At the turn of the last century, it was common for small children to be exploited by all manner of business entities. Whether it was working in coal mines, or city factories, or farms or shops, many dangerous jobs were held by children and all kept these kids from school and making friends, with many working 12-hour days, including Saturday. These jobs were assigned to poor children who had no other option but to work in these harmful situations. They worked ungodly hours in inhumane conditions, and no one seemed to care. Parents saw no other option for their families for, although these jobs paid little, it was something to help them stay together and to keep them fed and housed, however poorly.
In the American culture at that time, the plight of the poor was acceptable. Little was done by most individuals or agencies to assist them. The Church did much good, but overall no one seemed able to do anything to end the use of children as dispensable chattel by the businesses who worked them literally to death in too many instances.
As with so many things, this was a class issue. The lower socio-economic stratum was where all the abuse of little ones for profit came from. It was an abominable, reprehensible disregard for human life, for children especially. The poor in general were not seen in any sort of a dignified light. Even many nominal Christians, those with money and stature, refused to see the dignity of the poor among them that is a reality because the indigent, too, were human and made in the image and likeness of the same God the wealthy claimed to worship on Sundays.
Much as in the case of slavery, the poor, more often than not immigrants from a foreign land, including their children, were seen as “less than,” not worth worrying about their welfare by many of their fellow citizens. It pains me to write these words, but it is true.
Lewis Hines was a photographer who traveled the country in the early 1900’s to document the plight of these youngsters. If you’d like to view some of the poignant and heartbreaking photos, look here:
The National Child Labor Committee in 1904 stated that there were 2 million “child workers” under the age of 16, denied the ability to attend school, to have the healthy and happy childhoods they deserved. It was for this organization that Hines began to work as a investigative photographer to expose the travesty that was going on in the United States at that time. There is much more to be shared to illustrate the horrors of this period in our history.
The exploitation of children was at its pinnacle in the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s, and it was due in large part to Lewis Hines’ photographs and accompanying captions that helped to contextualize for the public what exactly was going on in shops, manufacturing facilities, farms, mines, and other places of business during that time.
His pamphlets, lectures, complete with his photographs to document the lives of these children, and articles in magazines and newspapers across the country, led to a shift in the public’s attitude toward the awful situation.
Lewis Hines changed hearts and minds. And that changed laws and business practices. The interesting thing is that when Hines would share his photos, many individuals who viewed them would get rightfully angry, but with HIM! How dare you take and post these photos of these poor children? Did you stage them? Are these models that you dressed and smudged, altering photos to get us to be shocked and horrified? This is not really going on. These people were initially in denial. For the photos, the reality of them, was too much for the average person’s sensibilities.
The human being is typically a compassionate individual. Humans generally do not want to see other persons suffering. They hate to see animals being mistreated, as well. And, to see such neglect, abuse, and mistreatment of little children (most started working at age 7, but he had photographed children as young as 3), well, it was too much to contemplate.
And so, for many people, the initial response was outrage, but focused on the man who was exposing the terrible treatment of children. It was only their first reaction. In time, that anger and outrage was properly pointed toward the employers who would hire for pennies these children and exploit them for businesses’ own profits.
Those photos of reality would ultimately change so many hearts and minds, that laws began to be passed that protected minors from such fates and then eventually would guarantee educational opportunities for children, as well.
All of this is to say that the pro-life movement must continue to work to change the hearts and minds of our citizens by tirelessly presenting the truth of what abortion is, what euthanasia is, what ending any life before natural death is. It may take a lot more time than we would like, but we can never give up the fight.
Truth wins in the end. Truth shared in love, in compassion, and calmly but consistently, will win more hearts and change more lives than anything else we could do. People may be hesitant to display photos of aborted fetuses, and that is understandable. But sharing ultrasounds of babies in the womb can be quite effective. And sharing the facts of what abortion is, sharing the facts from women who regret their decisions to end their babies’ lives, and from those who chose to carry their children to term – courageously either raising them or choosing the selfless option of placing them with their forever families through adoption, should always have priority in our efforts to bring more babies into the world. Of course, walking along side every mother who carries an unplanned baby in her womb, from pregnancy, through delivery when necessary, and beyond must be publicized as part of the pro-life plan, as well. And, yes, we can work to change legislation in our states (now that, thankfully, Roe v. Wade has been declared unconstitutional and power given back to the states), but our priority must be telling the truth unceasingly to change hearts and minds. And then we will positively change more lives. We can save more lives.
Telling the truth also includes telling the story of Pregnancy Resource Centers and the good they do for women and children, born and unborn. And it includes telling the truth no matter what others do to try to destroy their buildings and their reputations. That takes courage, of course.
Finally, for those who follow a Judeo-Christian credo, we must tell the Truth of Imago Dei, that we are all made in the image and likeness of our Divine Creator. Life is pure gift. Every life.