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Oral History Interview with Icy Norman, April 6 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0036. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    Like many families in North Carolina in the early twentieth century, the Norman family left a farm for town life, finding jobs in factories and textile mills in and around Burlington, North Carolina. Icy Norman began her working life at age thirteen, when she was offered a job by her aunt's boss at a shoe factory. She loved to work, and she loved to earn money, and she brought her work ethic from job to job, eventually settling into a job at a textile mill in Burlington at the age of twenty-nine. She would stay at that job for the rest of her career. In this interview, Norman remembers the rhythms of farm life, from corn shuckings to ice cream socials, and from milling wheat to gristing corn. She then remembers her working life after her father died and her mother sold the farm: learning her trade on the mill floor by practicing for weeks before earning a paycheck; winning the respect of her employers for her honesty, hard work, skill, and ingenuity; resisting unionization; and retiring without a pension in 1976. This interview is about one woman's devotion to her job, and the emotional rewards she earned from her work, often in lieu of financial rewards. Norman looks back on her working life with great fondness, but also with regret that she did not profit more from an industry she feels she helped to build.
    Excerpts
  • Tensions over unionization result in vandalism
  • Norman's father prevents her mother from working
  • Moving from job to job before settling into a fifty-year stretch at a textile mill
  • Remembering hard work and community in rural North Carolina's past
  • Work and play in a farming community
  • Norman's father buys her nice dresses
  • A self-reliant farm family
  • A family leaves the farm to make their way in a mill town
  • A former farm family wonders if moving to town was a good decision
  • From frustration to a love of her work at a textile mill
  • A belief in good behavior on the job, including staying out of a union
  • Norman gets a retirement party
  • Seeing homeless people in New York City
  • Norman wanted her work stool as a souvenir, but it disappeared shortly before she left
  • Norman receives kind treatment rather than a pension
  • Remembering a gruesome work accident at a textile mill
  • Norman wanted to keep working, but was forced to retire
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  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.