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Indiana Janes: 1908

Indiana Janes: 1908

August 1908. "Noon hour in an Indianapolis cotton mill. Witness, E.N. Clopper." View full size. Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine.

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I would love to know who these women and girls are. I have lived in Indianapolis my whole life, and have a lot of family history here.

South Carolina cotton mills

I worked in 2 cotton mills in Greenville, SC in the 1970's. I worked pretty much every job in the Draper and Sulzer weave rooms. This was past the era when the mills built mill villages with houses, schools,baseball fields, and gyms for the employees but the people I worked with were happy, hard working people who liked their jobs. The biggest problem was the lack of a good retirement plan in the mills but then the employees were expected to plan and be prepared for their own retirement. I look back on my experience as a good one overall. The mill employees were like an extended family and took care of each other.

Indiana Janes: 1908

Hine didn't create those awful working conditions to fit his "agenda," he took the pictures to point out the awful working conditions. Perhaps these people are smiling because it's what's expected when someone points a camera at you, especially as this might be the only photograph that would be taken of you.

[ Conditions were not "awful." No one was making these girls work here. Lewis Hine took these pictures because that's what he was paid to do. His goal was ending child labor, not the employment of people these girls' age. - Dave]

Mill Girls

My great-grandmother worked in a Virginia cotton mill as a teenager in the 1910s. In 1975 I interviewed her as part of my graduate thesis. One thing she kept repeating was what a "wonderful" job it was, and how "blessed" she was to be able to work there. When I asked about workplace conditions she said the only "workplace" the girls had before that was in the fields. "Crawling though [poop]." Maybe that's why they all look so happy.


Indianapolis didn't get the nickname "Crossroads of America" for nothing. It was a good halfway point between Chicago & Cincinnati, and lots of other places. So it's not surprising to me that cotton would be shipped here for working.

Probably a Friday

They're Hoosiers. It's probably a Friday. Payday. Basketball game this evening. Life is good.


As another commenter mentioned, here's another Lewis Hine photo where the subjects are not glaring angrily at the photographer. Could it be that the workers were actually satisfied with their worksite? That doesn't fit in well with Hine's agenda that workers were abused by their employer. So, Hine could be balanced in the way he shows his subjects.

BTW, it looks like one could get pretty dirty working in a cotton mill (in Indianapolis, of all places!). Surprising, but what do I know.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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