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menuAmerican Social History Project  ·    Center for Media and Learning

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The U.S. Department of Labor Recruits Workers from Puerto Rico

The United States acquired the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico in 1898 after its victory in the Spanish-American War. After a period of limited local autonomy, the U.S. granted Puerto Ricans American citizenship in 1917. The arrival of large, [...]

"View of the Ewen Coal Breaker of the Pa. Coal Co."

Young boys were often employed in coal mines in the mining regions of Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Kentucky, and West Virginia, where boys as young as twelve could be legally put to work. Often working in "coal breakers," sorting out slate and other [...]

Child Cotton Pickers Haul Heavy Loads

Child cotton-pickers on a farm in Bells, Texas, documented by Lewis W. Hine, a photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. Children had long been used as cotton-pickers and other agricultural workers in the South, where the tradition of [...]

"James Hopkinson's Plantation. Planting Sweet Potatoes"

Early in the Civil War, on November 7, 1861, a fleet of Union gunboats bombarded the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina. Confederate planters left hastily, ordering their field hands and house servants to accompany them. Most ignored their [...]

"Cotton Picking in Georgia"

In the 1890s, most African Americans labored in the southern cotton economy. Some owned their own farms, but many worked in a system called sharecropping. Landlords provided sharecroppers with land, a cabin, farm tools, and cotton seed; in return, [...]

"Bananas Being Loaded into Waiting Carts"

New York dockworkers unload bananas from a cargo ship into a waiting cart in this early twentieth-century photograph by maritime photographer Edwin Levick. Their work was dangerous—the fatality rate for longshoremen was higher than for any [...]

"Operating a hand drill at Vultee-Nashville"

In this rare color photograph taken for the Office of War Information, a "real life" Rosie drills on the side of a dive bomber plane. Nearly three million women worked in defense industries during World War II, including thousands of African [...]

"Washington, D.C. Government charwoman who provides for a family of six on her salary of one thousand and eighty dollars per year"

While working as an apprentice with the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photography project, renowned photographer Gordon Parks (1912-2006) documented the African-American experience in Washington D.C. In 1942, he completed an eighty-five image [...]

"Mrs. Ella Watson"

While working as an apprentice with the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photography project, renowned photographer Gordon Parks (1912-2006) documented the African-American experience in Washington D.C. In 1942, he completed an eighty-five image [...]

"The Fish Dealer's Daughter"

As historian John Kuo Wei Tchen notes of this portrait, "the girl's tattered clothing and gloves on both hands clearly indicate that she works hard, probably assisting her father in carrying the wicker shrimp baskets shown behind."  Tchen [...]

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