Flipping through photos of historic Washington, I found this one:
It’s a striking image, juxtaposing a physical manifestation of the promise of democracy and the hard facts of child labor. Lewis Hine took several pictures of these boys on April 11, 1912 as part of his work for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC). The boys are 8 to 11 years old; these pictures are part of Hine’s series on street trades. The caption for a similar picture notes that the boys all live on the same alley in DC, and the oldest, aged 12 and not in the above picture, attended a “school for incorrigibility in school.” In general, a newsboy’s life was neither cushy nor musical; he usually had to buy his papers upfront and sell them all, and he worked at all hours of the day and night and in all weather. One of NCLC’s main concerns about this form of child labor involved the vices to which young boys were exposed–smoking, drinking, gambling, prostitution, and so on. Many boys were key parts of their families’ financial support, and others were homeless.
Hine was a proponent of photography used for education, and his photojournalism (an early example of documentary photography) was an essential component in the NCLC’s campaign to end the employment of children under age 16, especially in dangerous jobs. After a series of partial successes for the committee, the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act prohibited the interstate trade of goods created through child labor; it remains a key part of the protection of American children. Hine’s images of children working in mills, mines, streets, and elsewhere introduced Americans across the country to the types of situations many children endured as part of a cycle of poverty.