Sunday, February 27, 2011

Willie, the Six Year Old Richmond Newsboy, and the Photographs of Lewis W. Hine, June 8, 1911.

"Willie" photographed in June of 1911 by Lewis W. Hine.

Over the years I noticed folks on eBay selling  several images of a barefoot boy called Willie on the streets of Richmond. 

It turns out these images were taken by Lewis W. Hine (1874-1940) and the images are part of a print collection from the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) records at the Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division. 

Hines worked as an investigative photographer for the NCLC to document working and living conditions of children in the United States from 1908 to 1924. The collection of images contains more than 5,100 photographic prints which were given to the Library of Congress along with the NCLC records in 1954. Several web sites have images by Hines that are easy to access.

Willie was one of hundreds of young boys selling newspapers on the streets of big and small cities across the country. These boys were not only out of school but worked in the summer heat and the winter cold all year long. Can you imagine a six year old selling newspapers on the street today?

I came across a web site called the Lewis Hine Project run by Joe Manning. He tries to locate descendants of child laborers photographed by Hine from 1908 to 1917. I asked Joe how many images were taken in Richmond by Hines, he wrote back: 
"Lewis Hine took five photos of newsboys in Richmond in June of 1911. Those are the only ones in the Library of Congress. It's likely that Hine was there only a day or two. He took about 100 photos in Virginia in June 1911, but only five in Richmond.”
But why June 1911 and why Richmond?  The answer is in one of the images.

 I noticed that in this image of Willie you can see part of the front page of the newspaper he is trying to sell. So I blew the image up and turned it upside down.

It turns out he was selling the Richmond News Leader, the Tuesday, June 8, 1911 edition (thanks to Claire Hope for checking the microfilm).

 Here's the front page of the June 8, 1911 edition of the News Leader (Richmond's afternoon paper) that Willie was selling that day.

But why was Hine in Richmond that day? By looking at the microfilm of the News Leader I noticed that in the next day's edition, June 9th, there was a report that said that the 6th Annual Convention of the Virginia Federation of Labor (Virginia's centralized union organization body) had just ended in Richmond.

I went to the Library of Virginia to look at the Virginia Federation of Labor annual reports hoping that there would be some mention of Hine at the convention but I did not see any mention of him. But it seems likely that it was that convention that brought him to Richmond. I wonder if Hine spoke to the group about child labor in Virginia and in the United States?

Here are a few more images taken by Hine in Richmond on June 8, 1911. These may be the only images taken by Hine in Richmond - though he took hundreds of images in other Virginia localities throughout his career.

The store behind Willie in this image is the Dawes and Nash Saloon located on the 800 block of E. Main St. That might indicate that all five of the images of Willie in Richmond were of him on E Main St. 

[Notice the sign on side of window of the saloon - it says Pabst Blue Ribbon.]

 Hines comments on this image:
"1911 child labor photo Richard Green, (with hat), 5 year old newsie, Richmond, Va. Willie---, who said he was 8. (Compare them.) Many of these little newsboys here. Location: Richmond, Virginia."
 In one comment on the five images of Willie he wrote:
"Willie Hutchinson, a six year old newsie in Richmond, Va. Many very small newsboys sell here, some in the evening."
Another comment by Hine on Willie:
"Told me first that he was 8, then admitted 7, and finally 6 years old."
I wonder if Willie Hutchinson appears in a later census record or if his family (his descendants) still reside in Richmond?

One of five images taken by Hine that day in Richmond. Here Willie sits between the columns of what is the Bank of Virginia located on E. Main St. (is it the National or Merchants?).

The document above was found on Google Books - it is from September 12, 1912, vol. 19, no. 9 issue of the American Federationist, the official magazine of the American Federation of Labor. It indicates that the Federation and other advocates had some success in reforming child labor. 

- Ray B.


Allgood Merriweather said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ray said...

And thank you!!

HEK said...

Absolutely marvelous history detection! Thanks for this, Ray.

Dale Dulaney said...

One of my favorite posts. It's hard to imagine barefoot children working on the city's streets. Thanks for all you do. Love this blog.

Ray said...

Thanks to you both too.

This one was fun to work on - wish someone would pursue it further and see if any family is still around.