Business and Labor

Flashback Photo: Beautiful Mill Girl, Coventry, R.I., 1909

Lewis Hine, the great social reformer and photographer, took this photo of a mill girl in April 1909 of a mill girl in Coventry, R.I. Hine’s caption read, ‘A beautiful young spinner and doffer in Interlaken Mill, Arkwirght, R. I. She has worked there 1 year. Looked 12 yrs. old and had a hectic flush caused by warm, close atmosphere.’

Beautiful young spinner, by Lewis Hine

Beautiful young spinner, by Lewis Hine

Arkwright was actually the name of the mill village in Coventry and the company that built the mill in 1810. Doffers were usually the youngest employees in a mill. They removed the full spindles or bobbins of thread from the spinning frame. Spinners walked up and down the machines, brushing away lint and watching for broken thread.

It had to be hot and humid in the cotton mills to prevent the thread from breaking. The air was thick with cotton dust, which caused lung disease, skin infections, eye infections, bronchitis and tuberculosis.

For years Hine recorded the working conditions under which children labored. He photographed children picking tobacco, working in textile mills, selling newspapers and canning sardines. He often talked his way into the mills by pretending to be an industrial photographer taking pictures of machines. At the last minute he would put a child in the picture, ostensibly to show the size of the machine. Hine risked his life many times. His work inspired moral outrage and led to the passage of child labor laws.

Read more about Lewis Hine here.

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