Mostly recent immigrants, tenement dwellers in late 18th-early 19th century America often lived in wretched conditions. Naturally they were a population ripe for exploitation. For many, this exploitation came in the form of "home work": people were given items on consignment to process in some way (as the photos will show), usually for pittance wages and the work consisting of mind-numbing repetitive tasks often requiring work until late in the night to complete. Of course, it wasn't just the adults doing the work: children of all ages had to participate to get the job done.
Many of these images are not of high quality - most were taken indoors and photography at that time was not sophisticated enough to create very good images indoors.
A common scene in the tenements. Father sits around. "Sometime I make $9, $10 a week on the railroad; sometime nottin'." Helen, 5 years old, and Adeline, 10 years old, help pick nuts. New York, New York, 1911
Crocheting caps. Upper East Side, New York, 1912
Doing tags on steps of house near Dennison factory on Vale Street,
Roxbury, Massachusetts, 1912
Family of Mrs. Donovan tying tags for Dennison Co. This family has worked on tags for 7 years and makes an average of $30 a month. They often have to work late at night to get done. Roxbury, Massachusetts, 1912
Family of Mrs. Mette making flowers in a very dirty tenement.
New York, New York, 1911
Family of Onofrio Cottone, 7 Extra Place, New York, finishing garments in a terribly run down tenement, 1913
Father hanging around the home while family works on feathers. Said, "I not work. Got some sickness. Dunno what." New York, New York, 1911
Heavy loads of garments for home-work.
Near Bleeker St., New York, New York, 1912
High up on the top floor of a rickety tenement, this mother and her two children were living in a tiny one room, and were finishing garments, New York, 1912
Home of Mrs. Rosina Schiaffo. She is a Contractor, getting lace from the home-workers in the neighborhood. New York, New York, 1911