Alfred Benoit, Page One

Alfred Benoit (3rd from right), 11 yrs, New Bedford, MA, Jan 1912. By Lewis Hine. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

Slovenly kitchen living-room of family of Alfred Benoit, 191 N. Front St., a sweeper in Bennett Mill; has been there for two months. Mother works in the same mill; father is a canvasser (and shiftless). Said, "I'm de father of 11 children." The baby in the girl's arms is one they are keeping for another woman. The mother would not get in the photo. Alfred had bad eyes this morning (influenza apparently) and mop[p]ing them with a filthy rag. One of the little ones had the same trouble. Another had a boil on his face. Location: New Bedford, Massachusetts, January 1912, Lewis Hine.

"He was a jolly guy. He was a checker champion. He would go to Canada and play in tournaments there, representing the New Bedford Driving Club. That was the highlight of his life when he did that. He used to bowl on the greens in the park. He had a lot of friends. He used to hang around with Mayor (Francis) Lawler, who was a lot younger than him. They used to go to the dog track together." -Romeo Pothier, son-in-law of Alfred Benoit

"In one of the pictures, the caption said he had an eye affliction and that he was wiping it with a dirty cloth. I felt so bad for him. It made me think of him a lot, when I hadn't thought about him or reminisced about him as much for a long time. My father said that everyone in that neighborhood was like that back then. But the house that my grandfather's father wound up living in later, on Nash Road, was one that he built and owned." -Nancy McKenna, granddaughter of Alfred Benoit

Lewis Hine was trained as a social worker before he took a job as a teacher, and then a photographer. At the turn of the 20th century, social workers and public health advocates were concerned with issues such as personal hygiene, disease prevention, food-borne illnesses, child care and even moral values. Those concerns were expressed bluntly in Hine's caption. Note words such as "slovenly" and "shiftless." They seem paternalistically judgmental now, and perhaps an inappropriate characterization of the Benoit family, but looking back, living conditions in the mostly triple-decker tenements of New Bedford and other industrial cities were far from ideal. Nevertheless, in the three other photos of Alfred, his eyes look much better, and he appears well dressed.

Alfred Benoit, New Bedford, Massachusetts, January 1912. Photo by Lewis Hine.

Alfred Beniot, 191 North St. Sweeper in Bennett Mill, in spinning room #2 has been there two months; seemed to be 11 yrs. old. Alfred recorded as 12 years old. Location: New Bedford, Massachusetts, January 1912, Lewis Hine.


In the late 1800s, New Bedford had already become one the leading textile manufacturing cities in Massachusetts. Between 1900 and 1910, eleven more factories were built, making the city one of the largest producers of cotton yarns and textiles in the country. By 1920, there were 70 mills, which employed more than 40,000 workers, an amazing 35% of the population. But in the 1920s, textile manufacturing in the South grew rapidly because of lower production costs, mostly because most raw cotton was grown there, and because the companies paid lower wages. This led to a huge textile workers strike in New Bedford in 1928, when manufacturers instituted a 10% wage cut.

The strike lasted six months, and helped to spearhead the relocation of many of the mills to the Carolinas and Georgia. During WWII, textile manufacturing in the city made a comeback, due to a demand from the armed forces. And there was also a growth in the production of clothing, an industry that still prospers today in New Bedford. -compiled from information on the City of New Bedford website

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