What Can Be Learned From The Image And Caption Below About Children’s Lives

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Looking back in history is always a useful way of finding information about how people perceived the world. When we apply this approach to children and childhood, things start to become more difficult. There are limited numbers of documents of the lives of children in historical records. It has become increasingly difficult to find any archive-based histories of children for any period except the modern period. Most of the information available came from a varied range of different sources such as published reports from governments, information from court records, scientific and medical books on childhood illnesses, and photographs (Brockliss and Montgomery, 2013).

The use of photographs has been an important method to look at the history of childhood. Photographs started to emerge during the Victorian era and have been used to paint a picture of childhood from that time. Photographs can be useful to extract the views of people about the times the photos were taken. However, there are also a lot of people who have criticised the use of photographs as a reliable portrayal of children. Some reasons for this were that visual sources only tended to portray the elite representations of childhood, or were used by government or organisations as a tool to get across a point of interest at the time (KUBIE, 2016). This photograph was taken between 1908-1912 by an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. The time of the photograph comes soon after the industrial revolution when it was common for all children to work in mills and factories in the USA and the UK.

It was an agreement around this time that children should work and it gave children a chance to be successful (Smithsonianeducation.org, 2018). Around the time of the photograph, it was in the interest of government organisations to push an agenda of equality of children and adults. Considering the motivations of the photographer is vital when trying to understand the theory of childhood. In this picture, the photographer is trying to portray a sad life of an 11-year-old who has been working for a year in less than satisfactory conditions. The way the girl in the photograph is looking from the window signifies a longing for outside and play. At the time of the picture, there was a change of attitude in the parent-child relationship, with the way children were treating now leaning towards a kinder treatment.

Considering the change in the way adults treated children led to the interest to publicise child labor in an effort to reduce it in the developing world. The photographer appears to have a keen interest in reducing child labor by using photographs of children working in factories and mills (Smith, 2018). The picture portrays a tough image of children during this time and it was evident that children worked long hours and needed to provide for the family in most working-class families. However there was a shift away from this way of life with the introduction of compulsory schooling for children, most wealthy families opted to send their children away to boarding schools (Stambler, 1968). This photograph and other photographs of this time give us the scope to measure the childhood these children faced to the childhood of the children today.

Comparing both childhoods, it would appear that the ideas of children and childhood were very different. People had different ideas to the way children were considered in society and to how they were supposed to be treated. When the photograph was taking children were viewed to be important and the in the right condition to do certain jobs within society at a young age. Comparing that to the childhood of children today and there is a higher emphasis put on the interest of developing children through the use of education and learning and the belief that children are an integral part for the future of all nations. This has led to children gaining higher statuses with both the family and society as a whole (Lansdown, 2018).


Brockliss, L. and Montgomery, H. (2013). Childhood: a historical approach. In: M. Kehily, ed., Understanding childhood: a cross-disciplinary approach, 2nd ed. Bristol: The Policy Press, pp.53-98. Kubie, O. (2016).
Reading Lewis Hine’s Photography of Child Street Labour, 1906–1918. Journal of American Studies, 50(04), pp.873-897. Lansdown, G. (2018). [online] Unicef.org. Available at: https://www.unicef.org/french/adolescence/files/Every_Childs_Right_to_be_Heard.pdf [Accessed 22 Nov. 2018]. Smith, S. (2018). 
The Photographs of Lewis Hine: The Industrial Revolution and Child Laborers [Photo Gallery]. [online] EHS Today. Available at: https://www.ehstoday.com/galleries/photographs-lewis-hine-industrial-revolution-and-child-laborers-photo-gallery [Accessed 21 Nov. 2018]. Smithsonianeducation.org. (2018). [online] Available at: http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/educators/lesson_plans/child_labor/ATZ_ChildLabor_December1988.pdf [Accessed 21 Nov. 2018]. Stambler, M. (1968).
The Effect of Compulsory Education and Child Labor Laws on High School Attendance in New York City, 1898-1917. History of Education Quarterly, 8(2), p.189. 

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