Analyzing Photographs: Child Labor from a Child’s Perspective

John Howell, an Indianapolis newsboy, makes $.75 some days.

How do 21st century children respond to photographs of child labor? Barbara Natanson, who works in the Prints and Photographs Division at the Library of Congress, recently wrote a blog post about what her children saw in selected photographs that Lewis Hine took for the National Child Labor Committee.  She showed them the photos with the simple direction to choose some that they found interesting and write down why.

The comments her children wrote showed imagination, outrage, and at least one incorrect assumption; all of those are opportunities to spur research and new learning. Replicating what Barbara did would be an easy way to introduce students to learning with primary sources. One commenter even suggested that this could be turned into a lesson plan.

The Library’s education staff came up with a few ideas to extend the activity:

  • Show students an image without the caption that Hine included. Working in pairs, ask students to write a caption or a headline. Then show them Hine’s caption and ask students to compare them.
  • Select a set of images, and ask students to identify a unifying theme.
  • Ask students to study a set of pictures, form a hypothesis and identify images that support it or disprove it. For example, Barbara noted that her children thought that “the boys in the pictures appear to be much more animated than the girls.”

Tell us your ideas for teaching with images in the comments.

For sets of photographs and other primary sources on additional topics, take a look at these primary source sets selected by the Library’s education staff.





  1. Taylor Kendal
    September 14, 2012 at 1:09 am

    Images from this time period, those depicting child labor in particular, provide so much potential for engaging kids. Empathy is innate, and can therefor create common ground among all students. How about an activity where students take on different personas depicted in a photograph and write a diary entry from that perspective? Having students step “into the shoes” of someone else forces them to consider difficult questions, while simultaneously injecting an alternative point of view.

  2. Helen Curol
    September 14, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Although labor unions are the subject of much media discourse today as a result of the Chicago School Strike, let us not forget their part in eliminating such child labor atrocities.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.