1910s: Child Oyster Shuckers

19 Responses

  1. CatM

    All those little, bloody fingers…how sad. And that mountain of shells must have smelled to high heaven. I’m so glad we have child labor laws now, because it’s too easy to imagine my own child dressed in filthy rags and having to do this kind of work to keep from starving. I’d like to imagine we’d be higher up the economic chain but this is more likely. Awful…awful.

  2. Ed

    Anybody know where these were taken? I’m figuring either Apalachicola, Florida or Chesapeake Bay area.

  3. Dezi Beck

    Look again. Despite their clothes and circumstance, all of these children look healthy, well-fed, and for the most part fairly happy.

  4. Emily

    Some of these kids probably look happy because they’re having their picture taken. The fact that most of these kids have such gnarled hands at their young age is really tragic.

  5. Todd P.

    I think today’s kids are useless compared to the kids seen in these photos. They look grown up at a young age. I see nothing wrong with kids working. It would keep our jobs at home instead of being shipped overseas so THEIR kids can do the work FOR US. We’d be way further up the “economic chain”. Besides, what skills do kids have these days except for playing video games? They have no work ethic these days.

    • Maggie

      Dear heavens, will the far Right never see evil for what it is? As long as it benefits or benefited the Rich, they are for it. Todd, are you blind to the misery and poverty these children are existing in? (I hesitate to say “living.”) It’s doubtful they will see their 40th birthdays, or even their 20th, some of them.

      It’s disgusting that those who HAVE can take such a callous look at the Have Nots.

      These children lived miserable lives. They were certainly not “better off” than children today. They succumbed to disease and malnutrition and lack of care by the hundreds of thousands.

      The suffered from Growth Retardation, none of then learned to read or write, not to mention ever get any education, go to college and have a chance at a better life. Then they bred, died young, and their children had to continue the cycle, (to make the freaking rich richer) until the Child Labor Laws were passed.

      Read “Cannery Row” or “The Jungle” to see what Child Labor was like from those who lived it.

      Makes me want to throw up the insulated BS ways the Right distorts the truth to make their own sins look less disgusting.

      • The Libertine

        Do you buy clothing made in 3rd world countries like Vietnam and Indonesia? Unless you’re buying US made clothing, there is a significant likelihood that child labor was involved in the manufacture of what you’re wearing right now. If you are then you’re a hypocrite — you’re contributing to the exploitation of children today with your buying habits. Think about it.

      • Maggie

        No, Libertine, I don’t buy clothing made in sweat shops overseas. I buy American Made products. If I have to buy fewer goods to make sure I’m helping to employ (adult) American workers and not pay companies like Walmart (which I would never set foot in) then I buy American made and avoid sweat shop labored clothing.

        Some refuse to see the rampant evil that is right before their eyes. I HAVE children the ages of the poor unfortunates in these photos. My children are well nourished, are getting and education, go to school (these children did NOT have time to go to school and most died illiterate. but the Rich ate oysters, so I guess it was worth it (heavy sarcasm)) and will have a better likelihood of becoming adults. MY children are NOT “worthless” nor do they play video games. They read, play outside, use the internet for school work and home projects, help with light housework and write. their own plays, stories and poems. All things these poor children in these pictures never had the opportunity to do.

  6. bullrider

    Well said, Todd. While I wouldn’t want to see child labor and kids slaving in poverty, those children in days long gone learned what it was to work and earn their way and do something useful. People say ‘kids grow up so much earlier these days’ but that’s bull. In the 1800′s by the time a boy or girl was 12 or 13 years old they were considered mostly an adult, other than having to wait to drink alcohol or get married. They had full duties to help support the household. Now kids get to their 20′s and some of them are still riding skateboards and haven’t worked a day in their lives.

  7. Leland Deb

    These children, and the rest of the child labor force gave up limbs and lives so that they could keep themselves and their families from starving. Their brethren today still work in dangerous conditions thru out the world. It is a bitter, heartless person who would wish this life on any one. I’m sorry your experience has made you so mean and cold. I send the light to the memories of these children and the child laborers who are still with us.

  8. David

    These images of abuse and horror are Romney & Ryan’s utopia vision of America. This nightmare is the “good ‘ol days” that they want the United States to return to.

  9. Laylah

    Umm… As someone who as a child found the turn-of-the-century oyster business oddly fascinating, and thus really intensely studied various museum displays describing the industry (I was a weird kid, what can I say), I think it’s safe to assume that the “gnarly” fingers we see are actually the shucking gloves they wore to protect said fingers. They were leather, had pockets for the “holding fingers” and the thumb, with a “palm” connecting the pockets. There were no backs on the gloves, just the fingers and a palm (which helped to cradle the oyster being shucked by being smaller than the wearer’s palm, creating tension and forming the correct hand position for shucking). That’s not to say people didn’t form some righteous calluses from the job, but I think the nastiest looking fingers are actually just the gloves. The quality and color of the pictures hide it.

    • Maggie

      I’ve looked at the photographs on this page in detail (I can’t address the photos you may have seen as a child) and I haven’t seen a single glove on any of the pictured children here. There’s mud and possible scarring, but no gloves.

      • Darren

        Although an unfortunate time for the young and in fact the majority of the population we should remember this is a pictoral history of what happened, not a comment of how unfortunate these children may or may not have been
        Maggie you may need to look at the photos again they do have protection on their fingers

  10. KB

    My family has been farming oysters for a few hundred years (we were some of the first settlers on the Gulf Coast). Seeing these pics breaks my heart. This business is definitely not for the weak, and it’s mind-blowing to know how hard little kids were worked back then. While things have thankfully changed in America, we should note that there are still countless children out there today who are enslaved. God bless them.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.