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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Emma Whitesell, July 27, 1977. Interview H-0057. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A girl starts mill work at age twelve

Whitesell offers a brief look at child labor and gender lines in a North Carolina textile mill. She joined her father at the mill at age twelve, running light machinery and inspecting cloth, which she calls a woman's job.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Emma Whitesell, July 27, 1977. Interview H-0057. 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

CLIFF KUHN:
Why did you go in. Did they want you to go in or did you want to go?
EMMA WHITESELL:
Well, my daddy put me in. He had made a little machine to take bad filling and make good filling out of it. And he put me on that, paid me fifty cent a day to run that. Well, I run that awhile and then my brother got sick—he was carrying filling. He stayed out so my daddy put my younger brother and me in there carrying filling. So then when he went back somebody had stayed out of the finishing room—I mean the cloth room. And poppa put me out there inspecting cloth. I was doing a woman's job.
CLIFF KUHN:
And how old were you?
EMMA WHITESELL:
I was about twelve. So I worked out there until the woman got well and come back. I had to inspect the cloth and sew it on the machine if they run it through and folded it—you know, in the yard—fold. And then I had to take it—a man done that, run that machine—but I had to sew the cloth together. Then, when it'd come out he'd lay it over on the table and I had to fold it two ways, you know, just to make a bolt about like that. And packet it both ends, twice. I done that, then somebody stayed out or went off, something, and poppa put me out there running looms. I had two looms. [Laughter] They didn't have no drop eyes then. It was just a plain loom. If a thread broke it would be mat up and if you didn't watch it, it would make a mess. And you had to thread your own shuttles.