An overseer and his underlings

An overseer and two small grimy boys face the camera in a textile mill.

An overseer and two grimy boy doffers face the photographer in a Birmingham, Alabama, textile factory.

The textile mill epitomized mechanized industry, which made humans servants of machines.  Textile manufacture was one of the earliest industries in the US, one often associated with ‘sweated’ labor.  Exploitative practices reached an apogee in the late nineteenth-century American South, where mills employed black and white workers with no other prospects, drawing in many poor Appalachian families.  Conditions in the mills were such that workers (many of them children) were virtually enslaved.  Despite laboring incessantly, they lived in poverty, without recourse to their employer’s authority.  The overseer in this picture boasted of having 30 doffers to do his bidding.  The doffers’ job was to run to replace full spindles with empty ones to keep the looms running smoothly.

This picture was taken in November 1910.

Library of Congress photograph by Lewis Hine.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 200 other followers