Children of Labor.


“The Breaker Boys” Lewis Hine.

Nelson Mandela once said “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” If we look at society’s soul back during the 1900s many would be ashamed. In England poor parents sold their children as “apprentices.” “In 1802 about half of all textile workers in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island were children.” The kids would be taken out of school so they could work long hours, 12-14hrs a day and sometimes nights.

Lewis Hine’s photo “The Breaker Boys” depicts a large group of boys working in the mines that were responsible for separating coal and slate. “The children suffer from bone bristling and other structural defects not usually encountered in adults” (Narayan, Navin). Dust in the air also posed health concerns mainly lung diseases. Many miners would breath in silica, a compound, that would form patches on the sides of the lungs and would reduce the lung’s vital capacity. Bronchitis, asthma, and fibrosis are also very common diseases that young miners encounter since their lungs are still growing.

The National Child Labor Committee formed in response to the health issues and harsh conditions, and they later hired Lewis Hine to capture the issue on picture. The photographs were in black and white which helps to illustrate the grim appearance of the children and the working environment. The children aren’t posed, because he wanted the photographs to be as real as possible. The boys in the picture could be as young as 6, which can be seen through the short stature of the boys. Faces in the picture are very grim and the clothes are all dirty and tattered. It tugs at the heart strings by showing how young these boys are and the environment they have to work in. The photos became very famous and helped to change the laws involving child labor. The faces of these children will forever be etched in the memories of those who have seen them.

There were laws against child labor within states, but they were never enforced. One such example is the Connecticut law that required factory owners to ensure that child workers were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic. In 1916 a law was passed that punished states that violated the minimum age limit law, however, it was revoked because it was declared unconstitutional. Finally in 1938 the government started to crack down on child labor; the passing of the Fair Labor Standards Act is an example. The regulation of child labor laws was a revolutionary thing.

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