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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, February 3, 1976. Interview G-0040-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Description of school in a rural mill town

In this excerpt, McGill describes what it was like to grow up and go to school in a mill town in Gadsen, Alabama, in the early twentieth century. McGill describes the school house she and the other children attended. Built on land donated by Dwight Mills, the primary employer in the area, McGill explains how she and the other children took great pride in the school and did their part to keep it clean and in good working order. According to McGill, despite sharp class distinctions within the community, children both from the steel village and the mill village went to school together at Dwight School and, thus, she recalls the student body as diverse, but largely cohesive.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Eula McGill, February 3, 1976. Interview G-0040-1. 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

EULA MCGILL:
Oh, it was a very good school, and the land was donated by the Dwight Mills; it was called Dwight School. And it was in the textile village; it was the only school that they had there. Now this part of Gadsden's called Alabama City. Later on they built another school over near the steel plant called Forest-no, that wasn't called Forest School; I don't know what . . . . Later on they built one called Forest School; but I never went to the school (one of my cousins who lived with us did) because it only went to the fifth grade. It was mainly for the younger children who wouldn't have so far to walk to Dwight School, which went. . . . At the time I first began it went through the seventh grade; then we changed over and had a junior high. And when the school system changed, that's when we started junior high and then went over to senior high. When I first entered school you had grammar school and high school; you went through the seventh grade, then you entered high school. But during the time I was going to school we went into a junior high school, and they built a junior high school right near the Dwight Mill. I went to the junior high school when I completed it over in the Dwight Mill. And it was a huge building: it was three stories high. We had a very good school. The physical building had a big fence around it. Boys and girls were kept separated; the boys had to be on one side of the playyard, and the girls on the other. We had to clean those yards; we had to pick up the paper (we had big barrels). We were not to throw any paper down. And every so often we cleaned those schoolyards, kept those schoolyards clean. We had a janitor, but that was part of the routine, that we cleaned the schoolyeards. It was a beautiful place: it had trees all around.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you go to high school?
EULA MCGILL:
I sure did, and I enjoyed it. We never resented having to clean up, because we were proud of it. [Interruption]
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you live in the mill village?
EULA MCGILL:
No. First we lived in a rented house, then we lived in a steel plant house in the steel plant village-company-owned house. My Dad liked to be close to work; we moved within two blocks of the gate he had to go in to work.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But the kids from the steel village and from the mill village all went to school together at Dwight School?
EULA MCGILL:
Yes, yes. That was the only school.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you feel a difference between the different kinds of kids? And were there different heirarchies or class at all?
EULA MCGILL:
No, no. We all went to school together. Frankly, I can only remember two students in my class that came from the mills. And as I think back now I just wonder if they didn't go to school, or why I can only remember two children that went to school in my class. And of course I had a cousin, Kathleen Loner, whose father was a superintendent of the mill, and my grandmother's nephew. She was a grade ahead of me, and they lived in a big house where the supervision of the mill had a separate place in the village that they lived. And it was right up on the hill near the school.
JACQUELYN HALL:
They had a nicer house, then?
EULA MCGILL:
Yes. [laughter] The superintendent had the best house, and then the next guy down; and when you went into the regular what we called "straw bosses," they lived in the village, but usually a better house. They had about five houses on this hill where the top management lived.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were there some kids in the school that were better off than others?
EULA MCGILL:
Oh yes. In my class there was Sue Frances Shaddix, whose father was the company doctor for the steel plant. (And I just read in the paper just the other day where he'd passed away; he was close to ninety years old. He passed away just before Christmas.) And her mother had studied for the opera. And Sue Frances and I were very good friends; in fact, we used to play after school together, because their home wasn't very far from ours. We'd walk home from school. Then back then people who owned stores were considered to be a little better off financially. And Mabel Putman's father ran a store, and she was a good friend. Then I had another good friend (she's the one that talked me into going to work in the mill with her) Dorothy Stringer. She was an orphan; she and her brother were orphans. Her sister's husband worked in the steel plant, but her sister (to help supplement) worked in the store-dry goods store, they called it then (sold piece goods and things like that).