Eva Tanguay was 15 years old in 1911, toiling daily in Lawrence’s mills alongside hundreds of other boys and girls, when a visiting photographer took her picture. The interloper was Lewis Hine, the renowned social reformer whose photos would help end child labor in America.
Carol Frye has fond memories of her Aunt Eva, who died in 1982, but she never knew Eva once worked in the mills — not until she was contacted by a researcher for the Lawrence History Center. At a reception in April on the vast sixth floor of the Everett Mills, now repurposed as a multiuse office building, the first thing Frye saw as she stepped off the elevator was an enlargement of Hine’s photo of Eva. “That was thrilling,” said Frye, 72, who lives in Salem, N.H. “There she was, staring at me. I couldn’t believe it.”
Eva’s portrait is one of a dozen Hine photos taken in Lawrence that are part of a larger exhibit, “Short Pay! All Out!” marking the centennial of the Great Lawrence Strike of 1912. Also known as the Bread and Roses strike, the protest set in motion the organized labor movement that eventually brought better wages and safer conditions to the nation’s factory workers. The exhibit, free to the public, remains open through September.
The Lewis Hine Project is the work of Western Massachusetts historian Joe Manning, who has compiled the life stories of more than 300 of Hine’s young subjects from various mills across the country. He’s been researching the genealogies of Hine’s subjects since 2005, when children’s author Elizabeth Winthrop asked him to investigate what had become of the girl whose photo inspired her novel “Counting on Grace.” The girl's name was Addie Card.
“I found Addie’s granddaughter in 11 days through a series of amazing discoveries,” recalled Manning, a retired social worker, poet, and songwriter. “It turned out Addie lived to be 94 years old. I was so smitten with the idea of doing this.”
‘I think he instinctively understood if the children looked pitiful, no one would have any hope for them.’
As part of the Lawrence History Center’s yearlong commemoration of the 1912 strike, University of Massachusetts Lowell professor Robert Forrant, who chairs the Bread and Roses Centennial Committee, asked Manning to research the identities of some of the 70 or so children Hine photographed on visits to the city in 1910 and 1911. Forrant, who specializes in labor history and issues, called the legacy of the 1912 strike the “crown jewel” of his field. He assigned two of his university students to assist Manning in his research. “They were very excited,” Forrant said during a recent walk through the exhibit, which sprawls across unfinished floorboards, partitioned by temporary walls. “They said, ‘Wow, I'm actually doing history.’ ”
The “Short Pay! All Out!” exhibit is the centerpiece of Lawrence’s recognition of one of its most significant historical moments. Following a successful academic symposium in April, there will be special emphasis on this year’s edition of the city’s annual Bread and Roses Labor Day Festival. Other efforts include art exhibits at the Essex Art Center and Lawrence Heritage State Park and two books of scholarship in production.
Since opening in January (Manning’s photos went up in April), the exhibit at Everett Mills has been seen by hundreds of students from area schools. “We had a group this morning of young women, 16 to 18, who are getting their GEDs and either have a kid or are pregnant,” said Forrant. The students, he said, were especially fascinated by Hine’s photos and the stories of the subjects, some of whom were as young as 11 or 12.
Five thousand of Hine’s photos of underage factory workers are archived on the Library of Congress website. In the photos, many of the children have haunting, vacant looks in their eyes. But many others are grinning, some with mischief, others with simple contentment.
“That was deliberate by Hine,” said Joe Manning.
“He was not trying to make the children look pitiful. I think he instinctively understood if the children looked pitiful, no one would have any hope for them. They’d be a lost cause already. He was trying to show that these kids deserved respect. They were ordinary children under extraordinary circumstances.”
Eva Tanguay was the eldest of a family that would eventually include 17 children, including Carol Frye’s mother, who was the second youngest. Eva, who lost two sons in World War II and was widowed by three husbands, made the most of a life of trials, Frye said. “She would speak her mind,” recalled her niece. “She had a loud laugh. She was feisty.’’
Hine’s photo of Eva epitomizes his work, said Manning. “It’s an overused word, but that picture is very iconic,” he said. “The look on her face — I mean, you can't forget it.”