Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Louise Riggsbee Jones, September 20, 1976. Interview H-0085-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Leaving school to work in the mills

Jones explains that she went further in school than most of her peers did. Noting that many children left school to begin working in the mills at the age of twelve, Jones explains that she was somewhat unusual for having finished the equivalent of the tenth grade. Although teachers tried to keep children in school for as long as possible, most were working in the mills by their early teens. Her comments are revealing of the ways in which child labor was crucial to family economic survival.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Louise Riggsbee Jones, September 20, 1976. Interview H-0085-1. 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

MARY FREDERICKSON:
So then you finished school and went on. Did you go through all the grades, like you graduated from high school?
LOUISE RIGSBEE JONES:
Well, we didn't have no graduation in our schools here, and we just went, most of them did, till they were old enough to quit and go to work. But I didn't go to work as early as a lot of them did, and I just went on to school. I don't know what grade I was in-I couldn't tell you-but it was somewhere around the tenth or something like that, the way they grade them now, because I was up towards the highest classes when I quit school.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Like you said, there were only two people in the class ahead of you, right?
LOUISE RIGSBEE JONES:
Yeah, I guess that was the class above me. I was next to them.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did they try to keep people in school? Did the teachers try to . . .
LOUISE RIGSBEE JONES:
Yes, they did. They tried to get children to go to school, but they were not forced to go then like they are now.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So most of them did go to work in the mill when they were around what, fourteen or fifteen?
LOUISE RIGSBEE JONES:
Well, used to they would let them go to work about twelve years old, a long time ago.