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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Frank Gilbert, Summer 1977. Interview H-0121. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Some gender and racial segregation at Conover Chair

Gilbert describes the roles of women and African Americans in the Conover Chair factory. Women primarily worked as seamstresses, sewing together the seats and backs of chairs; African Americans used to work exclusively as janitors, but that has changed over time. While Gilbert remembers a particular foreman playing favorites with female sewers, any drastic differences in the way female and male employees were treated did not make an impression on him.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Frank Gilbert, Summer 1977. Interview H-0121. 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

PATTY DILLEY:
I wanted to ask you some questions about when women first started working in the industry.
FRANK GILBERT:
A few women worked at Conover Chair when I first started working, in the sewing room. I think that was right, and one other woman worked there while I first started. They work about as many women as men now.
PATTY DILLEY:
What jobs do women have in the plant today?
FRANK GILBERT:
They work all over the plant.
PATTY DILLEY:
Are there any places where they're especially concentrated?
FRANK GILBERT:
They're mostly in the sewing room, sew all these different parts of the seats and the backs and all that together.
PATTY DILLEY:
And that's piecework, that's on production?
FRANK GILBERT:
Yes. But then [now] they work around all through the machine room. I used to go up through there. But it's been about a year, I reckon; I'm hardly able to go any more. But I used to go up there a lot after I was retired and just walk around and watch them work. And the women would go around tailing the saws, they call it. A man will run the lumber through the saw, and a woman catch it and throw it on the truck behind.
PATTY DILLEY:
So that's where they mainly work, in those two places?
FRANK GILBERT:
Yes.
PATTY DILLEY:
So it's about half women and half men now, today?
FRANK GILBERT:
I think it is. Maybe not quite half.
PATTY DILLEY:
But pretty much compared to what it used to be, I guess.
FRANK GILBERT:
Yes, there are a whole lot more women. While I worked up there, didn't any women work in the machine room; not a single one was.
PATTY DILLEY:
Were women treated differently than men in the plant?
FRANK GILBERT:
Well, I don't know. Ordinarily, any man would treat a women a little bit better than a man he was working with [Laughter] , me or anybody else. But as far as the bosses treating them any better, I don't think it made any difference. Of course, they didn't put a woman to doing the things she wouldn't have been able to do because some was too hard on her.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did women workers ever have to clean the mill or the plant, or did they have special jobs of people that were janitors?
FRANK GILBERT:
They mostly had colored men to do that. But now they'll take anybody that'll do it. The colored people, most of them want a white-collar job.
PATTY DILLEY:
Yes, I guess everybody does. So they never used the women workers to clean up around the plant.
FRANK GILBERT:
No.
PATTY DILLEY:
They always had somebody special who was getting paid for that.
FRANK GILBERT:
After I started working for Rhonie Chair Company, a good many women worked up there.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did any of the supervisors at Conover Chair that had a lot of women under them ever play favorites with some of the women? Did you ever hear of that going on?
FRANK GILBERT:
As far as me knowing, I don't know, but I've heard they did.
PATTY DILLEY:
What kind of things would go on?
FRANK GILBERT:
The women who worked in the machine room were just under the regular supervisor, but the women that was working in the sewing room was under the sewing room foreman. He wasn't the class of the superintendent, but whatever he said in the sewing room would go. And I heard that that man played a lot of favorites. I wouldn't say it was true, but you know, sometimes you hear things.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did families that had their daughters working there ever worry about them working there in a plant by those men, and worry about them getting …
FRANK GILBERT:
I never did hear it if they did. It was a nice place, you don't need to worry about that. There wasn't no body mistreated.