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Comments (2) Posted 12.01.13 | PERMALINK | PRINT

John Foster

Messenger Boys, Call Girls and a Photographer


Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940) was a dedicated American sociologist and photographer who used his camera to document the plight of children working in America’s factories, farms and industry. Beginning in 1908, Hine was hired by the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) to travel the American South and elsewhere to bring back evidence of child labor abuses. Hine’s photographs were instrumental in changing the child labor laws in the United States.

All of the superb images you see here were found on the wonderful website Shorpy. Shorpy is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

My search on Shorpy focused on Bicycle Messsenger boys from the turn of the 20th century — most taken around 1913. My research showed that Lewis Hine became interested in these boys because their work took them into the Red Light Districts of towns and cities, where they where hired to carry messages, drugs, and even bank deposits to and from. If you focus on the faces of these young boys, you can see the hard tack life they had. Resourceful and tough, these boys grew up fast just to survive. And, if you are a vintage bicycle aficionado, you’ll enjoy these photographs as well.

Please be sure to click on the links to see amazing full-screen high-resolution images. Most of Lewis Hines original photographs reside in The George Eastman House in Rochester, NY.

And if you are lucky enough to be in New York City between now and January 19, 2014, you can see an extraordinary exhibition of original photographs by Lewis Hine on display at the International Center of Photography, 1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street.


Messenger Boys, Call Girls and a Photographer
Messenger Boy in Waco, TX
November 1913. “I'm de whole show,” said Isaac Boyett, the twelve-year-old proprietor, manager and messenger of the Club Messenger Service, 402 Austin Street in Waco, TX. The photo shows him in the heart of the Red Light district where he was delivering messages as he does several times a day. Said he knows the houses and some of the inmates. Has been doing this for one year, working until 9:30 P.M. Saturdays. Not so late on other nights. Makes from six to ten dollars a week. Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine. (Isaac was born March 20, 1901, and died in May 1966 in Waco.)

Messenger Boys, Call Girls and a Photographer
Messenger Boy in Houston, TX
October 1913. “Jeff Miller, a young delivery boy for Magnolia Pharmacy in Houston, TX. This is especially bad for him as he has recently returned from the Seabrook Reform School where he had spent a year. He would not tell me why he was sent there.” Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine.

Messenger Boys, Call Girls and a Photographer
Messenger Boy in San Antonio, TX
October 1913. Preston DeCosta, just 15 years old was Messenger #3 for Bellevue Messenger Service in San Antonio, Texas. Photographer Lewis Hine wrote that he ran across DeCosta while he was carrying notes back and forth between a prostitute in jail and a pimp in the Red Light District. “He had read all the notes and knew all about them. He was a fine-grained adolescent boy. The boy has been delivering messages and drugs in the Red Light for 6 months and knows the ropes thoroughly.”

DeCosta was quoted: “A lot of these girls are my regular customers. I carry 'em messages and get 'em drinks, drugs, etc. Also go to the bank with money for 'em. If a fellow treats 'em right, they'll call him by number and give him all their work. I got a box full of photos I took of these girls - some of 'em I took in their room.” Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine.

Messenger Boys, Call Girls and a Photographer
Messenger Boy in Shreveport, LA
November 1913. ”Percy Neville, 11 years old, was Messenger Boy #6 for Mackay Telegraph Company in Shreveport, Louisiana. He has been messenger for different companies for four years. Goes to the Reservation [red light district] every day.” Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine.

Messenger Boys, Call Girls and a Photographer
Messenger Boy in Fort Worth, TX
November 1913: Eugene Dalton of Fort Worth, Texas. For nine years this 16-year-old boy was a newsboy and messenger for drug stores and telegraph companies in the city. He was recently brought before the Judge of the Juvenile Court for incorrigibility at home. He is now out on parole, and was working again for a drug company when he got a job carrying grips in the Union Depot. He is on the job from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. (17 hours a day) for seven days in the week. His mother and the judge think he uses cocaine, and yet they let him put in these long hours every day. He told me: “There ain't a house in 'The Acre' (red-light district) that I ain't been in. At the drug store, all my deliveries were down there.” Says he makes $15 to $18 a week. Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine.

Messenger Boys, Call Girls and a Photographer
Messenger Boy in Shreveport, LA
November 1913. Shreveport, Louisiana. Howard Williams, 13-year-old delivery boy for Shreveport Drug Company, works from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and has been there three months. Goes to the Red Light every day and night. Says that the company could not keep other messenger boys, they work them so hard. Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine.

