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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tracking New England’s Child Laborers

Here & Now Guests:

Journalist Joe Manning and Jenn Ford, great-granddaughter of a child laborer

BOSTON, Mass.–The child laborers working in the textile mills of Winchendon Springs, Mass. in the early 1900s were all but lost to history before journalist Joe Manning started digging into the past.

Manning decided to try to find out what happened to the kids after he saw dozens of images of them, taken by photographer Lewis Hine. Manning was especially captivated by a photo from 1911 of a young mill worker named Mamie Laberge.

“I think that picture is the most beautiful picture I’ve ever seen of a child,” Manning said on WBUR’s Here & Now. “And I also think it’s the greatest photograph Lewis Hine has ever taken. The way he placed her between the spinning machines, the way she wore that white smock almost angelic looking. She’s almost like a Mona Lisa.”

Manning said that when Hine photographed the children, he didn’t want to evoke pity.

“He thought that if we pitied them we wouldn’t really care about them,” Manning said. “And so he tried to make them interesting and beautiful and look like everybody else’s children.  So the people who were influential in the country… who would be the kind of people who would want to make an effort to change the laws so we would have child labor laws would look at those kids and say well they could have been my kids, I wouldn’t want my kids doing that.”

Jenn Ford, great granddaughter of Mamie Laberge, who was photographed as a child laborer, was appreciative of Manning’s research, and Hine’s photos. “I probably wouldn’t have known that that was my great grandmother,” she said.


After our segment we heard from listener Michael Worthington, who writes:

“I am a commercial/advertising photographer based in Burlington, Vermont. My studio is in one of the old 150 yo Mills that dot the Burlington area. Directly upstairs from my studio is a small exhibit about the local textile Mills and features many of Lewis Hine’s photographs that were taken right here in the building and the adjacent buildings along with the several from the North Pownal Mill.”

You can see the photos he took of his office here.


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  • Dagny Mouch

    Meanwhile, the governor of Maine is touting child labour as good for one, and is trying to allow more of it…just when adults can’t find enough work.

    He loves freedom: for employers, and everyone who’s already made it. He loves freedom: all the freedom that money can buy.

  • Contactdavidf

    There is a wonderful display of mill workers, women, children, men, immigrants, etc… at the Boott Cotton Mill at the Lowell National Historic Park. Also, May 12-14 is Doors Open Lowell weekend, when the City and National Park open up all public buildings (canal lock houses, historic houses, mill buildings, etc…) for the public.

  • Anonymous

    These photographs are so important as documents and testaments to our history but they also are evocative works of art. Hine’s technique of using natural light and thoughtful framing allow the spirit of the children to show through.

  • Mike Worthington

    Many thanks for your piece today on the Lewis Hine photographs of the child labor at the early part of the 20th Century.

    I am a commercial/advertising photographer based in Burlington, Vermont. My studio is in one of the old 150 yo Mills that dot the Burlington area. Directly upstairs from my studio is a small exhibit about the local textile Mills and features many of Lewis Hines photographs that were taken right here in the building and the adjacent buildings along with the several from the North Pownal Mill.

    I took a few shots of the exhibit right after hearing your story – just need to find a way to post them.

    J. Michael Worthington, Jr. – Photographer –
    Worthington Photography, because your image is everything
    802.578.8515
    mike@worthingtonimages.com
    http://www.worthingtonimages.com
    http://www.worthingtonimages.com/studio2.html

  • E_phil3

    Thank Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressive Movement for putting these practices to an end, and don’t think that today’s corporations wouldn’t use children if they could get away with it. Old photographs are true time capsules. I inherited the family photo album with tintypes going back to the Civil War. Through genealogical research on the internet, I have been able to contact and share photos with distant relatives who saw ancestors for the first time.

  • http://profiles.google.com/prisms26 ss 880126

    Each year by some estimates, hundreds of thousands of girls and boys are trafficked globally. Child trafficking is a global issue.
    I would like to suggest a documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate” which reveals the hideous truth behind the manufacturing of German and international chocolate, as sold and enjoyed in Germany and the rest of the world.
    To watch this documentary online visit: http://www.cultureunplugged.com/play/4809

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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