Welcome to the Lewis Hine Project ™, an amazing journey through 100 years of American history. From 1908 until 1924, Lewis Hine took over 5,000 photographs of American child laborers. His compelling pictures helped to persuade legislators and the general public to support laws prohibiting child labor. All the photos, with Mr. Hine’s captions, are posted on the Library of Congress website. Since 2005, I have been identifying the children, tracking down and interviewing living descendants, and writing stories about how the lives of these children turned out. You can see all those stories on this website. If this is your first visit, please see About Lewis Hine Project first (just click photo at left).
Each photo below is a link. Click Child Labor Stories for an index of all the stories I have posted so far; Addie Card: The Search for an Anemic Little Spinner for the story that inspired this project; Counting on Grace for information about the book inspired by Addie; Library of Congress to see all of Hine’s child labor photos; and Mystery Photos to see some of the unnamed children I am trying to identify.
Click Lonnie Cole, the story, and the song inspired by the boy to see and hear about the little boy called “Our Baby Doffer”; Catherine Young & Family, Tifton, Georgia to see their remarkable story; Children That Mattered: An essay about the Lewis Hine Project; Exhibits & Presentations to learn about exhibits of my work, and my upcoming presentations; and Lewis Hine, to see a brief biography of the great photographer.
*In 2015, the Library of Congress, in Washington, DC, added all of my stories from the Lewis Hine Project to their collection of Hine’s child labor photographs and related material. All of the stories were printed from my website. The Library will continue to add new stories as they become available. I wish to thank the LOC Prints and Photographs Division for honoring these beautiful children, and their families.
Comments from readers, and from descendants of the child laborers
“Thank you for finding my Granny for me. I don’t have the words to explain how much it means to me that you found her. I’m overwhelmed by the emotion I feel — sadness that my dear granny never had a childhood — and joy that the pretty little girl captured in this poignant and iconic photograph will forever be a symbol and a reminder of a terrible past in this country. Because of the children in Lewis Hine’s photographs, labor laws were enacted and enforced so that subsequent generations of children would have the childhood that my granny clearly did not.”
“I adored my granny. I lived with her as a little girl, and she treated me like I was a precious treasure, like the doll-baby she never had. She was tender and kind and spoiled me with her attention and love, and had a tremendous influence on the mother I became myself. She could not bear mistreatment of children, and though she’d be bewildered by the attention given this photograph, I believe she would be, in her heart of hearts, very proud, as I certainly am. She was a true-life American girl and a heroine in my eyes. What I wouldn’t give for her to know just how special she was.” -Myra Cook, granddaughter North Carolina cotton mill worker Lalar Blanton
“Thank you so much for sharing my great-grandmother’s story. I’m very grateful you care so much about these photographs, and the people in them, and that you have dedicated so much effort to telling their stories. Thank you for giving that little girl — my great-grandmother — the dignity she deserved. I carry her memory in my DNA. She, and people like her, are never far from my mind and my heart as I embark upon my own life’s work — giving a voice to the voiceless.” -Jennifer Janisch, great-granddaughter of North Carolina cotton mill worker Lalar Blanton, and a CBS News producer
“I am a teacher, and I used the pictures of Lalar today in my US History class. It was so cool to see their reactions when I told them that the little girl at the window was my great-grandmother. They were blown away, and I think all of them realized that yes, history can be really cool.” -Emily, great-granddaughter of North Carolina cotton mill worker Lalar Blanton
“Joe, I just finished reading the entire story of the Young family. I was deeply moved by this. It’s an incredible thing you did, getting the entire family reconnected, through all your tireless research and perseverance. By the time I saw the picture of you with the quilt made by Eddie Lou, I was in tears.” -Jill Gomez
“You know those websites where you enter them thinking, I’ll just have a look to see what this is, and then when you look up from reading it, more than an hour has passed? This is one of those websites, but the story is fantastic and well worth the time.”
“First some background. Lewis Hine was a teacher and a photographer. He was critical of the lack of labor laws protecting children, and in 1908, the National Child Labor Committee employed Hine to investigate and photograph children working in factories.”
“Nearly 100 years after Lewis Hine visited a cotton mill in Tifton, Georgia, a picture of two young girls who worked in the mill caught, and kept, the attention of Joe Manning. Hine had taken five pictures while visiting the Tifton Mill, and in each of the pictures was the little dark-haired girl from the first picture.”
“He then started on what was to be a long journey in identifying the dark-haired girl, as well as the rest of her family. The story is a heartbreaking account of the decisions and lifestyles many in that era were forced into, as well as an amazing example of what kind of research can be done with enough drive and a bit of luck. Ultimately, Manning is able to go from a single picture of two unnamed children, to finding the descendants of one family and learning the history of that family through speaking with those descendants.”
