In the early decades of the 20th century, John Hine used to camera to advocate for reforms to child labor laws. While working on behalf of advocates who sought to end child labor, Hines traveled to document child labor between 1908 and 1924. Not until 1938 was child labor banned in the United States.
During a 1911 trip to Mississippi, Hine visited Tupelo to photograph child workers in the cotton mill there. Within the state, he also documented working conditions in Water Valley, Columbus, West Point, Winona, Meridian,Yazoo City, McComb, Magnolia, Biloxi and other Gulf Coast cities.
In Tupelo, the crusading documentary photographer shot around in the mill and in the company homes for workers around the mill. Notes maintained by Hine with his photographs indicate that he found “Conditions rather good.”
Even so, his work did document child labor at the Tupelo mill. One photograph from Tupelo depicts a young girl. Hine made the following notes about the girl: “Sula Bedford, nine years old. Lives in Tupelo, Miss. Mother said, ‘Just as soon as she’s 12, her father wants her to learn to weave. She could spin now, (heaps of ‘em smaller’n she is does) but he can’t earn ‘nuff spinnin’.’”
Another photograph shows a boy on a road. Hine wrote: “Carl Harden, doffer in Tupelo (Miss.) Cotton Mills. Said he was fourteen, but I doubt it. Couldn’t write his own name. Been working in different mills about one year.”
Other notes indicate that a child worker at the mill claimed to be 12, but Hine thought the child looked younger.