What America Looked Like: Young Newsies Hawking Papers on the Street

Child labor as seen through an activist's lens

newsies- body.jpg

Library of Congress

Where are their parents?

Today, if you were to see a nine year old peddling papers on the street, you might ask yourself that question.The boys pictured here look more like little adults than children -- smoking cigarettes, wearing suits, holding stacks of newspapers, and looking worn out from a long day of work. (It's not hard to imagine a bottle of bourbon resting behind them.) But in the industrializing cities of the early 1900s, children at work were not an uncommon sight. As many as one in six children between the ages of 5 and 10 were employed in some respect.  

In the early 20th century, the plight of the too-young and employed captured the attention of Lewis Wickes Hine, a sociologist-turned-photojournalist working for the National Child Labor committee. The following images are among 5,100 Hine captured between 1908 and 1924 in the hopes of sparking child labor reforms. However, those reforms did not come quickly. In 1924, Congress passed a child labor amendment to the constitution, but it failed to make it through enough states (technically it is still pending approval). It wasn't until the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 that the practice was outlawed across the country.  


The following images, accompanied by Hine's original captions, capture an era of child labor across the country, from East Coast cities such as New York and Wilmington, Delaware, to St. Louis and Nashville.



Have a suggestion for a future "What America Looked Like"? Contact nationalchannel@theatlantic.com
Presented by

Brian Resnick is a staff correspondent at National Journal and a former producer of The Atlantic's National channel.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"

Video

This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

Video

What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

Video

Is Minneapolis the Best City in America?

No other place mixes affordability, opportunity, and wealth so well.

More in National

Just In