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Letter from Oberlin Smith to Senator John W. Kern of Indiana, July 20, 1916

Lewis Hine and the National Child Labor Committee awakened Americans to the plight of child workers. Oberlin Smith, a New Jersey industrialist, called attention to children sweltering in mills and furnaces when he urged Senator John Kern of Indiana, de facto majority leader, to take action on a 1916 child labor bill before Congress adjourned for the summer.

Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

Letter from Oberlin Smith to Senator John W. Kern of Indiana, July 20, 1916

Lewis Hine: Exposing Child Labor

Although some states had laws against employment of juveniles, millions of American children worked in agriculture and industry in the early twentieth century. In 1904 progressive reformers founded the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), which Congress chartered in 1907. To raise awareness of the abuses of child labor, the NCLC hired sociologist Lewis Hine to photograph children working in fields, factories, mines, and city streets. His photos and reports, produced between 1908 and 1924, fueled public opinion and inspired Congress to enact national child labor legislation.

There is work that profits children, and there is work that brings profit only to employers. . . . The object of employing children is not to train them, but to get high profit from their work.

Lewis Hine, “The High Cost of Child Labor,” Child Labor Bulletin, 1914