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Shucking Oysters in Louisiana

4 September 2017

Before the enforcement of child labor laws in the United States. Photos from the Library of Congress with captions included. Click on the photos for a larger image:


Johnnie, a nine-year-old oyster shucker. Man with pipe is a padrone who had brought these people from Baltimore for four years. He said, “I tell you I have to lie to ’em. Ther’re never satisfied. Hard work to get them.” He is boss of the shucking shed. Location: Dunbar, Louisiana.


Four-year-old Mary, who shucks two pots of oysters a day at Dunbar. Tends the baby when not working. The boss said that next year Mary will work steady as the rest of them. The mother is the fastest shucker in the place. Earns $1.50 a day. Works part of the time with her sick baby in her arms. Father works on the dock. Location: Dunbar, Louisiana.


All these boys are cutters in the Seacoast Canning Co., Factory #7. Ages range from 7 to 12. They live near the factory. Seven year old boy in front, Byron Hamilton, has a badly cut finger, but helps his brother regularly. Behind him is his brother, George, 11 years. He cut his finger half off while working. They and many other youngsters said they were always cutting their fingers. George earns $1.00 some days, $.75 usually. Some of the others said they earn $1.00 when they work all day. At times they start at 7 a.m., work all day and until midnight, but the work is very irregular.


In center of the picture is Phoebe Thomas, 8 year old Syrian girl, running home from the factory all alone, her hand and arm bathed with blood, crying at the top of her voice. She had cut the end of her thumb nearly off, cutting sardines in the factory, and was sent home alone, her mother being busy. The loss of blood was considerable, and might have been serious. Location: Eastport, Maine.


Young cotton mill worker. A piece of the machine fell on his foot mashing his toe. This caused him to fall on to a spinning machine and his hand went into the unprotected gearing, crushing and tearing out two fingers. Location: [Bessemer City, North Carolina]


5 Comments to “Shucking Oysters in Louisiana”

  1. Thank you for this whole Labor Day series!
    It’s very much appreciated.

  2. Thank heaven for the labor laws enacted since these photos were taken. I don’t think people appreciate how much these laws and regulations protect workers, and what the lives of working people would be like without them.

    • In 1930, 1.6% of boys 1-15 in the U.S. were employed in non-agricultural jobs. Another 4.8% had farm jobs. (Those numbers are <1% and 2% for girls). That's 20% less than boys 10-15 worked in 1900, which was less than in 1880. In 1938, after child labor had virtually vanished, Congress finally passed the first national law against hiring children for non-farm/non-family jobs as part of depression-era labor laws. (See https://eh.net/encyclopedia/child-labor-in-the-united-states/ for a reference.)

      Generally speaking, labor practices in the United States change first, and only afterwards does a law about it get passed. When a good chunk of industry is doing something, then a law isn't passed. It's only after the "problem" goes away that the law changes. These laws end up pretty much being politicians looking for a way to look good, but don't actually change much.

  3. There’s tons of this stuff at shorpy.com. Shorpy started when they managed to get access to some of the glass plate negatives the Library of Congress had “conserved” by tossing them into a basement to be flooded and stepped on. There’s some outright amazing stuff there, including high-resolution photographs taken during the Civil War, WWI, etc.

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