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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jean Cole Hatcher, June 13, 1980. Interview H-0165. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Description of civic volunteer work in a mill community in Charlotte, North Carolina

In this excerpt, Hatcher describes the civic volunteer work she did in North Charlotte during the early 1930s. After Hatcher graduated from college in 1931 and before she was married in 1933, she was involved in charity work in the mill community. She describes what life was like for mill workers in North Charlotte during the early years of the Great Depression. Especially revealing is the anecdote she ends with about a woman who was facing an unwanted pregnancy.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jean Cole Hatcher, June 13, 1980. Interview H-0165. 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

ALLEN TULLOS:
Let me return a little bit more to your own biography. Now, you mentioned going to Miss Orr's, I think it was, to school, and then off to this school that's no longer-
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
Davenport, which was a preparatory school. And then Greensboro College.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Now, after you finished there, what did you do?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
I came home, and did volunteer civic work, and traveled. Graduated in 1931, got married in 1933.
ALLEN TULLOS:
What kind of groups did you get involved with in the voluntary work, in the thirties?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
Gracious Moses, I was chairman of the . . . oh, now you talking about the thirties, I'm coming up a little beyond that. You remember, those were the Depression days? And I worked a lot with what was then called-I think in those days it was called Associated Charities. You went around with a case worker, and did things, and held classes. The mills were not operating, there was just poverty spread all over the place.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did you go into some of the mill communities, then?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
Oh, yes.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Which communities? Some in North Charlotte?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
North Charlotte would be the community. That was the mill community.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Well, maybe you could talk a little bit about that, since we've interviewed a number of people who used to work in the mills, in north Charlotte. What, exactly, would you-all do there?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
Well, the person I went with the most there was a Deaconess. The Methodists had two Deaconesses here. You know, I can't remember the name of what their organization was, but it was under the auspices of the Methodist church. And they worked, just purely trying to see that people had something to eat; trying to educate them about health; we had classes for the children to teach them to sew, to knit, to read. [Pause]
ALLEN TULLOS:
Do you remember there being any kind of nutritional programs?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
Oh, that was part of it, yes. I did not deal with them directly because I was not skilled or versed in that sort of thing, but there were cooking classes, and nutritional things. And the mill owners here in Charlotte cooperated fully with anything that could be done. I mean, they couldn't afford to keep the mills open; maybe two or three days a week, or something like that. But they . . .
ALLEN TULLOS:
They would support you?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
They were supportive, very supportive. And, in fact, the Johnson's built a YMCA building out in north Charlotte, which is still-
ALLEN TULLOS:
Yes, I've been there. Now, how long w re you involved with that?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
Oh, off and on, for the two years between college and getting married.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did you teach some of these classes yourself?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
Mm-hm. Mm-hm.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Can you remember any of that? What that was like, or what your impressions of people who lived in those communities was?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
No, it's rather hard for me to jell that, because I graduated from college when I was twenty. And I was anything but dry behind the ears. All I can remember is just the compassion that you felt for other human beings, and how much they responded. Always made you feel like you were doing something that was worth something to them. But as far as having any real jelled ideas, I was not mature enough to do it. 'Cause a twenty year old now is whole lot sophisticated, more mature, than a twenty year old in 1930 was.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Was there any sense that you got about the mill workers' own feeling about their plight? Were they angry at anyone, or did they-
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
I never encountered anybody who was angry. They accepted it. Not happily, of course. But, as far as I can remember, in our area, they had always fared well, at the hands of our mill owners, mill operators. And, I'm sure there was bitterness, and I'm sure there was hurt. And that was what I felt more than anything else, rather than anger. Because it was condition that they seemed to sense that people couldn't help. Remember this, too. They were living in mill villages then, and mill owned houses, and their burdens of rent, and that sort of thing were not as heavy as they have been since World War II. It's a whole different thing. I don't suppose they are any mill villages anywhere, any more, are they?
ALLEN TULLOS:
Well, there's very few that are still owned by the company.
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
By the company.
ALLEN TULLOS:
And it's pretty hard to find them here in Charlotte, or to realize that it was once a textile center.
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
Well, lot of those houses are still standing in north Charlotte, but they're no longer owned by the mills. One story I think that probably would not be a very good one to go on the record, that I remember most, was this woman that we visited with regularity. (Miss Bame was the deaconess' name.) And had a number of children, five or six or seven, or something like that. We went there one day, for what purpose I don't know, whether it was taking food, or going because somebody was sick. But I can remember this little old maid, Miss Bame, saying, "So-and-so, you're going to have another baby!" And the woman kind of hung her haad for a minute, and then all of a sudden she jerked it up, with a little bit of indignity. She said, "Listen, Miss Bame, we're not on but two days a week in the mills-or three days a week, whatever-and we haven't got any money. We don't even have any money to go to a picture show! I can't deny my husband every pleasure!" [Pause] That was that. [laughter]
ALLEN TULLOS:
That's an important story, to me. Well, was there any effort at that time-pursuing this a little bit-to teach anything about birth control methods, for instance, to folks in the-
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
Not that I had anything to do with.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did you ever hear about that being done?
JEAN COLE HATCHER:
No. No, I don't think it was. Don't really think it was. In fact, it was not . . . well, as far as I know, the methods of today weren't, when I was married. [Pause]