Documentary photography in the archive showcasing inequality, and a desire for change, in early 20th-century America.
In addition to our collection of art and cultural material, we also have a wealth of photographic prints in the archive - many with a political agenda. We've brought together photography from our archive to highlight the social inequality, and desire for change, in 1900-40 America.
These photographs raised public awareness of the harsh conditions faced by child laborers, rural migrant workers and immigrants coming into the US, and in some situations led to financial aid and changes in policies.
The end of innocence
Childhood ought to be the time of play and development but this is not always the case. As photographer Lewis Hine poignantly captures, children were both a common and accepted source of labour in the first half of the 20th century. Indeed, in the southern states up to a quarter of laborers were under sixteen.
Children as young as five worked delivering newspapers ,with their parents in family businesses, or with their peers in factories and in the mines. These children were expected to work as adults would, standing on stools to operate machinery if they were not yet tall enough to do so.
Aside from the western migration of rural workers, international emigrants were also common. While we all know of Ellis Island as an immigration port into New York, bringing in Italians and Poles, did you know of the Filipinos who cut lettuce in California?
Frederick C. Howe gives distinct personalities to the different nationalities coming into the States, through his portraits of Dutch toddlers to Greek and Hindu men.
However, not anyone wishing to enter America was allowed. Immigrants who failed their entrance exam were deported back to Europe and detectives also looked out for 'undesirables', preventing them from entering the country.