Shorpy Higginbotham (See label #1835.) Location: Bessie Mine, Alabama
Title from NCLC caption card.
Attribution to Hine based on provenance.
In album: Coal mines.
Hine no. 1833.
Credit line: National Child Labor Committee collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
General information about the National Child Labor Committee collection is available at: https://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.nclc
Forms part of: National Child Labor Committee collection.
Hine grew up in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. As a young man he had to care for himself, and working at a furniture factory gave him first-hand knowledge of industrial workers' harsh reality. Eight years later he matriculated at the University of Chicago and met Professor Frank A. Manny, whom he followed to New York to teach at the Ethical Culture School and continue his studies at New York University. As a faculty member at the Ethical Culture School Hine was introduced to photography. From 1904 until his death he documented a series of sites and conditions in the USA and Europe. In 1906 he became a photographer and field worker for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC). Undercover, disguised among other things as a Bible salesman or photographer for post-cards or industry, Hine went into American factories. His research methodology was based on photographic documentation and interviews. Together with the NCLC he worked to place the working conditions of two million American children onto the political agenda. The NCLC later said that Hine's photographs were decisive in the 1938 passage of federal law governing child labor in the United States. In 1918 Hine left the NCLC for the Red Cross and their work in Europe. After a short period as an employee, he returned to the United States and began as an independent photographer. One of Hine's last major projects was the series Men at Work, published as a book in 1932. It is a homage to the worker that built the country, and it documents such things as the construction of the Empire State Building. In 1940 Hine died abruptly after several years of poor income and few commissions. Even though interest in his work was increasing, it was not until after his death that Hine was raised to the stature of one of the great photographers in the history of the medium.
According to the 1900 US Census, a total of 1,752,187 (about 1 in every 6) children between the ages of five and ten were engaged in "gainful occupations" in the United States. The National Child Labor Committee, or NCLC, was a private, non-profit organization that served as a leading proponent for the national child labor reform movement. It headquartered on Broadway in Manhattan, New York. In 1908 the National Child Labor Committee hired Lewis Hine, a teacher and professional photographer trained in sociology, who advocated photography as an educational medium, to document child labor in the American industry. Over the next ten years, Hine would publish thousands of photographs designed to pull at the nation's heartstrings. The NCLC is a rare example of an organization that succeeded in its mission and was no longer needed. After more than a century of fighting child labor, it shut down in 2017.