Giles Newsom, Page One

Giles Newsom, 12 years old, Bessemer City, North Carolina, October 23, 1912. Photo by Lewis Hine.

Accident to young mill worker. Giles Edmund Newsom (Photo October 23rd, 1912) while working in Sanders Spinning Mille [i.e., Mill], Bessemer City, N.C., August 21st, 1912, a piece of the machine fell on to his foot mashing his toe. This caused him to fall on to a spinning machine and his hand went into unprotected gearing, crushing and tearing out two fingers. He told the Attorney he was 11 years old when it happened. His parents are now trying to make him 13 years old. The school census taken at the time of the accident makes him 12 years old (parents' statement) and school records say the same. His school teacher thinks he is 12. His brother (see photo 3071) is not yet 11 years old. Both of the boys worked in the mill several months before the accident. His father, (R.L. Newsom) tried to compromise with the Company when he found the boy would receive the money and not the parents. The mother tried to blame the boys for getting jobs on their own hook, but she let them work several months. The aunt said "Now he's jes got to where he could be of some help to his ma an' then this happens and he can't never work no more like he oughter." Location: Bessemer City, North Carolina, Lewis Hine.


Giles Newsom, by Lewis Hine. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

"The year 1904 saw the first child labor laws go into effect in North Carolina. The law limited the work week for all workers to a maximum of sixty-six hours and stated that no child under the age of twelve could be employed by a mill. However, the law came bundled with a list of mill-friendly exceptions which rendered the law a mere half-hearted intention. Stipulations were attached to the bill exempting engineers, firemen, machinists, superintendents, overseers, section and yard hands, office men, watchmen, and repairers of breakdowns. The law, which carried no provision for enforcement, empowered employers with a multitude of ways to ignore it."

"In 1907 the child labor law was revised. The old stipulations were stripped and the law was reworded to state that no child under the age of fourteen shall be employed by or work in a mill. However, the law carried a new stipulation: boys and girls between the ages of twelve and thirteen could work in a mill under an apprenticeship providing the child had attended school for at least four months out of the preceding twelve. For the mill's management a simple written note from the child's parents was all that was required for proof of age or schooling. The penalty for parents who lied about their child's age, or for mills found operating outside the realms of the law, was set as a misdemeanor. The law also declared that no boy or girl under age fourteen was permitted to work in a mill between the hours of eight P.M. and five A.M." -from Report on Condition of Women and Child Wage-Earners in the United States: The Beginnings of Child Labor Legislation in Certain States; A comparative Study, Volume VII (1910); and Uniform Child Labor Laws: Proceedings of the Seventh Annual Conference of the National Child Labor Committee (1911).

Lewis Hine spent nearly the entire month of October photographing mill workers in North Carolina, but in November, he was in New England, New York and New Jersey. His constant traveling didn't afford him the opportunity to revisit his subjects and record updates on how they were doing. And so 100 years later, we are left wondering what happened to Giles, the boy with the missing fingers. Other than one surprising piece of information, my research turned up very little.

When Giles was injured, he was eight days short of his 12th birthday. According to North Carolina laws, the minimum age to work in the mill was 12, but only if the child was just an apprentice and was attending school at least four months in a calendar year. Otherwise the minimum age was 14. Bessemer City is a small city just north of Gastonia. The Sanders Spinning Mill where he worked (officially called Sanders Spinning Co.) began its operations in about 1910, in a mill formerly owned by Mascot Cotton Mills. In 1914, Sanders was purchased by M. Gambrill & Associates.


Where it happened. Sanders Cotton Mfg. Co., Bessemer City, N.C. In this and the adjoining mill (run by the same company) there were still many dangerous, unprotected gears, belts, belts running through the open floor, rough broken flooring on which the workers would likely stumble, etc.- when I went through these mills (October 23rd, 1912) over two months after the accident. Location: Bessemer City, North Carolina. Lewis Hine.

Giles Newsom pictured on National Child Labor Committee poster.

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