In an era when childhood, and by extension, adolescence, is extended into the mid-to-late 20s, it's hard to imagine a time when children worked in North Carolina's textile mills as young as age 6. Yet it was less than 100 years ago when kids routinely toiled in dangerous and unhealthy conditions—and obviously missed out on an education—as part of America's workforce. That began to change in 1908, when the National Child Labor Committee hired photographer Lewis Hine to document the children and the working conditions.
The exploitation he found, documented on film and in notes that he secretly took and then stashed in a coat pocket, permanently changed public policy. As a result of his compelling images, laws were passed that banned child labor (family farms are an exception), set age limits on the type of work children can perform, and implemented safety regulations for those jobs. Hine's photographs and notes serve as a compelling reminder that throughout the world, children still are virtually enslaved as they pick our food and sew our clothing beyond the view of a camera lens. —Lisa Sorg