Hard Day’s Work

In the years surrounding the turn of the 19th century, America and the world were dealing with mechanization in an unprecedented manner. The Industrial Revolution created jobs that required less brawn, so employers began hiring women and children. Between 1870 and 1900, child labor increased 300 percent. In 1890, 18 percent of all children between the ages of 10 and 15 were employed.

In 1908, the National Child Labor Committee hired the teacher-turned-photographer Lewis Wickes Hine to document what the lobbying group termed “an atrocity.” Hine’s historic photographs of soot-faced children in dismal factories and sweatshops became the catalyst for the abolishment of child labor. They are now viewed as iconic images of America’s past.

On his journey across the country, Hine stopped in Mobile during October of 1914. The Library of Congress’ collection contains four dozen images of children working in the cotton mills, on the riverfront and in department stores. Some photographs carry text, commenting on the conditions of the children and the homelife that forced them into the workplace.

This historic photograph, a much kinder image than most in Hine’s project, reveals an 11-year-old boy on St. Emanuel Street, just south of Bienville Square, completing his duties as a runner for a local law firm.

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Today, the same position is popular with young adults seeking summer and part-time work. The modern interpretation, above, shows 22-year-old Vincent Jackson,  a political science major at USA, working as a runner for the downtown law firm Vickers, Riis, Murray & Curran, LLC.

text and photo by Catt Sirten

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