Selena Walls, Page One

Selena Walls, 12 yrs old, West, Texas, November 1913. Photo by Lewis Hine. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

Twelve year old Selina Wall working at spooling in the Brazos [?] Valley Cotton Mill, West Texas. Their family Record says she was born, March 23, 1901. Her mother said: "She's just taking the place of her sister fifteen years old. Selina could earn a dollar a day. She was raised up in a cotton mill over in Belton, but she has to stay home and do the cookin." The mother and the fifteen year old girl work regularly in the mill. Several older boys work. Selina keeps house. Nine in the family. Location: West, Texas, November, 1913, Lewis Hine.

"She was 18 when I was born. Everybody in town used to tell me how beautiful she was." -Hazel Snyder, daughter of Selena Walls

"I never went into the cotton mill, but my older sister Hazel did. She said it was horrible in there, that there was lint in the air everywhere." -Sylvia Reid, daughter of Selena Walls

"My mother was a wonderful person. We lived about a block from the railroad tracks, and I can remember hoboes coming up and knocking on the door and asking for food. Even though we didn't have a lot to eat ourselves, my mother would make them a sandwich and have them sit out in the back yard. She was always willing to share whatever she had." -Johnie Barefield, son of Selena Walls

"Texas has the shortest and most meager child labor law in the United States. It provides that children under fifteen years of age shall not be employed in manufacturing or industrial enterprises where dangerous machinery is used; nor in places where goods are manufactured for immoral purposes; nor where their morals will be debased or health impaired. But so far as these provisions go I believe that conditions in Texas would compare favorably with any other state. We have eighteen cotton mills in Texas, of which I think thirteen were in operation last season, and I do not believe there was a child under fifteen in one of these mills." -J. A. Starling, State Commissioner of Labor (Texas), Child Labor Bulletin, published February 1914, by the National Child Labor Committee.

Despite Mr. Starling's rosy assessment, Lewis Hine, in his brief visit to the Brazos Valley Cotton Mill, found at least five children working under the legal age. He took four photographs of 12-year-old Selena. In the one above, her mother (a family photograph obtained later confirmed that the woman was her mother) appears to eye the camera warily, maybe defiantly, in contrast to her daughter, who looks almost expressionless, or perhaps sullen. Her mother's comment ("She's just taking the place of her sister fifteen years old.") was probably viewed with skepticism by Hine, an experienced investigator who had heard similar claims many times before. But the mother's next comment ("She was raised up in a cotton mill over in Belton, but she has to stay home and do the cookin.") indicates that whatever the truth was, Selena was not in a happy situation. But with just the photo and brief caption to work with, I didn't really know anything; I could make only shaky assumptions. What I did know was at the moment I discovered the photos, there wasn't anything I wanted to do but find out what happened to Selena. So I dropped everything else I was working on and began my research.

I first tried the census, but I could not find Selena or her family in any of the censuses up through 1940, the last one available to the public. But then I stumbled upon a 1915 Texas marriage record for Selina Wall and Wm. M. Barfield, of McLennan County, where the town of West is located. I went right back to the census and found the Barfields living in Waco (also in McLennan County) in 1940. They had five children, including 9-year-old Lonnie. I found his birth record right away, and his parents were listed as Lula Slena Walls and Makie Williana Barfield. But I could not locate the addresses or phone numbers of any of the five children. I also could not find Selena's death record.

I contacted the editor of the local paper, the Waco Tribune-Herald, and asked if she would consider publishing the photo of Selena and an article about my research, in hopes that a descendant would contact me. She agreed, and three weeks later, the photo appeared under the headline: "Brazos Past: Searching for kin of 1913 West child laborer." The story, written by Ms. Terri Jo Ryan, began:

"Lula, a stoic 12-year-old Texan, stares at the photographer who came...almost a century ago to take pictures of workers at the decade-old cotton mill in the small community of West. Researcher Joe Manning...seeks the help of Tribune-Herald readers to more fully identify the solemn child in the photograph."

Within hours, I received a call from a friend of one of Selena's daughters, Sylvia Reid. She gave me Sylvia's phone number. But before I had a chance to call her, I received the following email from Sylvia's son, Robert Reid.

"My name is Robert Reid. I am a grandson of Lula Walls Barefield, and this is in response to the article in the Waco Tribune yesterday. You should be able to obtain a wealth of information about this dear lady. Her married name was Barefield, not Barfield. She had nine 9 children, of which 6 are still alive. My mother, Sylvia Reid, would be the best place to start for information. She is 87 years young, but her memory is crystal clear. The next best source would be her older sister Hazel, who is 92 and also has a sharp, clear mind."

"My grandmother's story is so much more than just about child labor reform. Hers is a story of child abuse, poverty, and a struggle to survive, but most of all about a love affair between her and my grandfather, William Maxie Barefield. She would routinely be kicked out her house as young as 8 or 9, and would walk to any relative that would take her in. She was taken out of school when she was 8 and forced to help her mother in the cotton mill in Belton, Texas, prior to moving to West. My grandfather married her when she was just 14, and saved her from her horrible environment, and loved and cared for her until the day she died in 1979."

"Thank you so much for your interest in my grandmother's life."

Over the next month, I interviewed four of Selena's children, one of whom sent me many photos of Selena, her parents, her husband and her children. I also did considerable research on the family's history, child labor in Texas, and the Belton Cotton Mill and Brazos Valley Cotton Mill where Selena and her family worked.

Selena Walls (front-right). That's her mother only partially visible at far right. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

Group of workers in cotton mill at West. Two of them are under legal age. One is twelve and one is fourteen according to their Family Record. Much illiteracy here. Location: West, Texas, November 1913, Lewis Hine.

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