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

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