Wickes Hine was born in 1874 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
The youngest child in the family, and the only son,
Hine took on the responsibility of supporting his
family when his father died in 1892. Hine's employment
over the next eight years included a thirteen-hour-day,
six-day-a-week shift in a furniture upholstery
factory—hours not uncommon at the turn of
the century. 
In 1900 Hine enrolled in the University of Chicago
to study education. When Frank Manny, principal
of the State Normal School in Oshkosh, accepted
a position as superintendent of the Ethical Culture
School in New York City, he asked Hine and a few
other teachers to join him there.
Manny gave Hine his first photography
job, taking pictures of students in school clubs.
Manny gave Hine a second job photographing immigrants
at Ellis Island. The school used Hine's photographs
as a teaching aid.
Shortly after his Ellis Island
excursions, Hine began teaching photography at the
Ethical Culture School. After hours, he attended
camera-club meetings. In 1905 he received a master's
degree in education from New York University. In
1906 he published several articles on the use of
photography in education.
enrolled in the graduate program in sociology at
Columbia University in 1907. At the urging of his
friend, Arthur Kellogg, to become "a sociological
photographer," Hine accepted a freelance assignment
for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), an
organization that campaigned for child labor legislation.
Hine's first assignment for
the NCLC was New York's tenement homeworkers. In
a pamphlet he later wrote, titled, Tasks for
the Tenements, Hine stated: "Tenement homework
seems to me one of the most iniquitous phases of
child-slavery that we have." 
Hine's other freelance work
included photography for Paul Kellogg's sociological
study, The Pittsburgh Survey, and Charles
Weller's Neglected Neighbors in the National
Capital. Hine became a staff photographer for
Charities and the Commons magazine in 1908.