Monday, January 14, 2008

Babies In the Mill

Babies in the Mill

I came across a collection of American child labor photographs by chance, and thought they'd make a good follow-up to Mother Jones: Child Labor in America (1908-1912): Photographs of Lewis W. Hine at The History Place. While I've some of these moving photos before, I didn't know the name of Lewis W. Hines before. From the Web page:

Photographer Lewis W. Hine (1874-1940) was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He studied sociology at Chicago and New York universities, becoming a teacher, then took up photography as a means of expressing his social concerns.

His first photo essay featured Ellis Island immigrants. In 1908, Hine left his teaching position for a full-time job as an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee, which was then conducting a major campaign against the exploitation of American children.

From 1908 to 1912, Hine took his camera across America to photograph children as young as three years old working for long hours, often under dangerous conditions, in factories, mines, and fields. Hine was an immensely talented photographer who viewed his young subjects with the eye of a humanitarian.

In 1909, he published the first of many photo essays depicting working children at risk. In these photographs, the essence of wasted youth is apparent in the sorrowful and even angry faces of his subjects. Some of his images, such as the young girl in the mill glimpsing out the window, are among the most famous photographs ever taken.

During World War I, he documented the plight of refugees for the American Red Cross. He later documented the construction of the Empire State building in 1930-1931 and even hung upside down from a crane to photograph workmen.

One of Hines' photos was used on the cover of a favorite CD, Babies in the Mill a re-release of the 1962 record album featuring Dorsey, Howard and Nancy Dixon. The recording includes a few of the Dixon Brothers' 78 rpm recordings from the 1930's, a little dialogue with Nancy and Dorsey, and Dorsey singing some of his compositions, including Babies in the Mill, below. Dorsey wrote this song in honor of big sister Nancy, who went to work in a South Carolina mill at age 8. (I learned this song from a Hedy West recording, and these may not be the exact words Dorsey Dixon wrote.)

I used to be a factory hand when things was moving slow,
When children worked in cotton mills, each morning had to go.
Every morning just at five the whistle blew on time
To call them babies out of bed at the age of eight and nine.

    Come out of bed, little sleepy head,
    And get you a bite to eat.
    The factory whistle's calling you,
    There's no more time to sleep.

To their jobs those little ones was strictly forced to go.
Those babies had to be on time through rain and sleet and snow.
Many times when things went wrong their bosses often frowned.
Many times those little ones was kicked and shoved around.


Those babies all grew up unlearned, they never went to school.
They never learned to read or. write. They learned to spin and spool.
Every time I close my eyes, I see that picture still
When textile work was carried on by babies in the mill.


1 comment:

Geoff said...

Glad to read that you've come across Lewis Hine, Rebecca, someone who deserves greater recognition, in part because his motto was "I wanted to show the thing that had to be corrected: I wanted to show the things that had to be appreciated.", a nice balance, don't you think.

Warm regards,