An overseer and two grimy boy doffers face the photographer in a Birmingham, Alabama, textile factory.
The textile mill epitomized mechanized industry, which made humans servants of machines. Textile manufacture was one of the earliest industries in the US, one often associated with ‘sweated’ labor. Exploitative practices reached an apogee in the late nineteenth-century American South, where mills employed black and white workers with no other prospects, drawing in many poor Appalachian families. Conditions in the mills were such that workers (many of them children) were virtually enslaved. Despite laboring incessantly, they lived in poverty, without recourse to their employer’s authority. The overseer in this picture boasted of having 30 doffers to do his bidding. The doffers’ job was to run to replace full spindles with empty ones to keep the looms running smoothly.
He was born into the United States and, being but a boy, had little choice when his mother chose to dress him in a sailor uniform, cart him off to a photographer’s, and have him pose with a sword before a large flag-draped portrait of William McKinley (who must have been his mother’s political hero). Continue reading →
Percy Neville in the heart of the Red Light district. Just come out of one of the houses with message . . . . He said gleefully “She gimme a quarter tip.” . . . Location: Shreveport, Louisiana. 1913.
Curtin Hines. Western Union messenger #36. Fourteen years old. Goes to school. Works from four to eight P.M. Been with W[estern] U[nion] for six months, one month delivering for a drug store. “I learned a lot about the ‘Reservation’ [red-light district] while I was at the drug store and I go there some times now.” Location: Houston, Texas. 1913.
Messenger boy working for Mackay Telegraph Company. Said fifteen years old. Exposed to Red Light dangers. Location: Waco, Texas. 1913.
Earle Griffith and Eddie Tahoory, working for the Dime Messenger Service. They said they never knew when they were going to get home at night. Usually work one or more nights a week, and have worked until after midnight. They said last Christmas their office had a 9 yr. old boy running errands for them, and that he made a great deal of money from tips. They make about $7 a week and more, sometimes. Said “The office is not allowed to send us into the red light district but we go when a call sends us. Not very often.” Location: Washington DC. 1912.
Selling during school hours, 10:30 A.M. Location: Syracuse, New York. 1910.
Wilbur H. Woodward, 428 Third St., NW, Washington, DC, Western Union messenger 236, one of the youngsters on the border-line, (15 yrs. old) works until 8 P.M. only. Location: Washington DC. 1912.
Eleven-year-old Western Union messenger #51. J.T. Marshall. Been day boy here for five months. Goes to Red Light district some and knows some of the girls. Location: Houston, Texas. 1913.
Danville Messengers. The smallest boy, Western Union No. 5, is only ten years old, and is working as extra boy. He said he was going to be laid off as the manager told him he was too young, but an older messenger told me the reason was that the other messengers were having him put off because he cuts into their earnings. Location: Danville, Virginia. 1911.
Manley Creasson, 914 W. 6 St. Messenger #6, Mackay Telegraph Co. Says he is 14; school records say 13. Says he has steady job– “Been a messenger for years. Get $15 for 2 weeks’ pay.” Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 1917.
Since these boys stared into Lewis Hine’s camera a century ago, the status of American children has improved in some ways but not others. Back then, children were prone to become whatever the economic situations of their families required. The children of farmers were often pressed into lives of drudgery, while others followed the trend of modernization, working in the street trades if they were city dwellers, or in mills, mines, and factories, all to stave off the want of individual and family poverty. Continue reading →
For the most part, boys who wanted to skate had to clear the ice themselves.
Ice rinks, though not unheard of, were far fewer in number and far less interesting than frozen waterways, whether rivers or ponds; and, for the better part of a century, most American skaters enjoyed their sport in such natural settings.
Here, boys of various ages pose with their shovels while clearing the ice in Washington DC. Half-pose for the camera, I should say, for, while cooperating, still they couldn’t quite stifle their pure excitement and joy, their clowning and jostling frozen forever, along with their readiness to have a good time.
Despite differences in headgear, the skaters’ dress is fairly uniform: their knee-length trousers terminating above long wool stockings and lace-up skates. Most wear jackets rather than long overcoats, and a few wear ties! In the vanguard, an earnest-looking boy wears a serious woolen hat, its folds covering his ears, neck, and chin in a heavy cowl.
The knee-length pants were known as knickers. Their uniform usage in this photograph suggests that it was taken in the nineteen-teens.