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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 first job in a southern textile mill at the age of fourteen

Here, McGill describes her first job in the textiles industry at the age of fourteen. Although it was illegal for children to work before the age of sixteen, McGill explains that it was fairly easy to get a job in the textile mills because employers rarely questioned employees about their age. Although McGill took the job to help her family make ends meet, she recalls that her father was disappointed with her for working in the textile mills because of the stigma attached to individuals who occupied that position.

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

JACQUELYN HALL:
So how did you happen to start your first job?
EULA MCGILL:
Well, this friend of mine Dorothy Stringer, they were having (her sister, who of course had children, and she had her mother-in-law there, and Dorothy and her brother lived there), they were having a pretty hard time making ends meet, and Dorothy felt the need to try to help supplement the income so she was going to get her a job in the mill during the summer. And she talked me into going up. Dorothy was about a year older than I was, maybe two, and I was only fourteen (big for my age). They didn't question you back then if you told them you were. . . . Well, if you were sixteen, to go to work you had to have a school permit to prove you were sixteen, so I told them I was seventeen, so I'd avoid having to prove it-because I couldn't prove it, I was only fourteen.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were there a lot of people working in the mills at fourteen?
EULA MCGILL:
I guess so. I know I did; they never questioned it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But the mill required a school permit?
EULA MCGILL:
If you were sixteen you had to prove you were sixteen. [laughter] They never asked you to prove it if you said you were seventeen. So we knew all the tricks.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did your parents feel about your going to work that summer?
EULA MCGILL:
Well, Poppa never did want me particularly to work in a textile mill, I guess because of that first experience he had in one. And he swore up and down that I'd never work in it. Well, I got the job while he was out of town on a construction job, and I was able to outtalk my mother.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was she against you working there too?
EULA MCGILL:
Well, not as much as my father was. He'd make statements that no child of his would ever work in a cotton mill.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why was that?
EULA MCGILL:
I don't know, I guess that first experience. He just thought it was unhealthy. Well, a lot of cotton mill workers back in those days were looked down on; a lot of good people, but they were just looked down on for some reason or another in those areas where there weren't many textile. . . . I don't know why. Maybe it was because so many of the kids worked in there and never got an education; they seemed to be looked down on if they weren't people who wanted to do better. I don't know, people just thought if you worked in a textile mill that there wasn't much to you.