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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • THE TOY DEPARTMENT, 1913

Making Pansies: 1912

Making Pansies: 1912

January 1912, New York City. View full size. To the untrained observer this might be a pleasant domestic scene; to the eye (and lens) of social reformer Lewis Hine, however, it is a diorama of decadence and moral decay, with peril lurking in every detail. The object of his ire here is the use of child labor in tenement home work, specifically the assembly of artificial flowers: "Julin, a 6-year-old child, making pansies for her neighbors on top floor (Gatto), 106 Thompson St. They said she does this every day, 'but not all day.' A growler and dirty beer glasses in the window, unwashed dishes on the stove, clothes everywhere, and flowers likewise." Photo and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine. (NB: Growler = beer pitcher.)

 

Growler

Glad I read the whole thing. In Yorkshire, UK, Growler = Pork Pie.

Hine's Motives

Oh I do agree that Hine was a propagandist for his cause, and that it was a good and noble cause. I guess that any problem I have is with his attitude in this case. The family in this photo (with little Julin, the neighbour girl) are almost made to seem like villains of the piece when in all likelihood they were being exploited almost as much as the child. It is doubtful that they were small entrepreneurs who paid the little girl a pittance and far more likely that they were piece-workers who were paid a pittance by a company. Child labour was and is an evil thing but the real blame didn't lie with these people who are being painted as the height of moral decay (a growler for beer, dirty dishes, clothes everywhere).

Re: Family Togetherness

You have to remember that Lewis Hine had a goal (ending child labor) and an audience he was trying to sway to achieve it (members of Congress, who would see these photos as part of the report of the National Child Labor Committee). So he may have painted things as being bleaker than most people might feel is warranted. Also note that little Julin is not part of this family; she's a neighbor child. We don't know if she was being paid to help out.

Family Togetherness

The father is talking, they must be having a nice conversation, this almost seems like a nice family hobby. I know that in my home if myself, my wife and mother-in-law sat around the table chatting and making paper flowers, you can bet my two young boys would be begging us to let them make some. And in keeping with other comments as to conditions, I see clean laundry hung up to dry, some folded towels on the bureau, and roughly folded clothes on the chair. Let's face it, these guys didn't have Maytags. I also agree that Hines comes across as a crabby nit picker in his narrative here.

Pansy Makers

The glasses look clean and put away (upside down) to me. These people may have had it better than some in the garment industry did during this time. Hardly the drama being described.

Foy

The Map

The map is of the Mediterranean, but the part in dark - presumably the focus of the family interest - is Italy and its newly acquired (in 1912 as a matter of fact) colonies of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. In 1934 the two would be united as Libya.

I hate to say it, but Hine sort of comes across as a sanctimonious complainer. He gives us a picture of these people but then complains about their cleanliness and their supposed drunkenness, at a time and circumstance where the safest thing to drink might have been the beer. (As for the razor strop near the window, the man undoubtedly shaved using a straight razor near the only dependable source of light in the whole place, the window.)

Is that a map on the wall?

The old country? What was it?

21st Century Rent

100 years later the rent on this apartment in West Soho, NYC is probably hovering around $2000 per month. That's a lot of paper pansies.

[I visited the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side a few weeks ago and part of the exhibit is an actual tenement flat in a century-old building. And everyone's first reaction seemed to be "Wow, these are pretty nice!" Special notice taken of high ceilings, plank floors, interior windows, etc. - Dave]

Razor Strop

Notice the razor strop hanging on the widow frame ... You kids get to making posies or you get the strap.

 
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