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Comparing and Contrasting Images of Child Labor (lesson plan)


Students will learn about child labor and attitudes toward children in the 19th century through one painting and multiple photographs. In discussion and writing, they will also consider the differences between photography and painting as mediums for expressing these attitudes.

Subject Areas
Social Studies, Visual Arts
NC Standards Correlations
Social Studies
USH.H.1, USH.H.2, USH.H.4, USH.H.8
Visual Arts
I.V.1, I.CX.1, I.CX.2, I.CR.1, A.V.1, A.CX.1, A.CX.2

Artwork Related to this Lesson

  • A Tough Story

    A Tough Story, by John George Brown

    In the 1880s New York swarmed with the children of the desperate poor. However, in such paintings as A Tough...

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Student Learning Objectives

  1. Students will understand how Lewis Hine and John George Brown used their works of art to influence Americans' response to child labor.
  2. Students will compare and contrast images of child laborers and interpret the intentions of those who made the images.
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1. Hold a brief class discussion focused on student perceptions of how Americans may have viewed labor, and child labor specifically, in the 1880s.

2. Assign the students to examine and analyze John George Brown’s painting A Tough Story.

3. Continue the class discussion by asking the following questions:

  • What are your feelings and emotions about the boys in the picture?
  • What do you believe is the general attitude (atmosphere) of this painting?
  • Do you believe the children in the painting are happy or unhappy? Why or why not?
  • What do you think John George Brown wanted you to feel about these children?
  • This and other paintings by Brown hung in the private homes of wealthy collectors. What impact do you think this painting might have had on its owner?

4. Assign the students to examine and analyze Lewis Hine’s photographs.

5. Have the students read some information on Hine and the captions that accompanied some of Hine’s photographs.

6. Continue the class discussion focused on the following questions:

  • How do these photos make you feel?
  • What message is Hine communicating through his photographs and captions?
  • How do Hine’s photographic images differ from Brown’s painting?

7. Assign the students to read a textbook description of child labor during the Progressive Era. Assign the students to write a one-page paper answering the following question: Which artist (Lewis Hine or John George Brown) do you think most effectively used art to change viewers’ attitudes about child labor? What elements of their works communicated these views?

Written by Zoe Voigt, Humanities Teacher


• The teacher will use class discussion and the paper to determine each student’s understanding of how Lewis Hine and John George Brown helped influence Americans’ response to child labor.

• Class discussion and the paper will be used to assess each student’s analysis of images of child laborers and his or her interpretation of the intentions of those who made the images.

Lesson Resources


Progressive Era


Dijkstra, Bram. American Expressionism: Art and Social Change 1920–1950. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003.

Konzett, Delia Caparoso. Ethnic Modernisms: Anzi Yezierska, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Rhys, and the Aesthetics of Dislocation. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2002.

Pozzetta, George E. Nativism, Discrimination, and Images of Immigrants. New York: Taylor and Francis, 1991.


Photographs by Lewis Hine:

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