Images of America: Should “we” protect this child?

This entry is part 2 of 10 in the series Images of America

Lewis Hile photo of A Little Spinner in the Mollahan Mills Newberry SC

WHAT IMAGE says “America” to you?

Discussion groups nationwide tend to pull this image out of our stack of 100-plus pictures. It’s so visually striking!

Today’s question: Should “we” protect this child?

The easy answer is: Certainly! America outlawed child labor long ago—not to mention banning the obvious occupational health-and-safety issues in this factory.

But wait a minute! When we’ve shown the Images of America array of pictures in discussion groups, some participants find an entirely different lesson in this photograph, which they say makes them think about United America Core Value No. 4: “Self-reliance and individualism: Reliance on oneself; independence; emphasis on individual strengths and accomplishments.”

Part of the American narrative is that poor people can work hard to pull themselves toward prosperity. Some discussion-group participants hold up this particular picture and, without trying to justify the appalling conditions of child labor a century ago, they do talk about the powerful spirit of striving embodied in this little girl. As you can imagine, this kind of reflection quickly runs into objections from other group members—but that’s why we use these classic photos to start discussions. We discover all kinds of complex relationships between our core values.

This photograph by sociologist Lewis Hine was one of many startling images he captured of American children struggling to survive in the early 20th Century.

In response to his photos, Americans were horrified, right? Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

There were national efforts to abolish child labor as early as 1904, but Americans weren’t ready to enact sweeping laws until several decades later! In the depths of the Great Depression, American adults finally pushed to ban children from factories for a very practical reason—they wanted those jobs for the millions of unemployed adults! And, if we really dig into this issue, we discover that lawmakers declined to protect kids in farm settings. To this day, hundreds of thousands of children are involved in harvesting the food we eat, according to reporting in The Atlantic as recently as 2012 in a story headlined Do Children Harvest Our Food?

The answer to today’s question is more complex than we might guess at first glance!

Get a conversation going …

The United America photo gallery Images of America was developed so you can freely share these inspiring images with friends. This method has been used successfully with groups nationwide to spark spirited and constructive discussions about what unites us as Americans. Then, to fully understand the 10 core values, get the book United America. So, come on! Start your own discussion …

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