Labor Day: Dressing Economically

Child labor was prominent in United States textile mills and child labor continues in the global attire industry.

Lewis Hines, who spent a decade as a photographer for the National Child Labor Committee, produced many haunting images of child labor.

The 1908 photograph below is the one that I found myself returning to again and again as I researched and wrote the chapter “Dressing Economically,”  Hines entitled the photograph “Rhodes Mfg. Co., Lincolnton, N.C. Spinner. A moments glimpse of the outer world Said she was 10 years old. Been working over a year. Location: Lincolnton, North Carolina.”


In Hammer v. Dagenhart, decided a decade later, the United States Supreme Court would side with the interests of the Southern Cotton Manufacturers, the organization that challenged the federal statute seeking to regulate child labor, and hold Congress did not have such a power.   The 5-4 majority concluded that to uphold Congressional authority to regulate child labor in textile mills would have dire consequences:  “all freedom of commerce will be at an end, and the power of the states over local matters may be eliminated, and thus our system of government be practically destroyed.”

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