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Maritime Image of the Day: “Oyster Shuckers (1912)”

PortandTerminal.com, December 5, 2019

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – Working as an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee, sociologist Lewis Hine documented working and living conditions of children in the United States between 1908 and 1924.

Oyster shucking and packing houses were a common fixture on coastal towns along Virginia, Maryland and Louisiana, and up along the Eastern Seaboard to New York and beyond.

Inspection at an oyster packing house (1914)

In a series of poignant photographs, Mr Hine documented children who were sent to work soon after they could walk, and were paid based on how many buckets of oysters they shucked daily.

Children were expected to wield sharp knives and shuck oysters from before dawn to well after dusk, often working for only dollars a week.

The original black and white photograph taken by Lewis Hine of the three young oyster shuckers

In the course of several decades, Mr Hines, armed with a camera and a sense of compassion, documented the harsh conditions of child labourers, snapping shot after shot of child miners, factory workers, and seamstresses.

Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940), courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film.

Hine covered around 50,000 miles a year, photographing children from Chicago to Florida working in coal mines and factories. All of his work at the time was for the National Child Labour Committee; he began the project in 1908.

 Children stand among millions of oyster shells; the removal of the bivalve’s shells allowed for easier canning

The National Child Labour Committee was formed in 1904 and launched many campaigns to end child labour, though the Fair Labour Standards Act was not passed until 1938. Child labour is still being exploited in many parts of the world.  According to UNICEF estimates, some 250million children between the ages of five to 14 work worldwide.

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