades that followed the license to pursue any story they chose.

Manning, meanwhile, has his own reasons for pursuing the stories that Hine first reported.

“The children and families depicted in Hine’s child-labor photographs were unwittingly caught in the act of making history,” he notes, “but we know almost nothing about them. The pictures were taken for a noble purpose, but a century later, they have become an enormous photo album of the American family. By finding out what happened to some of these people, and by revealing the photos to their descendants, we dignify their lives, and the lives of everyone that history has forgotten.”

Joe Manning‘s extensive research can be seen on Manning hopes to one day publish his research in a comprehensive volume.

Vaughn Wallace is the producer of LightBox. Follow him on Twitter @vaughnwallace.

An exhibition of Hine’s work is on view at the International Center of Photography through Jan. 19, 2014.

Each of the following slides contain Manning's field notes on his subjects, whether quotes from their descendents or facts he uncovered about their lives. We've also included Hine's original captions when available. Click on the subject's name to view Manning's full research.Robert Kidd, glass factory worker, 12 years old, Alexandria, Virginia, 1911. "'Carrying-in' boy in Alexandria Glass Factory. Works on day shift one week and night shift next week." —Hine's original caption “He always had that [sad] expression. I take after him, because everybody tells me I look the same way, sad all the time. He was an alcoholic, but I loved my father. He wasn't mean. He was a good father, other than the sickness he had with alcohol. He was always good to us. I remember one time when I was sick, he brought me some oranges. He loved his children. He was always concerned about us.” —Daughter of Robert KiddLewis Wickes Hine via Library of Congress
Mamie Laberge, cotton mill worker, 13 years old, Winchendon, Massachusetts, 1911."Mamie La Barge at her Machine. Under legal age." —Hine's original caption “She was a soft, caring, comforting grandmother. She loved to be around her grandchildren. She was a hard worker. She was always cleaning the house. She was well groomed, always wore a dress, and made you proud that she was your grandmother.” —Granddaughter of Mamie LabergeLewis Wickes Hine via Library of Congress
Addie Card, spinner in cotton mill, 12 years old, North Pownal, Vermont, 1910. "anemic little spinner in North Pownal Cotton Mill." —Hine's original caption “She told me about how hard it was working in the mill, that she had to quit school in the fourth grade to go to work, about her father disowning her, and how it was so awful not to have your parents' love.” —Great-Granddaughter of Addie CardLewis Wickes Hine via Library of Congress
Alberta McNatt, berry picker on farm, about six years old, Cannon, Delaware, 1910. "Alberta McNadd on Chester Truitt's farm at Cannon, Del. Alberta is 5 years of age and has been picking berries since she was 3. Her mother volunteered the information that she picks steadily from sun-up to sun-down." —Hine's original caption She had started working at five o’clock in the morning, and was found by Lewis Hine still picking berries at four o’clock in the afternoon. She married at the age of 17, and died six months later. Lewis Wickes Hine via Library of Congress
Catherine Young, widow with nine children, six working in cotton mill, Tifton, Georgia, 1909. "A family working in the Tifton (Ga.) Cotton Mill. Mrs. A.J. young works in mill and at home. Nell (oldest girl) alternates in mill with mother. Mammy (next girl) runs 2 sides. Mary (next) runs 1 1/2 sides. Elic (oldest boy) works regularly. Eddie (next girl) helps in mill, sticks on bobbins. Four smallest children not working yet. The mother said she earns $4.50 a week and all the children earn $4.50 a week. Husband died and left her with 11 children. 2 of them went off and got married. The family left the farm 2 years ago to work in the mill. January 22, 1909." —Hine's original caption “My mother told me about the day she and her brothers and sisters went to the orphan's home, and how she was crying. She said she had helped with the baby all day, and then she never saw her again. I told my Mama that her mother had no choice, because there wasn't any way they could make a living. So that's when she gave them away.” —Daughter of one of the Young children Lewis Wickes Hine via Library of Congress
Cora Lee Griffin, spinner in cotton mill, 12 years old, Whitnel, North Carolina, 1908. " One of the spinners in Whitnel Cotton Mfg. Co. N.C. She was 51 inches high. Had been in mill 1 year. Some at night. Runs 4 sides, 48 cents a day. When asked how old, she hesitated, then said "I don't remember." Then confidentially, "I'm not old enough to work, but I do just the same." Out of 50 employees, ten children about her size."—Hine's original caption “She had regrets about not getting the education she had desired. She only got as far as the sixth grade. At that point, she started working full time. But she wanted an education, and really valued it, and it was a priority for her that we got a good education— whatever it took to send us to college.” —Daughter of Cora Lee GriffinLewis Wickes Hine via Library of Congress
Elsie Shaw, fish cannery worker, six years old, Eastport, Maine, 1911."Elsie Shaw, a 6 year old cartoner during the summer, Seacoast Canning Co., Factory #2. Her father is boss of cutting room in Factory #1. He asked me to take some photos of her, as he has her do a singing act in vaudeville in the winter, "and she's old enough now to go through the audience and sell her own photos.""—Hine's original caption “Nana loved to talk about the days when she was in vaudeville as a young child. She would tell me stories about performing on stage, singing and dancing and doing little skits.” —Granddaughter of Elsie ShawLewis Wickes Hine via Library of Congress
