Born: September 26, 1874
Born Place: Oshkosh, Wisconsin, United States
Died: November 3, 1940
Death Place: Dobbs Ferry, New York, United States
On view: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Known for: Reform movement
Education: Columbia University, New York University, The University of Chicago
Lewis Wickes Hine (September 26, 1874 – November 3, 1940) was an American sociologist and photographer. Hine used his camera as a tool for social reform. His photographs were instrumental in changing child labor laws in the United States.
Hine was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on September 26, 1874. After his father was killed in an accident, Hine began working and saved his money for a college education. He studied sociology at the University of Chicago, Columbia University and New York University. He became a teacher in New York City at the Ethical Culture School, where he encouraged his students to use photography as an educational medium.
Hine led his sociology classes to Ellis Island in New York Harbor, photographing the thousands of immigrants who arrived each day. Between 1904 and 1909, Hine took over 200 plates (photographs) and came to the realization that documentary photography could be employed as a tool for social change and reform.
In 1936, Hine was selected as the photographer for the National Research Project of the Works Projects Administration, but his work there was not completed.
The last years of his life were filled with professional struggles by loss of government and corporate patronage. Hine hoped to join the Farm Security Administration photography project, but despite writing repeatedly to Roy Stryker, Stryker always refused. Few people were interested in his work, past or present, and Hine lost his house and applied for welfare. He died on November 3, 1940 at Dobbs Ferry Hospital in Dobbs Ferry, New York, after an operation. He was 66 years old.
Hine’s photographs supported the NCLC’s lobbying to end child labor and in 1912 the Children’s Bureau was created. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 eventually brought child labour in the US to an end.
After Hine’s death, his son Corydon donated his prints and negatives to the Photo League, which was dismantled in 1951. The Museum of Modern Art was offered his pictures and did not accept them, but the George Eastman House did.
In 2006, author Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop’s historical fiction middle-grade novel, Counting on Grace was published by Wendy Lamb Books. The latter chapters center on 12-year-old Grace and her life-changing encounter with Hine, during his 1910 visit to a Vermont cotton mill known to have many child laborers. On the cover is the iconic photo of Grace’s real-life counterpart, Addie Card (1897–1993), taken during Hine’s undercover visit to the Pownal Cotton Mill.
In 2016, Time published colorized versions of several of Hine’s photographs of child labor in the US.
Hine’s work is held in the following public collections:
- Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
- Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County – almost five thousand NCLC photographs
- George Eastman House – nearly ten thousand photographs and negatives
- Library of Congress – over 5,000 photographs, including examples of Hine’s child labor and Red Cross photographs, his work portraits, and his WPA and TVA images.
- New York Public Library, New York
- International Photography Hall of Fame, St.Louis, MO
- Child Labor: Girls in Factory
- Breaker Boys (1910)
- Young Doffers in the Elk Cotton Mills (1910)
- Steam Fitter (1920)
- Workers, Empire State Building (1931)