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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Zeno Ponder, March 22, 1974. Interview A-0326. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Memories of child labor in North Carolina

Zeno Ponder remembers when child labor was still common in North Carolina. Some of his siblings dropped out of school to help his father support the family, and a woman named Annie Baldwin had worked at the local mill since the age of nine. He took women like her as a sign of how serious local poverty was even before the Depression.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Zeno Ponder, March 22, 1974. Interview A-0326. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

BILL FINGER:
But people did keep going to school. They didn't . . .
ZENO PONDER:
Well, many of us did. We had a lot of drop-outs, I guess, back then. But again, I guess ignorance is bliss. I don't guess anybody kept any records, any data. My brothers and sisters, my one sister, we went regularly to school. Now they did drop out, my brothers and sister did, except for E.Y. before they got through high school. But it was considered a necessity or it was . . . they were sixteen, they were big enough to work, hold down a job, help earn a living. My father was unable to work for that large a family. They had to help him, scratch for themselves.
BILL FINGER:
You hear and you read sometimes that the depression didn't effect the mountains like it did other sections of the country because the mountains were poor and isolated anyway. Was that . . . were you old enough to grasp those kinds of differences or were you just kind of going to school day to day . . .
ZENO PONDER:
Well of course I only know what I have read and I do know what we had in the mountains here in Madison county in particular I know about. 1907. The old cotton mill building was built on the west banks of the French Broad River, Marshall, Tennessee. There was immediately after the building of that building a survey made by the federal congress. Congress sent in men to determine whether or not there was justification for child labor. Or whether in fact the Congress should pass a bill which had been introduced outlawing child labor. And I can take you in a mile of my home here to Annie Baldwin, who married Theodore Collins, who worked in that cotton mill for forty cents a day at the age of nine years old. She worked for me last year, at the age of seventy years of age, and made $25 a day stripping tobacco, tobacco.
BILL FINGER:
How old?
ZENO PONDER:
She's 70—she's 71, I believe, her birthday.
BILL FINGER:
And she stripped tobacco.
ZENO PONDER:
She can sit there and strip tobacco and do more than you and I.
BILL FINGER:
Incredible.
ZENO PONDER:
She's worked hard all her life and she enjoys working. And she doesn't look back on those years with bitterness. She was working at forty cents a day and helping keep body and soul together. And she was one of 21 children. So she came from a large mountain family. So that story to me makes me know that yes, poverty was here long before the Hoover depression, the Hoover panic.