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November 2, 2022

Poverty Life of Working Families in New York in the Early 20th Century Through Lewis Hine’s Lens

Lewis Wickes Hine (1874–1940) was an American sociologist and photographer. He used his camera as a tool for social reform.

Working families in New York in the early 20th century

In 1908, Hine became the photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. Over the next decade, he documented child labor in American industry to aid the NCLC’s lobbying efforts to end the practice. His photographs were instrumental in changing the child labor laws in the United States.

These amazing photos from The U.S. National Archives were taken by Lewis Hine that documented poverty life of working families in New York in the 1900s and 1910s.

Leveroni family. Earns 4 (cents) a gross making violets. Can make 20 gross a day when children all work. Father has work. Mrs. Leveroni, Tessi, age 9, Stephen, age 6, Margaret, age 7, Josephine Cordono, age 10. These children work on Saturdays, on afternoons after 3 o'clock, and evenings until 8 or 9. New York, January 1908

Malestestra family. Get 6 (cents) a gross and make regularly from 10 to 12 gross a day. Mr. Malestestra has been ill for 2 years, and can do no heavy work. But makes artificial flowers all day. Mr. Malestestra helps because health too bad to work out. Mrs. Malestestra, Frank, age 14, John, age 11, Lizzie, age 4. Boys work on Saturday, afternoons and evenings till 10 or 11. Lizzie seperates petals. New York, January 1908

Mrs. Battaglia, Tessie (12 years), Tony (7 years), 170 Mulberry St. Rear house, 5th floor. Garment workers. Husband crippled by a fall, tends to basement. Mrs. Battaglia works in shop except Saturdays, when the children sew with her at home. Get 2 or 3 cents a pair finishing men's pants. Said they earn $1 to $1.50 on Saturday. Father disabled and can earn very little. New York, January 1908

A family picking nuts. Mother nursing baby while picking nuts. Was suffering with a sore throat. Rosie, 3, hanging around; Genevieve, 6, Tessie, 6, picks too. Make $1.50 to $2 a week. New York City, December 1911

A reflection on the parent. Reflection in looking glass shows the father who has been picking nuts but refused to be photographed. He is out of work. Tomy, 5 years old, picks some, Minni, 7 years old, Rosie, 9, and Angeline, 11. Make $3 to $4 a week. New York City, December 1911

Everybody works but..... A common scene in the tenements. Father sits around. Sometimes I make $9, sometimes 10 a week, sometimes nottin'. All work together, they make 4 dollars a week. Work until 9 P.M. New York City, December 1911

Family of Mrs. Motto making flowers in a dirty tenement. Josephine, 13 years, helps outside of school hours until 9 P.M. sometimes. She is soon to be 14 and expects to go to work in an embroidery factory, then. Says she worked in that factory all last summer. All work, except baby and she plays with the flowers putting them together and they expect him to work before long. Father drives a coach or a hack irregularly. New York City, December 1911

Father hanging around the home while family works on feathers. Said, I not work. Got some sickness. Dunno what. Mother, Millie, 16, Jimmie 11, Mary 12, Camille 5 all work. They said, Camille can tie feathers, but she don't wanto. If all work we make $4, $5, or $6 a week. Dirty floor. Vermin abounded. Garbage standing uncovered near the work. New York City, December 1911

Florence, 12 years old, and her sister, Jennie, working on crochet hats in dirty kitchen of their tenement. They make heavy hats, muffs, scarfs, slippers, etc. Jennie, 15, works in a factory part of the time. Can make 1 1/2 dozen hats in half a day. Florence makes 5 hats in half a day, being in school only half a day. New York City, December 1911

Home of Mrs. Schiaffo. She is a contractor, getting lace from the home workers in the neighborhood. Woman in black has just brought in some work and the lace goes to a Mfg. Co. On the couch with Mrs. S. is 7 year old Millie, who is learning to make lace. New York City, December 1911

