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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ethel Bowman Shockley, June 24, 1977. Interview H-0045. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Effects of regulation in a textile mill on childcare

Shockley and her daughter discuss changes they witnessed in the Plaid Mill in terms of child labor and working conditions. Before laws were passed restricting the age of workers to sixteen years and older, it was not uncommon for children to work in the mills. Similarly, before health and safety regulations were implemented, working conditions were unsanitary. Nevertheless, the Shockleys don't recall the lack of regulations as an entirely negative phenomenon. Indeed, Shockley remembers that before working conditions became more strictly regulated, it was easier for working women to run home for a time to take care of sick children or discipline children who were misbehaving for their care-providers. This excerpt demonstrates how the lack of regulation could both hinder and benefit workers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ethel Bowman Shockley, June 24, 1977. Interview H-0045. 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

HAZEL SHOCKLEY CANNON:
When was that sixteen law passed?
CLIFF KUHN:
I think that's also during the New Deal, but I'm not sure about that.
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
I think before then, though, they worked them. Mr. Brooks said he went to work at eight, Wes Brooks' brother. Then there was some more men, a Mr. Preston; he passed away. He said he went to work at eight.
CLIFF KUHN:
When you came down here to Glen Raven or to the Plaid Mill, were there children in the mill either working or with their mothers or daddies in the mill?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
They could work then, but I think they had to be fourteen to work in the mills then. And then they passed a law that they had to be sixteen, and then they had to work first shift, I believe, so many hours or something. Had to obey it.
CLIFF KUHN:
How about the health conditions or the working conditions within the mills? How have those changed over time?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
Oh, my, it's changed. Used to they had no spit things; people spit on the floor. [Laughter] We used to get so mad. You don't have that no more. And they smoked; they'd smoke and throw it down on the floor and step on it. And they have places now for them to smoke. You had a dipper, and everybody drank out of the same dipper. Brought the water in. At the Plaid Mill they finally got a fountain that had a spigot on it that you could turn and drink your water without drinking after somebody. And we have fountains now; have air conditioners. Back then, you'd have to open a window. If a parent looked out the window and saw one of their kids doing something they shouldn't be doing, they'd stop come out the back door of the mill, went home and hit the child and went back to work. [Laughter]
CLIFF KUHN:
Where did most of the younger kids stay?
HAZEL SHOCKLEY CANNON:
We played. We always had somebody that stayed there and looked after us.
CLIFF KUHN:
Who was that?
HAZEL SHOCKLEY CANNON:
Usually bring in a colored woman Sarah Nelson.
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
They had a colored woman when I first went to work. She stayed with me ten years.
HAZEL SHOCKLEY CANNON:
But if a child got sick back then, the parent come home, too. Used to they'd come home and feed the baby, if they had a baby, and then go on back to work.