Child Labor Photos by Lewis Hine | The Memory Keeper
In 1999, Manning retired to Florence, Massachusetts, with his wife, Carole, and turned his life over to his other passions. He’s always fancied himself a songwriter and a poet, but his greatest talent may lie in oral history. Deep down, everyone has an interesting story to tell, but sometimes it takes a talented listener to draw it out. Manning is that kind of guy. He exudes a sense of unflappable interest that makes people want to suddenly narrate their own life stories. He’s published two books of history based on his interviews with residents of North Adams, Massachusetts.
Lewis Hine entered Manning’s life at a dinner party in 2005. His friend Elizabeth Winthrop had just finished writing a novel, Counting on Grace, about a Vermont mill girl, based on a real photo taken in North Pownal by Hine in 1910. The photo is one of Hine’s most captivating. In it, a wisp of a girl leans against her bobbins, staring directly at the camera. She looks malnourished, and her unshod feet are black with dirt. In his caption, Hine refers to her as “an anemic little spinner.”
Winthrop told Manning that she had become obsessed with the story of the real girl but hadn’t had much luck tracking down the details of her life. She offered to hire him to take a shot at it. “I wanted to forget dessert and just bolt out the door and start looking,” Manning recalls.
The search took three months. In his notes, Hine had called the girl “Addie Laird,” but that was a misspelling. Winthrop had found through census and town records that she’d been born Adeline Card, her name until she married Edward Hatch in 1915.
Manning then discovered that Hatch had divorced Addie for “abandonment” when their daughter was 6 years old. At that point the trail went cold. But Manning looked for Addie’s daughter and found that she had one living descendant, a daughter of her own. He tracked down her phone number, and, though she’d met her estranged grandmother only once, she was able to point Manning toward Cohoes, New York.
There, he picked up the scent again, finding a document referring to Addie as Mrs. Ernest LaVigne. She and her second husband had adopted a daughter, and Addie had lived to see the birth of two more grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren. In January 2006 Manning interviewed two family members. They shared with him their loving memories of a woman they’d called “Granmma Pat.” Apparently, she’d always hated the name Adeline. She’d died in 1993 at the age of 94.
Not long after the Addie Card quest, Manning cloistered himself in his home office and tried to track down some of the other Hine children. He kept it a secret from his wife at first, but once he’d found his second child–a North Carolina spinner named Minnie Carpenter–he showed her his work and the list of leads he had for other children. Manning recalls his wife looking at him tenderly and saying, “Well, I guess I’ll never see you again.”
Lewis Hine was an artist working in the medium of guilt. When he arrived in Winchendon in September 1911, he knew exactly what he was looking for. Though he prided himself on never staging a photo, he deliberately looked for images that supported his position. Hine believed that child labor was wrong. By today’s standards, that moral stand seems hardly daring, but at that time, child labor was an accepted practice. Where child-labor laws existed, they were poorly enforced, and Hine routinely found children under the age of 10 working amidst the whirling gears of American industry.
Hine is remembered as one of the pioneers of documentary photography. In his day, social reformers were just learning to appreciate the power of images. It was harder for people to condone a sin once they’d seen it for themselves, so reformers would hire photographers to produce images of working-class realities that they could then inject into the parlors of middle-class homes. Hine was one of the best.
Manning always keeps this in mind when he’s working. Though Hine is never in the photo, he’s there, behind the lens, telling a story of his own. Manning can see that story clearly in the photo of Mamie Laberge.