John Sachatello, a barber with a steady job helping family make flowers. Making bluettes at $2 a gross. Makes 12 to 13 dollars a week when all work. Mary, 5, Tomy, 7, Angelina, 13 (not in photo). Mrs. S. 24 years old said she had been making flowers 11 years. Her mother helps too. Boy at window with baby is a bootblack. New York City, December 1911

Mary Prenda, 13 years old. Short-sighted girl with glasses working after school on flowers with Mary's aunt. New York City, December 1911

Mrs. Capello makes 50 (cents) to $1 a week making willow plumes. Husband works irregularly as a tailor. New York City, December 1911

Mrs. Caporale, (a widow), picking nuts, while her two daughters help her. The dirty children are handling the nuts and playing with them. The open bag nuts stands around all day. Room littered with waste and kindling wood. Make $3 to $3.50 a week. An 18 year old works in a paper box factory by day and helps pick nuts at night. New York City, December 1911

Mrs. Lucy Libertime and family, Johnnie, 4 years old, Mary 6 years, Millie, 9, picking nuts in the basement tenement. Mary was standing on the open bag holding the cracked nuts, with her dirty shoes on, and using a hugh dirty jack knife. On the right is a cobbler bench used by shoemaker in this room. They live in dark inner bedrooms, and filth abounds in all rooms and in the dark, damp entry. New York City, December 1911

Mrs. Marengin. Pepino, 10 years old, cracking nuts with her teeth. The mother had just been doing the same. Carmine, 8, the boy about the same age works too. Some of them work until 8 or 9 P.M. Boy holding baby is foolish. Husband works in railroad. New York City, December 1911

Mrs. Mauro, and family working on feathers, make $2.25 a week. In vacation two or three times as much. Victoria, 8, Angeline, a neighbor, 10, Fiorandi, 10, Maggie, 11. Father is a street cleaner, and has a steady job. New York City, December 1911

Mrs. Palontona and 13 year old daughter, working on pillow-lace in dirty kitchen of their tenement home. They were both very illiterate. Mother is making fancy lace and girl sold me the lace she worked on. New York City, December 1911

Mrs. Salvia, Joe, 10 years old, Josephine, 14 years, Camille, 7 years, picking nuts in a dirty tenement home. The bag of cracked nuts (on chair) has been open all day waiting for the children to get home from school. The mangy cat (under table) roamed about over everything. Baby is sleeping in dark inner bedroom (3 years old). New York City, December 1911

Mrs. Totora, makes from $2 to $2.50 a week making lace for a contractor. Husband and two children, 4 and 7. Mrs. T. said, "I rather work for a factory, they pay more." New York City, December 1911

Picking nuts in dirty basement. The dirtiest imaginable children were pawing over the nuts eating lunch on the tabel, etc. Mother had a cold and blew her nose frequently (without washing her hands) and the dirty handkerchiefs reposed comfortably on table close to the nuts and nut meats. The father picks now. New York City, December 1911

Mrs. Ricca, making rompers for Campbell kids. Husband out of work. New York City, December 1911

Basso family, making roses in dirty poorly lighted kitchen. Pauline, 6 years old, works after school. Peter, 8, works until 8 P.M. Mike, 12 years old, until 10 P.M. Father keeps a rag shop. New York City, January 1912

Camela, 12 years old, making Irish lace for collars. Works until 9 P.M. in dirty kitchen. New York City, January 1912

Julia, a 6-year-old child making pansies for her neighbor. They said she does this every day but not all day. A growler and dirty beer glasses in the window. New York City, January 1912

Katie, 13 years old, and Angeline, 11 years old, making cuffs, Irish lace. Income about $1 a week. Works some nights till 8 P.M. New York City, January 1912

Mrs. Molinari and family making feathers. 6-year-old Antoinette ties like an old hand. Dominick, 9, works some. Annie, the oldest girl, works in a factory. New York City, January 1912


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