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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 >>

Balancing work and family in a textile mill town

Shockley describes her decision to begin working when her third child was two years old in 1927. According to Shockley, it was typical in Glen Raven, North Carolina, for both parents to work because one salary was not sufficient to sustain a family. Shockley, like many other women who worked in the mills, hired an African American woman to provide care for her children during the day. She recalls that at the time there were no set policies for women who gave birth, but when she had her last child in 1937 she was able to take off three months both before and after the birth without losing her job. Her memories here are revealing of the ways in which working people in this community balanced the demands of work and family.

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

ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
I told my husband one morning, "The children's getting up to some age, and we need some more money, and I want to go to work." That's when they'd just said they was going to bring winding in. So he went up there and told Mr. Williams, and he said for me to come up there and go to work.
CLIFF KUHN:
Did your husband mind your working at all?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
No, he didn't mind it. So then we got a colored woman to come and keep house for us.
CLIFF KUHN:
Was that usual, for people to have a woman come and keep house?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
Oh, yes, if you worked.
CLIFF KUHN:
In how many families did both the mother and the father work in the mills?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
The biggest part of them worked in the mill, because they had to.
HAZEL SHOCKLEY CANNON:
The only one I can think of that she didn't work was Mrs. Williams. Everybody else worked.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did women usually just stay out for a few years while their children were real small?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
Back then, they said some of them had their babies one week and went back to work the next, but I didn't see it like that. But they didn't stay out too long. Now they've got a period, I think, you've got to be out before you go back to work. But back then, you went back when you felt like it, I guess.
CLIFF KUHN:
So when you had your last baby in '37, you stayed out for how long?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
I think it was three months before she was born and three months afterwards; I believe was the way that the insurance people had it then.
CLIFF KUHN:
Could you automatically get your job back?
ETHEL BOWMAN SHOCKLEY:
Oh, yes. You got a relief for so many months, and then you went back on your old job.