“Take a look at how two men, working 100 years apart, were able to highlight the life of an otherwise anonymous family, and show what life was like for the factory and mill workers of the early 20th century.” -Lisa Quinn, Instructional Librarian, LaVerne & Dorothy Brown Library, University of St. Francis, Joliet, Illinois
“I’ve just spent a ton of hours reading every word of your extraordinary research about the Catherine Young family in the Lewis Hine photograph. It was a riveting experience, so much more than the sum of its parts–more profound and moving than many literary novels, as powerful as a Ken Burns documentary. As someone who has done my own share of genealogical research, and as a writer and editor, I salute your meticulous technique, unflagging energy, and restrained presentation; as an elder care-giver for an aunt who surmounted Southern poverty not unlike that of the Youngs, I salute you for having perceived and then magnified and restored this family’s human dignity. The collection of stories, photos and interviews forms an unforgettable portrait of life (and lives) across an American century and is a testament to human resilience and tenderness as well as callousness.” -Brenda L. Becker
“Just wanted to drop you a line after spending the last hour reading your incredible series on the Catherine Young family and their 1909 photos. It was an amazing journey. I love how you dove into the life of each of the children in such detail. After reading the story, I feel like I know these people who, just hours ago, I had never heard of. Amazing work, research, and writing. Thanks for sharing their story with the Internet and the world! –Kristina Kirkland
“You cannot imagine what it means to us, after all these years, to learn of this previously unknown and very important part of our father’s story as a young boy. Not only has it brought his memory to the foreground but also that of our Aunt Julia and has reunited us as a family. We cannot thank you enough for this.” -Madeline Strasser, daughter of Massachusetts cotton mill worker Elias Joseph
“I have just finished reading your story of my grandmother, and I have tears in my eyes….not sure if they are for her, my grandfather and my father, as much as they are for all of the children of that time. Thank you for your interest in these children, and for making the rest of us aware of their lives.” -Lynne Hatt, granddaughter of Maine sardine cannery worker Minnie Thomas
“Thank you for the fantastic story about Uncle Ray. You unearthed things about him that even our family didn’t know. And now I know things about my mother’s childhood that she has never shared with me. It brought tears to my eyes. I can’t thank you enough.” -Mary Beth Rosebrough, great-niece of St. Louis newsboy Raymond Klose
“My Uncle Lon was not a man who made a great impact. He was just an ordinary man. I find it really exciting that, in a way, because of your story about him, he has made an impact.” -Dorothy Cheatham, niece of Alabama cotton mill worker Lonnie Cole
“I am the granddaughter of Robert Ellis Kidd, the boy in the picture at the glass factory. I came across your story about him while doing a random search on my family. It is remarkable, and I personally can’t thank you enough for your research and for finding this family treasure.” -Amanda Kidd Vanzant
“The faces of these children and the stories of their lives touch me deeply. You have given them a voice and have honored who they are. You have let us know that they mattered.” -Deborah Irwin, Research/Tours Director, AncestralAttic.com
“Just wanted to say thank you. My father’s family is from Coal Township, Pennsylvania. My grandmother dropped out of school in 1929 when she was 12 years old to work in the factories and mills to help put food on the table. In the 1950s, at the age of 14, my father moved to a farm. He attended school and worked on the farm full time and during school breaks, and remembers working up to 18 hours a day. His money was sent home to my grandmother to help put food on the table. Pictures say a thousand words and Lewis Hine’s photographs helped make a difference in the early 1900s. His photographs are haunting, very emotional and wrenching, but your going back and finding the stories behind the faces of these young children and their families answers the questions everyone asks when they see Hine’s pictures. You capture the heart and soul of these children and how they were human and grew up and did what they had to do. Hine and Dorothea Lange are two of my favorite photographers, and all of their pictures that captured the soul of our country during that era always remind me of what I have and how blessed I am. They also leave me wondering how these people fared and where they ended up. You’ve taken the time and gone back and found the answers on some of these, and for that I thank you.” -Tracy Donnelly
“I have spent several hours each of the last few days, lost in the history you’ve brought to life. I’m afraid I cannot adequately express my admiration for the time and dedication you have devoted to this project. I hope you continue to rescue the lost and give them the importance they never had in life.” -Laura O’Hara
“I spent a good part of today reading your work, and I must say that what you have done is amazing. I have seen Mr. Hine’s work in the past, and have often wondered about the children in the photos. Giving them a life beyond the day the photos were taken is a wonderful tribute to both Mr. Hine and to each of the children you were able to trace.” -Cathy Elsbernd
I have made dozens of presentations about my Lewis Hine Project to schools, colleges, libraries, museums, and other audiences. I show many of the Hine photos, tell the stories of the children in them, show some of the family photos that the descendants have provided to me, and talk about the search process. If you are interested in hearing and seeing my work in person, I am available. I live in Florence, Massachusetts, which is a village in Northampton. Please email me at the address below.