Information? or Propaganda? You Decide
When the National Child Labor Committee was founded in 1904, supporters wanted change -- and the best way to accomplish that, they believed, was to get the public on their side.
How did they do that? First, the NCLC hired photographer Lewis Hine, a former teacher, to photograph children at work -- in glass factories, tenement work shops, canneries, coal mines, and wherever else they were employed. Then the organization made those photos available to journalists and editors who used them to illustrate reports, books, and magazine articles. NCLC reformers hoped that images of exploitation would arouse public sympathy and propel social -- and political -- action. (For more illustrations, visit our Photo Gallery.)
Some critics said Hine portrayed his subjects honestly and that his work served as a primary document of child labor in America. They believed Hine treated his young subjects with respect. Others thought his work was too closely tied to the reform he was trying to achieve to be objective, and that the social reformer betrayed a condescending attitude towards working-class families.
Take a look at some of Hine's pictures and the notes he wrote. What do you think Hine had in mind when he took these shots? What story is he trying to tell? Was child labor the only problem he raised? What clues can you can find in his notes about his impressions of working-class life and values?