Messenger Boys, Call Girls and a Photographer
A Messenger Boy in Dallas, TX
Dallas, October 1913. “A Messenger Boy in the heart of the Reservation (Red Light). Prostitutes run back and forth with business beginning at mid-day. I saw messenger boys and delivery boys for drug stores from 15 years upward. Some still younger told me that they go there. This was in spite of a strong agitation being waged to close up the resorts.” Photo and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine.

Messenger Boys, Call Girls and a Photographer
A Group of Messengers in New York City
New York, July 1910. “A typical group of messengers at Postal Telegraph Company's main office, 253 Broadway, NYC. During hot weather they wear these shirtwaists." Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine.

Messenger Boys, Call Girls and a Photographer
A Messenger Boy in Boston, Mass
Boston, Massachusetts, January 23, 1917. “G. Leahy, 1249 Cambridge Street. He was a messenger for Metropolitan Messenger and Mailing Co., 67 Bromfield Street in Boston. Said he was 14 years old. Gets $5 a week wages, and makes $2.50 a week in tips. Taken at 3:15 p.m. on Tremont Street.” Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine.

A Shorpy fan wrote: ”$7.50 a week was good money for a 14-year old in 1917 and probably more than many adults earned. Today it would be equivalent to about $125 according to the Federal Reserve Consumer Price Index calculator for the comparative value of a dollar. This boy was probably proud to be able to help his family financially.”

Messenger Boys, Call Girls and a Photographer
A Messenger Boy in Nashville, TN
Nashville, November 1910. “George Christopher, Postal Telegraph messenger #7, fourteen years old. Been at it over three years. Does not work nights.” Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine.

Messenger Boys, Call Girls and a Photographer
A Messenger Boy in San Antonio, TX
San Antonio, Texas, October 1913. “Sixteen-year-old messenger boy making delivery to ‘crib’ in Red Light district.” Photo and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine.

Messenger Boys, Call Girls and a Photographer
A Messenger Boy in Waco, TX
Waco, Texas, September 1913. “Messenger boy working for Mackay Telegraph Company. Said he was fifteen years old. Exposed to Red Light dangers.” Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine.

Messenger Boys, Call Girls and a Photographer
A Messenger Boy in Houston, TX
Houston, Texas, October 1913. “Eleven-year-old Western Union messenger #51. J.T. Marshall has been day boy here for five months. Goes to Red Light district some and knows some of the girls.” Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine.

Messenger Boys, Call Girls and a Photographer
Messenger Boys in New Haven, CT
New Haven, Connecticut, March 8, 1909. “Telegraph messenger boys. They work until 11 p.m.” Photo and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine.

Messenger Boys, Call Girls and a Photographer
A Messenger Boy in Birmingham, AL
Birmingham, Alabama, October 1914. “A typical Birmingham messenger.” Photo by Lewis Wickes Hine.

Messenger Boys, Call Girls and a Photographer
A Messenger Boy in Shreveport, LA
Shreveport, Louisiana, November 1913. “Fourteen-year-old Messenger #2 for Western Union. Says he goes to the Red Light district all the time.” Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine.

A Shorpy reader wrote: From 1903 till 1917 Shreveport had legalized prostitution confined to a designated Red Light district. This was an area near Fannin Street in the St. Paul Bottoms area. The area was named after a nearby church and the low-lying area. St. Paul Bottoms was recently renamed Ledbetter Heights in honor of blues singer Huddie Ledbetter, Lead Belly, who honed his style playing the Bottoms’ brothels, saloons, and dance halls.
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Beautiful! These are such amazing photos, and historical too! Love em!
mandy
12.13.13 at 08:37

Personally, I find this obsession with the red light district in the notes above somewhat wierd. My grandfather was a messenger boy in London as a teenager from 1914 - 18 (his father was put in prison during the war for being Polish so they needed the income) and he never once said anything about meeting prostitutes through this line of work. Perhaps it was different in a small town.

12.19.13 at 01:18


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Foster and his wife, Teenuh, have been longtime collectors of self-taught art and vernacular photography. Their collection of anonymous, found snapshots has toured the country for five years and has been featured in Harper’s, Newsweek Online and others.
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