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‘Young Girls Working at an Oyster Processing Plant’

Claim

A photograph depicting three young girls working at an oyster shucking plant in 1911 or 1912 is real.

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Reporting

On June 16 2022, an Imgur user shared a photograph of three young girls, purportedly child workers who labored shucking oysters; the same image was colorized and shared in May 2021 to Reddit’s r/TheWayWeWere:

Coloured by me, 3 girls who spent their days oyster shucking, back in 1911 South Carolina from TheWayWeWere

On Imgur in June 2022, the submitter described the image as dating back to 1912. On Reddit in May 2021, the submitter stated the image was from 1911.

In the Imgur comments, commenters offered that the image served as a reminder of the importance of labor laws and unfettered pursuit of profits:

“Never forget. Unbridled capitalism wants your very humanity.”

‘Young Girls Working at an Oyster...
‘Young Girls Working at an Oyster Processing Plant’

“Young girls with grown-up eyes. A very short childhood, no doubt. Heartbreaking[.]”

“I[‘m] grateful for labor laws.”

“They used to do little parades of kids who’d lost fingers/limbs in factory machines during the fight to end child labour.”

“This is why workers started unions. Capitalists had no soul.”

“Without unions and labor laws we would find ourselves back here quickly[.]”

A reverse image search led to a YWCA of Western New York “History” page, where the image was featured. A partial caption on the image read:

Regular Oyster Shuckers – 1911

Young girls who were put to work shucking oysters many hours a day 6 days a week. This was used as part of YWCA’s involvement in …

Another image match was an Alamy stock photograph entry, which indicated the image was preserved in the Library of Congress. A search of LOC.gov led to a matching entry, with the following description:

Josie, six year old, Bertha, six years old, Sophie, 10 years old, all shuck regularly. Maggioni Canning Co. Location: Port Royal, South Carolina.

Additional information underneath the title provided a source and an approximate date for the image, alongside contextual information about the photographer and its inclusion in the “National Child Labor Committee collection”:

Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer

Created / Published
1911 February.

Subject Headings
– Girls
– Cannery workers
– Oyster industry
– United States–South Carolina–Port Royal

Notes
– Title from NCLC caption card.
– Attribution to Hine based on provenance.
– In album: Canneries.
– Hine no. 3281.
– Year on caption card for #3268, taken in same location, appears to be Feb. 1912.
– Credit line: National Child Labor Committee collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
– General information about the National Child Labor Committee collection is available at: https://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.nclc
– Forms part of: National Child Labor Committee collection.

A June 2022 Imgur post purportedly depicted young girls who worked shucking oysters in 1911 or 1912, but no information about that attribution was shared with it. We located a copy of the image on the website for the Library of Congress, where it was part of the National Child Labor Committee collection. According to the entry, it appeared to have been taken in February 1912 in Port Royal, South Carolina. Child labor as a practice did not end until 1938, a quarter of a century after the image of the “oyster shucking girls” was captured.