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Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum

Immigration, Urbanization, and Identity: The Progressive Era City #3038

#3038 In the black and white photograph, three young boys stand holding stacks of newspapers at their sides. It is nighttime, and the setting is urban. With their wool jackets, short wool pants, high socks, and caps, the boys are dressed nearly identically.


Date: April 17, 1912
Location: Washington, D.C.
Photographer: Lewis Hine
Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, National Child Labor Committee Collection, LC-DIG-nclc-03788


After midnight, April 17, 1912, G St., near 14th, these three boys 10 yrs, 11 yrs. and 12 yrs. old, were stuck with over 50 papers on their hands, and vowed they would stay until they sold out if it took all night. The oldest said, “my mother makes me sell.” Lawrence Lee (10 yrs.) 912 26th St., N.W., Michael, Niland (11yrs.) 930 26th St., N.W., Martin Garvin (12 yrs.) 928 26th St., N.W. Location: [Washington (D.C.), District of Columbia].


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Three boys stand by a building and appear to be holding newspapers.




The boys all wear similarly formal clothing. Their caps, heavy pants, and boots indicate the weather is cool even, though it is April.



The caption says they are each carrying more than 50 newspapers, but they don’t carry them in a bag.



They are small in stature; the newspapers they carry are nearly as large as they are.

Build on your Observations

Details in the image provide clues to the fact that the image was made at night. The lighting of the scene is harsher on the right. Objects on the left appear to reflect light. The photographer has made this image with the aid of artificial lighting; what is known today as flash photography. This is probably why the boys’ expressions (poignant in their awkwardness) are less than composed: they were probably surprised by the exposure.


The visible architecture suggests the setting for this image is urban. Because they wear heavier clothing and it is April, it is probably a city in the upper Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, or New England region.

Make Inferences

The occupation of these boys tells us this is an urban setting. The title and darkened scene provides an indication of the working conditions of these young boys, who worked long hours selling newspapers on the streets of major cities.



From the statement of the boy in the caption, these boys are working, even through the night. Selling newspapers was competitive work. The night shift allowed the boys to entice potential customers with freshly printed newspapers and to access potential customers out enjoying the city nightlife. The boys were known as “Newsies.”


Hine’s extended caption makes sure viewers understand what they are looking at, and its implications. He tells us their ages, and the mention of the time tells us these boys do not attend school. The quotation from “the oldest” provides information about his family’s economic situation.

Formulate Further Questions

What conditions led children to have to work in such jobs? In what other occupations did children work? How common was this practice?

What was the function of this photograph?

What was the context in which Hine produced it?

How do words like “stuck” make us look at the photograph in a particular or different way?

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