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January 1909. Tifton, Georgia. "Workers in the Tifton Cotton Mills. All these children were working or helping, 125 in all. Some of the smallest have been there one year or more." Photo and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine. View full size.

January 1909. Tifton, Georgia. "Workers in the Tifton Cotton Mills. All these children were working or helping, 125 in all. Some of the smallest have been there one year or more." Photo and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Can't stop looking

I discovered Hine's photos yesterday afternoon (Friday 06.11.09) and kept search and scrolling and reading and reflecting till 2 a.m., then woke up at 6 this morning to continue.

Each face has a story just like I have a story. How many felt that no one would ever think of them once they had gone? How many thought their lives unimportant or dull, which now to me seem so intriguing?

Grace & dignity

The clothes are stained & torn. You know they didn't have much. Yet look at the adult women -- most are neatly dressed with well groomed hair. Can you imagine how hard those women's lives were in days of no birth control, large families, cooking & cleaning with no conveniences? WOW.

On the left handrail

That looks like a bobbin of yarn to me. I bet that is the product this department was making.

Back row

I'm intrigued by the people who hung back there in the very back row...and on the right, there are either two jokesters or a couple of giants!

Two Familiar Faces!

The two young girls in the front row - one in plaid dress, and the one on her right in light-colored dress, are featured (close up) in another photo you posted some time back. Great smiles!

That Girl

Take a look on that girl on the far right. Seems to me she's blond with straight hair. Folks, I would say I could be in love for her if I was born on that time and working on that factory. The whole photo is amazing and with lots of interesting things to looking at. But, was that girl who made me spent more than 10 min thinking about my life.

For sure

I am in the front row in the raggedy plaid dress with messy hair. And I would be wishing I were the very pretty girl behind me to my left with her hand on her hip. I'm sure she was the most popular. My mother, father, and sister are there too.

That's me, too.

With a smile that's almost a grimace from looking into the sun. That's me in every picture when I was a kid.

These kids today...

One cannot help but compare these selfless and hard-working children with some of the more indulged kids walking around today loaded down with cell phones, pocket video games, name brand clothes, bling, stylin' expensive haircuts, blue water bottles, etc. These youngsters (pictured) did what they had to do to help their families and accepted it, as seen by their "just do it" attitudes and lack of selfishness, greed, "gimmees" or self-pity. I know they had no choice but still, their willingness to sacrifice their childhoods, as needed, is very touching. There is absolutely no sense of entitlement exhibited by any of them; some even look proud and confident. This was my father's era and he always kept those qualities and always was happy. Mystifying, isn't it?

Windows 1909

Notice those whitewashed windows? Can't have employees getting distracted by the view outside!

Barefoot, Charles Dickens and Me

Shoes were a luxury to many families in that place and time. Since kids grew so fast, families couldn't afford to keep 'em in shoes. Feet can get pretty tough if you don't wear shoes. (Maybe not cockleburr tough, but that would be incentive to keep the burrs cleared away.)

I betcha the three or four girls with their hands covering their mouths are doing so because Mr. Hine made them laugh and they were covering up their bad teeth.

Best I can figure is that the textile factory conditions then were pretty darned Dickensian, given a few decades of slow progress and the lack of a cruel English class system.

The boy leaning forward on his elbows, just above the "bully," is me, more or less.

For laughs

I suspect the giggling was caused by one or two young wits being photographed. For instance, see the boy at far left with his mouth covered, and some of the eyes mirthfully looking his way. Another delightful Shorpy depiction of the human urge to enjoy living with what you have. Just imagine someone decades from now bemoaning how bad those people had it back in 2009. Or not, who knows what cycles lie ahead?

Good and bad

Starting with the shy girl hiding behind her hands, I absolutely love the expressions on the 6 kids in the front row: the smiling girl to her left; the other smiling girl with her hair swept up, and the two girls next to her, all looking in the same direction; the squinting boy with the impish grin on his face.

Part of me is amazed they could smile having to work in a cotton mill, though it probably wasn't as Dickensian as I remember from my history books. And so many are barefoot. I'm such a wimp, I don't like walking barefoot across my hardwood floors.

It's me

Here's a question: Who in the photo reminds you of yourself? I would be the little girl in the front row center with a white dress and folded hands.


All those smiling faces. All those bare feet.

All those bare feet. Some tough kids!

I live in the South, we have some of the nastiest cockleburrs that I swear will go to the bone.


At first I thought it was just weird negatives -- but it's those threads and fabric fibers all over them. They look so ragged, but happy, too. Or at least amused by the photographer.

Hine's Way

Lewis Hine seems to have been unusually good at quickly establishing rapport with many of his subjects. Here's yet another of his photos in which many of those posing are reacting with genuine laughter and surprise as they look straight at the lens, full of life. He must have made some spot-on quip that quickened the crowd, not just "Say cheese," or "Watch the birdie," and from the facial expressions and body language of many in the photo, whatever he said must have been a zinger.

For Comparison

It's almost like a scene out of a Little Rascals movie -- the pudgy boy on the left in the suit and cap, tossing a football, and looking every inch the boss's kid. A mean, spoiled bully, ready at all times to taunt and victimize the little poor kids working at daddy's mill. My imagination worketh overtime.

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