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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 >>

Reversal of a prohibition on sitting while at work

Whitesell offers an example of the difficult working conditions mill workers faced in the early twentieth century, but also perhaps an early instance of government intervention in the interest of workers. Mill rules barred workers from sitting, but Whitesell sat. Eventually mill owners were forced to change their policy and allow employees to sit, perhaps because a worker protested and brought in the government.

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:
So people would move around from the different mills according to where they sent you?
EMMA WHITESELL:
Yeah, if they didn't need me here you know, they'd send me somewhere that needed me. So they needed me down there and I went down there and the re-drawing had run out—we just worked on Saturday re-drawing. I never did understand that. But all week we wouldn't re-draw, but on Saturday we'd have to go in and re-draw. And through the week I learned to top. They didn't pay me nothing, but I'd go down there and learn to top. One time, while I was working down there—they didn't allow you to sit down—they wasn't paying me nothing, I thought it would be alright for me to sit down and eat my dinner. And the boss man come around, he says, you can't sit down. I said, how come I can't. He says, well, they don't allow you to sit down. And I said, well, they're not paying me nothing. So me crazy like, got up and stood there and ate my dinner. They wouldn't even let you lean up against the post. Well, I just done what they said to do you know. I could've went outdoors and ate my dinner, but I didn't. But they cut that out. You know they used to have straps and benches at the looms that you could sit down when you got your looms running and all. But they cut that out and you couldn't sit down.
CLIFF KUHN:
When was that, do you remember?
EMMA WHITESELL:
Well, no I can't remember.
CLIFF KUHN:
Was it before World War II?
EMMA WHITESELL:
Oh yes, it was before that. It was while I was working. They wouldn't let you sit down so the health or something come around and they cut that out. 'Cause they made 'em put the benches back for people to sit down and all. And they couldn't stop a woman from sitting down.
CLIFF KUHN:
Did other people in the plant protest about not being able to sit down?
EMMA WHITESELL:
Well, they did in a way, but they couldn't get nowhere with it until they come around. I don't know who started it, who got 'em to come around and check it. But that was awful, you went in that mill, you didn't sit down.