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Child Labor Resources at the Catherwood Library and the Kheel Center: Garment Workers

Babies in the Mill

Dorsey Dixon, writer and composer of the song "Babies in the Mill," was hired as a cotton mill employee in 1909 at the age of 12 after quitting fourth grade. He recalls what it was like for young children to get up early and work long hours.

Mill Work: Two of the tiny workers

“Two of the tiny workers, a raveler and a looper in a hosiery mill, Loudon, Tennessee, 1910.”
Lewis Hine, Photographer.  [Source: Barbara Wertheimer. Photographs.  Collection 5736 P box 1 folder 14a]

Mill Work: One of the spinners

“One of the spinnners in Whitnel Cotton Mill, Whitnel, NC, 1908.” Lewis Hine, photographer.  
Hine said, “She was 51 inches high. Has been in the mill one year.  Sometimes works at night. Runs 4 sides - 48 cents a day.  When asked how old she was, she hesitated, then said ‘I don't remember,’ then added confidentially, ‘I'm not old enough to work, but do just the same.’ Out of 50 employees, there were ten children about her size.” Lewis Hine, Photographer. [Source: International Ladies Garment Workers Union Photographs Collection 5780 P box 13 folder 25p] 

Mill Work: Street Bretzau

“Street Bretzau who is a ‘Tube-boy’ in the mule-room of Richmond Spinning Mill, East Lake, Chattanooga, Tennessee, December, 1910.”
Lewis Hine, Photographer. [Source: UNITE Photographs.  Collection 6000/044 P box 1 folder 33b]

Homework

“[… Home work frequently goes on in filthy and insanitary rooms; […] the workers themselves or others in the family sometimes are suffering from contagious diseases; […] little children five years old and upwards are at work; […] home work means long hours and night as well as Saturday and Sunday work.”

From: ”What the United States Government Says about Child Labor in Tenements” extracts from a report of the US Bureau of Labor compiled by George Hall, Secretary of the New York Child Labor Committee, pg.2.

Home & Tenement Work: Boy carrying homework

“Boy carrying homework from New York sweatshop, 1912.”  
Lewis Hine, Photographer. [Source: National Union Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees.  1199 News Photographs. Collection 5933 P box 4 folder 27p]

Home & Tenement Work: Necktie Workshop

“Necktie workshop in Division Street tenement, 1889.”
Jacob Riis, Photographer. [Source: Barbara Wertheimer Photographs.  Collection 5736 P box 1 folder 14b]

Homes of the Poor

"Homes of the Poor"
Harper's Weekly, July 28, 1883. Engraving by T. De Thulstrup. [Source: International Ladies Garment Workers Union Photographs. Collection 5780 P box 31 folder 14j]

Oral History: Abraham Plotkin

Abraham Plotkin was born in 1892 in Russia. Around the turn of the century, he and his family immigrated to the United States. He grew up in Philadelphia and New York City where, until he was 15, he attended school and worked a string of miserable jobs. Plotkin’s interest in the labor movement grew. As a young adult, he joined the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and remained a prominent figure in the organization for most of his adulthood. He died in May of 1988, at age 96.

The excerpts provided in the guide are drawn from: Abraham Plotkin Oral History, 5780 OH #19

Excerpt: Garment Work
At the age of 15, Plotkin was discontented working in a knit goods sweatshop. He decided to go to work full time to support himself and ease his family’s financial burdens. [2 min. 26 sec.]

Source: International Ladies Garment Workers Union Oral History Collection 5780 OH #19

Home & Tenement Work: Italian family

Italian family doing garment work at home.
Lewis Hine, Photographer. [Source: International Ladies Garment Workers Union Photographs Collection 5780 P box 13 folder 7L] 

Home & Tenement Work: Knee-pants at 45 cents a dozen

“Knee-pants at 45 cents a dozen – a Ludlow Street sweater’s shop.” 
Jacob Riis, Photographer. [Source: International Ladies Garment Workers Union Photographs. Collection 5780 P box 13 folder 8c]

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