Museum L-A’s newest gallery exhibit, “All Work and No Play,” delves into a grim part of America’s industrial labor history. The exhibit explores the historic use of children as laborers in industries such as textile mills, sardine canneries, and family farms throughout the state, in an effort to understand how child labor became a widespread issue in the U.S., according to a news release from Denise Scammon of the museum.

A free opening reception will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30, at the museum in the Bates Mill Complex at 35 Canal St. in Lewiston; there will be light refreshments.

The exhibit will be on display through mid-June 2020.

By using information about the working conditions of these young workers and the decades of labor reform, the museum will present a well-rounded understanding of the subject rather than place blame on the industries described.

Child labor has been a consistent topic for educational tours at the museum since its opening. Many teachers, especially those with younger
students, request that their tours provide information about children’s roles in textile mill operations as a way to open the eyes of newer generations and highlight how different their way of life is compared to that of their ancestors.

The museum has created numerous lesson plans and educational materials relating to this topic, but this is the first time a full-scale exhibition will be installed in the gallery to showcase the experiences of this underrepresented sector of the workforce.

“With the negative connotation of the use of child labor in textile mills in other parts of the country and the world, visitors to the museum often ask about whether or not children worked at the Bates Mill,” Emma Sieh, Museum L-A’s collections and exhibits coordinator said in the release. “We thought it was time to address this difficult topic and help our visitors understand the reality of what it was like to be a child laborer historically, in the hopes of starting new and important discussions about its practice today.”

The exhibition was curated not only to reflect on the use of child labor in the Lewiston-Auburn area, but on its use in industries throughout Maine. Photographs and collections from six historical organizations with locations throughout the state will be featured as a way to share each region’s labor history during Maine’s Bicentennial year. The original Lewis Hine photographs taken at the turn of the century to persuade the American public to abolish the practice of child labor and historian Joe Manning’s genealogical research into the identities of the children in those  photographs as part of his ongoing Lewis Hine Project will also be featured. “These photographs were crucial to changing social attitude and enacting child labor laws in our country,” said Audrey Thomson, executive director of Museum L-A, according to the release.

Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.

For more information, email [email protected] or call 333-3881.

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