From Massachusetts, One Historian's Dogged Pursuit of Dallas's Lost History Strikes Gold
The original caption that accompanied this photo: "Group of workers at the Dallas Cotton Mill. The small boy helps his sister. Eternal vigilance will be needed to keep these little ones out of the mill. Location: Dallas, Texas."
Lewis Wickes Hine/Library of Congress
It's been a long while since we've heard from Joe Manning, the Massachusetts historian who gave new life to those October 1913 photos of Dallas taken by Lewis Wickes Hine as he traveled the U.S. chronicling child-labor abuses at the feds' behest. But this morning, a note from Manning appeared in the Unfair Park in-box:
I have done all my research, and I am now transcribing interviews and writing the stories. I just posted my story on Rosa and Exie Phillips, the two kids who worked at the Dallas Cotton Mill. This turned out to be quite a compelling story, and a very sad one.
Rosa and Exie appeared in several of Hine's photos -- perhaps you recall this one (that's Rosa on the far right), or this one featuring just the two of them. Rosa and Exie also appear in the picture at top: Rosa is third from right in the bottom row; her younger brother is the boy front and center.
Manning has done something extraordinary: He's tracked down not only the history of the Dallas Cotton Mill itself -- it was built in 1891 at a then-extraordinary cost of $400,000 and "was the first expensive enterprise of the kind undertaken in Texas," according to the Texas Department of Agriculture in 1909 -- but also interviewed at length Beatrice Earl, Rosa's daughter, who offers an Upton Sinclair novel's worth of back story. But as much as anything, I am struck by Earl's reaction to the photos themselves -- pictures she hadn't seen till Manning showed them to her before their interview:
JM: What did you think when you saw the picture?
BE: I was kind of stunned, and then I broke down and cried. I never had any pictures of my mother as a young person. I only have a few pictures of her after she married my daddy. I only met maybe three of her sisters. So really, that was ... well ... for three or four days, I just kept getting out the picture and looking at it.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.
- That's It Then: The Cowboys 2015 Season Gets Put Out of Its Misery
- The Cowboys' 5 Biggest Thanksgiving Turkeys
- Live From London: Your Holiday Weekend Weather Apocaforecast