History in Photos

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), January 10, 2015 | Go to article overview

History in Photos


Byline: Patrice Roche Elmhurst Historical Museum

Baby-sitting, lawn mowing and a variety of "McJobs" come to mind when considering how American kids work in the 21st century. In the early 1900s, however, the picture for thousands of children in the U.S. was much different.

Young children, some no more than 6 years old, toiled long hours in harsh conditions in textile mills, canneries, coal mines, cotton fields and on city streets across the country.

What seems unthinkable by today's standards was the norm as America became an increasingly industrialized nation.

It was not until the late 1930s that child labor laws were enacted, and it took a passionate movement to make sweeping changes. Photographer Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940) spurred this movement forward when he was hired in 1906 by the National Child Labor Committee to document horrendous child labor conditions. The result was a collection of iconic photographs that changed the course of history.

The Elmhurst Historical Museum presents "Let Children Be Children: Lewis Wickes Hine's Crusade Against Child Labor," a national traveling exhibition organized by the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, New York.

Featuring 56 reproductions of photos from the original Lewis Hine collection, the exhibit is open Thursday, Jan. 15, to April 5 at the Elmhurst Historical Museum, 120 E. Park Ave., Elmhurst. In addition to the photographs, visitors can view "America and Lewis Hine," a 1984 award-winning documentary by Nina Rosenblum.

"Let Children Be Children" depicts Hine's abiding concern for children, immigrants and working-class people. Over a 10-year period, Hine risked his life to gain entry to factories, sweat shops and workplaces to capture powerful photographs. His valiant effort gained the attention of the government and aroused public sentiment against child labor practices in the U.S.

Images tell story

Lance Tawzer, Elmhurst Historical Museum's curator of exhibits, said he expects the "Let Children Be Children" exhibit to have broad appeal across generations because it tells a powerful story from the past that strikes a pertinent chord in present times.

"The headlines are filled with ways that photos can change history," Tawzer said. …

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