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Donnie Cole: 1910

Donnie Cole: 1910

November 1910. Birmingham, Alabama. "Donnie Cole. 'Our baby doffer,' they called him. This is one of the machines he has been working at for some months at the Avondale Mills. Said, after hesitation, 'I'm 12,' and another small boy added, 'He can't work unless he's twelve.' Child labor regulations conspicuously posted in the mill." Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine. View full size.


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Donnie Cole, Baby Doffer: 1910

This is Joe Manning, of the Lewis Hine Project. I interviewed a niece of Lonnie (not Donnie) Cole. She called him Uncle Lon, or just Lon. She spoke very highly of him. You can see my story of Lonnie at:

Donnie Cole: Baby Doffer

This is Joe Manning of the Lewis Hine Project. I was able to determine that this boy was named Lonnie, not Donnie. With that information, I tracked down his obit, but he left no children. But he did leave a sister, and I found her obit, which led me to Dorothy, one of her daughters. I sent the picture to her and called her today. She was so thrilled to get the picture of her Uncle Lonnie that she invited a bunch of her family members over to see it. I will be interviewing her soon. She told me that little Lonnie was short, and as an adult, looked pretty much like he did in the picture. She said he was always wearing a railroad hat.

Donnie Cole: 1910

Donnie Cole

My name is Donnie Cole.
I work here every day.
I think I'm 12 years old,
That's what my my momma say.
Sometimes I’m a doffer,
Sometimes I sweep the floor.
I used to go to school,
But I don’t do that more.

From the song “Donnie Cole.”
by Joe Manning, ©2009
Lewis Hine Project

Strong resemblance

This little fella bears a strong resemblance to my four year old son. How lucky we are, indeed. I'm going to give him twelve extra hugs today - and give one in my heart to little Donnie Cole by proxy. Bless his heart.

This poor lad

has evidently lost his left arm and right hand to this machine. Apparently this was not an uncommon fate of doffers.

[Donnie's arms and extremities are all intact. Loss of a limb in the mills would definitely have been an uncommon fate. - Dave]

Young Granddad

My grandfather was born in 1910. When he was 12 his dad made him get a job and then quit working, so my grandfather had to support his family. When I was little and would complain about not getting a toy or something equally unimportant he would bristle and scold me for not appreciating what I had. He died before I was old enough to realize what he was talking about. Now I look back on him with my adult eyes, and wish I could tell him I now understand. People that grew up like this grew up hard.


Pretty powerful photo. Pretty sad.

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