Her name was Sadie Phifer, and a hard life robbed her of her childhood. Born in 1900, she was working in a cotton mill in Lancaster before she reached the age of 10.
Sadie later married Arthur William Bush and they had a son, William Bush.
In 1950, while living in Aiken County, Sadie died of hypertension and a cerebral hemorrhage, according to her death certificate.
But Joe Manning, a historian and author who lives in Massachusetts, wants to know more about Sadie. He asked the Aiken Standard to run an article and publish this photo taken of Sadie as a mill worker.
Manning hopes her descendants or somebody else will recognize Sadie and contact him. His quest to find people who remember Sadie is part of an effort Manning calls the Lewis Hine Project.
Hine was an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. He documented the working and living conditions of children in the United States between 1908 and 1924. A collection of more than 5,100 of Hine's photographic prints and 355 of his glass negatives is in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The collection can be viewed online at www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/nclc.
Manning, a 71-year-old retired social worker, selects photos from the Hine collection and does research on their subjects. He publishes what he finds on his Hine Project website at www.childlaborstories.com. Manning has written reports about more than 300 subjects of Hine's photos during 7½ years of work on the project.
“I've always thought that history has essentially ignored the little person,” Manning said. “When I saw Ken Burns' documentary about the Civil War, I was really moved when they read all sorts of letters from soldiers and stuff like that. It was interesting to think about all those people whose lives were just forgotten about.”
Manning learned about the Hine collection from a friend who is an author of children's books. She wrote a story inspired by a girl in one of Hine's photos.
When Manning started the Hine Project, he chose photos randomly. Then he decided to approach his research in a more organized fashion, making sure the pictures he selected involved children in a variety of occupations in different parts of the country. He also tried to pick out the photos of youngsters who represented various immigrant groups.
“Whenever possible, I talk to living descendants and use their memories to find out what happened to a person and to paint a picture of what the person was like,” Manning said. “It's a very compelling thing to do. Many times, the descendants have no idea that the photographs exist or that they are in the Library of Congress.”
Manning chose Sadie's photo, taken by Hine in 1908, because he thought it was haunting.
“The size of the spinning machine there in front of the girl – it just dwarfs her,” Manning said. “Behind her are windows. The whole world is out there, but her back is to it, because she has to work at that machine. She just looks so darn young.”
After she died, Sadie was buried in Batesburg (now Batesburg-Leesville), so she probably lived in the northwest corner of Aiken County.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the e-mail address for Joe Manning. The correct e-mail address is email@example.com. The Aiken Standard regrets the error.
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