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Three Weeks at It: 1912

Three Weeks at It: 1912

May 1912. Rock Hill, South Carolina. Arthur Newell, doffer in Manchester Mills. Three weeks at it. 70 cents a day. Said 12 years old. His father in the mill gets $12 a week, mother $9, sister $4.80, he gets $4.20, total $30 a week. "I had ruther go to school but the mill wanted me." View full size. Photo by Lewis Wickes Hine.


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Where are they now?

Since my last name is Newell, and since this person somewhat looks like old relatives of mine, I thought I'd do some research:

It appears there was an Arthur David Newell, born about 1900 (which would make him 12 in this photo) and residing in York, South Carolina, which is just to the northwest of Rock Hill. If the information is correct, he died in 1974 in Abbeville, South Carolina.

Info found on


Yeah, right, they were the good old days. If you couldn't afford a doctor, diarrhea could kill you, and the powers that be said they couldn't help. When FDR proposed Social Security, he was called a traitor to his class and the entrenched gentry said he was an agent of the Soviets. There was no use trying to better the lives of the suffering, they don't deserve it. The 2 things that straightened it out were WWII and the resulting GI Bill, that created the middle class that we know today. Talk about bias.

This one

This photo, I admit, tugs at my heartstrings a little. What Steve Miller wrote below is very true, and I agree with it; I know that these photographs are immensely valuable as documents of a period of American history, but at the same time, I know to take Hine's commentary with a grain of salt.

This one, however.... If that boy truly did say, "I had ruther go to school," then my heart goes out to him. I need to check Joe Manning's page to see if he's one of the ones Mr. Manning was able to track down. If not, I'd love to know what happened to this child.

Grinding Poverty?

Remember, a good bit of what we are seeing here on Shorpy reflects a political stance. Lewis Wickes Hine was a crusader against child labor; beyond leaving a valuable record of the conditions in which children worked, it's been noted here that some of his descriptions were "hyperbolic." This does not make his reportage any less important, but it does display the point of view framing his work.

Similarly, the FSA photographers were reporters for government programs. They would tend to reflect the prevailing views of those programs. Again, this does not mean the need for the programs did not exist on was invented to sustain the program's existence, it merely means there was an editorial framework for their photography.

And again, some of what may seem "grinding poverty" to our modern eyes might simply be that we have quite a different standard of living -- one where we don't go to a grocery and have the shopkeeper fill our order from behind the counter. Or where we may have several cars in a family, because each employed family member commutes in a different direction. And certainly, Mom doesn't (in general) stay home and watch the kids, wash the clothes, and fix the pot roast in time for Dad's arrival at 5:30.

Maybe those good old days were better than we thought... Try taking a look at the member's blog postings. The editorial bias there is probably a little bit closer to how good life could be.

Steve Miller
Someplace near the crossroads of America

Now and Then

Today is probably a better time, despite all the troubles that exist. One theme which seems to come through in most of the pictures between 1865 and 1942 is the grinding poverty of the ordinary person.

Long-Ago Childhood

When I see the faces of these children, I am reminded of my nine great aunts and uncles, all unmarried, who were born at the turn of the last century. I was told some had to start work in the coal mines at the same age as this young fellow. As a kid, I would visit them and ask, "What was it like when you were growing up?"

I gathered from the silent response from those sweet souls that being grown up, retired, and living comfortably in a big city house with running water and electricity and television was far, far better than whatever mysterious childhoods they had.

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