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 Lewis Wickes Hine  (1879 - 1940)

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Lived/Active: New York/Wisconsin      Known for: child labor photography, social reform themes

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Lewis Wickes Hine
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
"Lewis Hine, a New York City schoolteacher and photographer, believed that a picture could tell a powerful story. He felt so strongly about the abuse of children as workers that he quit his teaching job and became an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee.  Hine traveled around the country photographing the working conditions of children in all types of industries.  He photographed children in coal mines, in meatpacking houses, in textile mills, and in canneries.  He took pictures of children working in the streets as shoe shiners, newsboys, and hawkers.  In many instances he tricked his way into factories to take the pictures that factory managers did not want the public to see. He was careful to document every photograph with precise facts and figures. To obtain captions for his pictures, he interviewed the children on some pretext and then scribbled his notes with his hand hidden inside his pocket.  Because he used subterfuge to take his photographs, he believed that he had to be "double-sure that my photo data was 100% pure--no retouching or fakery of any kind." Hine defined a good photograph as "a reproduction of impressions made upon the photographer which he desires to repeat to others." Because he realized his photographs were subjective, he described his work as "photo-interpretation."

Hine believed that if people could see for themselves the abuses and injustice of child labor, they would demand laws to end those evils. By 1916, Congress passed the Keating-Owens Act that established the following child labor standards: a minimum age of 14 for workers in manufacturing and 16 for workers in mining; a maximum workday of 8 hours; prohibition of night work for workers under age 16; and a documentary proof of age.  Unfortunately, this law was later ruled unconstitutional on the ground that congressional power to regulate interstate commerce did not extend to the conditions of labor.  Effective action against child labor had to await the New Deal.  Reformers, however, did succeed in forcing legislation at the state level banning child labor and setting maximum hours.  By 1920 the number of child laborers was cut to nearly half of what it had been in 1910.

Lewis Hine died in poverty, neglected by all but a few.  His reputation continued to grow, however, and now he is recognized as a master American photographer. His photographs remind us what it was like to be a child and to labor like an adult at a time when labor was harsher than it is now. Hine's images of working children stirred America's conscience and helped change the nation's labor laws. Through his exercise of free speech and freedom of the press, Lewis Hine made a difference in the lives of American workers and, most importantly, American children. Hundreds of his photographs are available online from the National Archives through the NAIL database.


Foner, Eric, and John A. Garraty, eds. The Reader's Companion to American History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.

Nash, Gary B., et al. The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1990.

Tindall, George Brown, with David E. Shi. America: A Narrative History. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1992.


Written by Linda Darus Clark, a teacher at Padua Franciscan High School in Parma, Ohio and was re-posted courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration URL:

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A documentary photographer and sociologist, best known for being the first to use photography as a tool for social reform during the first three decades of the 20th century.  Hine, basically self taught, took up photography in 1905 in order to document his sociological research at Columbia and New York universities.

He produced several series, his first one being on Ellis Island immigrants, made in 1905.  In 1908, he published The Pittsburgh Survey, a sociological photographic study of miners.

The series he completed for the National Child Labor Committee, made mostly from 1908-16, documented the harsh living conditions of children working in mines and factories, and helped bring about the passage of child labor laws in the United States.  Empathy for his work is reflected in the subject matter of some of the "Ashcan School" of painters.

Other photographic works by Hines include his Men at Work (1932), which included photographs of the construction of the Empire State Building.  Despite his impact on changing social and work conditions, he died dispirited and destitute. 

In 1998, a solo exhibition of his work was held at the Brooklyn Museum.  His work is in the collection of the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York.

Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

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