George Okertich, newsboy, 5 years old, St. Louis, Missouri, 1910."Newsboy. Little Fattie. Less than 40 inches high, 6 years old. Been at it one year. May 9th, 1910."—Hine's original captionGeorge (officially Slavko Ocretic) was born in Croatia (Yugoslavia) on April 22, 1905, which means that he was actually only five years old when he was photographed by Hine.“Uncle George was 15 when he went to work. He was a mail carrier. He was called the Singing Mailman. He loved to sing. He had a nice voice. He sang everywhere. When his mother died, he sat in the funeral parlor and sang for all of us. I remember once that my grandmother sent me to the corner tavern to get him, and he sat me up on top of the bar, and I had to sing with him.” —Niece of George OkertichLewis Wickes Hine via Library of Congress
Giles Newsom, cotton mill worker, 12 years old, Bessemer City, North Carolina, 1912. According to Lewis Hine, “A piece of the machine fell on his foot mashing his toe. This caused him to fall onto a spinning machine and his hand went into unprotected gearing, crushing and tearing out two fingers. He told the Attorney he was 11 years old when it happened. His father, (R.L. Newsom) tried to compromise with the Company when he found the boy would receive the money and not the parents. The mother tried to blame the boys for getting jobs on their own hook, but she let them work several months. The aunt said "Now he's jes got to where he could be of some help to his ma an' then this happens and he can't never work no more like he oughter." He died at the age of 18. He was buried in an unmarked grave, and his name was badly misspelled on his death certificate.Lewis Wickes Hine via Library of Congress
Mary Mauro and family, working at home for a feather factory, New York City, 1911."5 P.M. Mrs. Mary Mauro, 309 E. 110th St., 2nd floor. Family work on feathers. Make $2.25 a week. In vacation 2 or 3 times as much. Victoria, 8 yrs. Angelina 10 yrs. (a neighbor). Frorandi 10 yrs. Maggie 11 yrs. All work except two boys against wall. Father is street cleaner and has steady job. Girls work until 7 or 8 P.M. Once Maggie (11 yrs.) worked until 10 P.M." —Hine's original captionThe photograph is exhibited at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. “I went to Ellis Island and found this picture of my father's family. When I saw the photo, it gave me an opportunity to step back in time, and to actually enter the room where they were. I have always felt an appreciation for what I have. Our family has achieved so much since the picture was taken. I feel very proud.” —Daughter of one of the boys in the photographLewis Wickes Hine via Library of Congress
Lonnie Cole, doffer at cotton mill, 11 years old, Birmingham, Alabama, 1910.""OUR BABY DOFFER" they called him. Has been doffing for some months. When asked his age, he hesitated, then said, "I'm Twelve." Another young boy said "He can't work unless he's twelve." Child Labor regulations were conspicuously posted in the mill."—Hine's original caption “He was just a very easygoing person. When he was around, all of the kids loved to be with him, because he would play with them and joke with them. My Uncle Lon was not a man who made a great impact. He was just an ordinary man. I find it really exciting that, in a way, because of your story about him, he has made an impact." —Niece of Lonnie ColeLewis Wickes Hine via Library of Congress
Raymond Klose (middle), newsboy, 13 years old, St. Louis, Missouri, 1910."11:00 A.M. Monday, May 9th, 1910. Newsies at Skeeter's Branch, Jefferson near Franklin. They were all smoking." —Hine's original caption“He was fun, a very funny guy. He always liked to act silly around his nieces and nephews. He had the show dogs, and that was interesting to hear about. He always had at least one at home. They were always Airedales.” —Niece of Raymond KloseLewis Wickes Hine via Library of Congress
Rose Berdych, oyster shucker, seven years old, Bluffton, South Carolina, 1913."7-year old Rosie. Regular oyster shucker. Her second year at it. Illiterate. Works all day. Shucks only a few pots a day. (Showing process) Varn & Platt Canning Co." —Hine's original caption“She used to talk about when she was young and they traveled from Baltimore to South Carolina and then back to Baltimore to pick fruits and vegetables. I know that she grew up in Baltimore. They were poor, and they lived in a tenement house. She never talked about going to school. We always wondered how she learned to read and write." —Daughter of Rose BerdychLewis Wickes Hine via Library of Congress
Sadie Barton, spinner in cotton mill, 13 years old, Lancaster, South Carolina, 1908."A typical Spinner Lancaster Cotton Mills, S.C." —Hine's original caption“Mom may have been faced with things we will never know, but it did not destroy her spunk and strength. She was very much with me the day I learned about her picture. No words could ever explain the depth of emotion I felt when I first saw it, knowing my mother was the beautiful girl in that photograph.” —Daughter of Sadie BartonLewis Wickes Hine via Library of Congress
Vance Palmer, trapper boy in coal mine, about 15 years old, Harrison County, West Virginia, 1908."Has trapped for several years in a West Va. Coal mine. $.75 a day for 10 hours work. All he does is to open and shut this door: most of the time he sits here idle, waiting for the cars to come. On account of the intense darkness in the mine, the hieroglyphics on the door were not visible until plate was developed." —Hine's original caption “I knew he had to work when he was young, but I didn't know he worked at the mine. I remember him telling me that he went down in the mines once and said he would never work there.” —Son of Vance PalmerLewis Wickes Hine via Library of Congress

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