LEWISTON — Historic pictures of children going to work at the Bates and Hill mills, or children posing in front of the mills, flashed on a screen Friday at the Museum L-A.
An audience of about 40 listened to a lecture about child labor and what happened to some of the children in the famous Lewis Hine pictures.
Historian Joe Manning talked about how Hine snuck into mills in other states. But Hine didn't get inside Lewiston mills, Manning said.
In 1908, Hine, a Wisconsin teacher turned activist, was hired by the National Child Labor Committee to photograph children working in mills and factories. He took 5,000 photographs in 32 states. Those photographs, now at the Library of Congress, are credited with bringing about labor laws protecting children.
Manning, a Massachusetts historian researching what happened to some of the children in the pictures, explained that Hine got into mills and factories by flattering the managers, offering to take their pictures.
“He'd go in as an industrial photographer,” Manning said. “He said, 'I want to take a picture of that machine.' He'd set up his camera, then ask a supervisor to bring a child worker into the picture “'so we can tell how big it is.'”
Hine would then ask the child worker for his or her name, write it down, “and get the heck out.”
But when Hine came to Lewiston, mill management “knew he was coming, or figured out what he was doing,” Manning said. Photographs he took in Lewiston were of children entering and leaving the mills, or posing outside. He did not document their names. Still, the pictures are evidence of a time when children ages 12 to 14, and sometimes younger, didn't go to school and toiled for nine hours a day.
Some were hurt or killed.
Reporting from a 1906 Lewiston newspaper story, Manning told how Sadie Mason, 14, was badly hurt working in the Bates Mill when her leg was caught in an elevator. The girl grew up, married and became a grandmother, but was left a cripple, Manning learned through his research.
Also in 1906, a 12-year-old boy died on his fourth day of work at the Androscoggin Mill, according to the Lewiston Evening Journal. Arthur Pelletier's head was crushed after it got stuck in machinery.
For years there was opposition to outlawing child labor, Manning said. “And there were exemptions made. 'My mother's a widow.'” Child labor was a way of life. Because wages were so low, “what would these families have done if suddenly there was no income?” Manning said.
Hine took on the advocacy role “because he believed in kids.” He wanted them safe and in school, Manning said.
Fascinated by the children in Hine's photographs, Manning has researched more than 300, finding out what happened to them.
By sifting through records and tracking down descendants, Manning discovered how some prospered or died poor, married, had children and grandchildren.
He talked about Addie Card, who Hine photographed in 1910 as the 12-year-old worked in a Vermont cotton mill. In the picture the girl's feet are bare, covered with grease. Manning found out the girl married young, had her infant taken from her, had her marriage annulled, married again and grew into a beloved grandmother.
He researched Napoleon Camire, who was photographed in 1909 as a child worker at the Amoskeag Mills in Manchester, N.H. Camire grew up, served in the Army, married and became the father of 10. He moved to Lewiston-Auburn and worked as a weaver at Bates, Liberty and the Androscoggin mills. He also was a carpenter. He lived a quiet life and died in 1967 at age 72. His family, including his daughter, Theresa Greenleaf, live in Lewiston-Auburn. They wrote a book about him.
Manning told the audience about Phoebie Thomas, who Hine photographed in 1911 in Eastport. In the picture the 8-year-old girl was carrying a butcher knife at 6 a.m. as she walked to work at a sardine factory. In another Hine photograph the girl is running home, crying, her hand covered in blood, after she nearly cut her thumb off. Manning recently tracked down the girl's descendants, who told him she grew up and married. “They said she had beautiful hands.”
Manning said he researches what happened to the child laborers because they aren't in history books, yet they're important.
“They really built America on their backs,” Manning said. “They shouldn't have been working,” but they contributed. “The economy is based on what they did for us. They should be honored.”