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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Murphy Yomen Sigmon, July 27, 1979. Interview H-0142. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The eight-hour workday limits fun on the job

The eleven-hour workday allowed more time for recreation on the job, Sigmon recalls, as he shares a story about going swimming with other doffers at work. He and his fellow workers welcomed the eight-hour workday, but they understood that it meant they would have to work harder and take fewer breaks.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Murphy Yomen Sigmon, July 27, 1979. Interview H-0142. 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:
[laughter] Did you have time, when you first started working, to go around and speak to people?
MURPHY YOMEN SIGMON:
Oh, yes. Back in the thirties, why, the doffers would go to the swimming hole.
PATTY DILLEY:
Really?
MURPHY YOMEN SIGMON:
Yes. Go in swimming. They had what they called the head doffer. He would get out and whistle them up; about fifteen, twenty minutes before doff time, he'd go hunting his doffers up. He'd run down away across the park there. He'd whistle for them. He could whistle right keen, and here they'd come. Some of them would be sticking in their shirttails and putting on their shirts, running from the swimming hole to get back in time to start doffing again. [laughter] That's the way they used to work, but when the Burlingtons bought it they cut all that out. Well, before Burlington bought it that was cut out. The Geitners tightened it up some, you know; they had to, for competition.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did maybe this tightening up come with the eight-hour?
MURPHY YOMEN SIGMON:
Yes, it did; a whole lots of it did. But that was back when we was working eleven hours, when they done that. People didn't work as hard back then as they did when the eight-hour law come in in 1936.
PATTY DILLEY:
How did you or how did people feel about the eight-hour law?
MURPHY YOMEN SIGMON:
They was glad for it. You didn't have to work as long, but you knowed you was just going to have to work harder while you was a-working. But about then, all you had to do was just go to work, sleep, and eat, about. You'd work half of the day, eleven hours. We'd go to work at six o'clock. They'd have it shut down an hour for dinner—everybody'd go home for dinner—and we went to work at one and worked till six. Eleven hours.
PATTY DILLEY:
When you were working, did you always get to go home for lunch and home for dinner, or did you have your dinner brought to you?
MURPHY YOMEN SIGMON:
We always went home when we was working eleven hours. We didn't have no break when the eight-hour law come in; we worked straight through, eight hours, like they do now. And they had people bring their lunch, what they wanted to eat, and then they got to putting in these little cafeterias, drinks and stuff like that. That was all right then.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did any of the wives or the children that were at home bring men's hot lunches?
MURPHY YOMEN SIGMON:
Oh, yes.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did you have anybody bring you hot lunches?
MURPHY YOMEN SIGMON:
Sometimes Mama would send us hot lunches, hot sandwiches, such. But most of them went home for dinner. They shut down. But in the eight hours, if anybody had time they could go to the cafe, send to the cafe to get… Go around amongst the hands, when somebody'd have time, say have thirty or forty-five minutes. If you wanted a sandwich or a drink. That was before they got the machines and stuff in. They'd go up to the cafe up there at the right corner and get a big poke full of stuff and bring it back. Yes, that was pretty good times back then. It wasn't too hard.