“Two of the very youngest newsboys I could find in New Orleans. Seven and nine years old. Such little fellows are rare, Nov. 1913. Lewis Hine.”
So read the caption that accompanied this image taken by the famed Wisconsin-born photographer and social reformer Lewis Hine.
Little did these little boys know that they were part of a nationwide effort to eliminate abusive child labor practices in the United States. During Hine’s 1913 visit to Louisiana, he found these two young boys selling newspapers, in violation of child labor laws, on the streets of New Orleans. Working for the National Child Labor Committee, or NCLS, this image was just one of thousands Hine took across the United States between 1908 and 1918 to document child labor in America. During his travels, Hine found small children working in factories, glassworks, textile mills, coalmines, cigar factories, cotton fields, along city streets, and in the oyster and shrimp canneries along the Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast. He found textile mills to be the worst offenders of child labor laws, followed by the tobacco industry and newsboy and messenger services.
In 1914, Hine complimented Louisiana’s enforcement of child labor laws in an article he wrote for the NCLC. He visited sawmills and sugar and rice plantations, but found few age violations. New Orleans, he wrote, was better regulated than most other American cities. But there remained at least one significant flaw in the city’s record. Young messenger boys 12 to 14 years old were often called into Storyville, the city’s red-light district, to deliver messages and drugs to prostitutes and pimps.
Hine, known in earlier years for his soulful photographs of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, left the NCLC in 1918 and joined the American Red Cross to photograph the destruction in post-World War I Europe. In 1932 he documented the construction of the Empire State Building for his book “Men at Work.”