Child labor as seen through an activist's lens

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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.

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