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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Blanche Scott, July 11, 1979. Interview H-0229. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Poverty nurtures a strong work ethic

At Liggett and Myers, Scott worked as a stemmer, removing the stems from tobacco leaves for nine cents per pound. School ended early enough to allow Scott to work daily, which she did to support her ailing mother. She believes that working from an early age nurtured a sense of independence, but her principal motivation to work was her family's poverty.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Blanche Scott, July 11, 1979. Interview H-0229. 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

BEVERLY JONES:
What did you do as a child? You were going to school and you probably got out about 1:30, then you went to work at Liggett and Myers. What type of job did you do?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Stemming tobacco.
BEVERLY JONES:
At thirteen!
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Un-huh. You know you see them take a leaf of tobacco, that stem that's in the middle? Well you take that stem and you pull it out. You see they pay you by pounds, how many pounds of stems you would get. They was paying us nine cent a pound. Then you had to get a hundred pounds to get nine dollars. When you made nine dollars, you feel like you had some money.
BEVERLY JONES:
You were doing something.
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Yeah. The day hands, they didn't get but so much because they used to work from 7:00 until 5:00 in the evening and work Saturday till 12:00. They didn't make but twelve dollars a week. They was day hands. As the years went by, they raised the wages more. When I quit in '46, they had raised me. I was working by the day then getting about thirty-five dollars a week.
BEVERLY JONES:
Did you ever make nine dollars?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
When I was a kid? No, the highest I made and went to school was five dollars. The foreman said to me one day, he looked at me and I was standing down on a stool because I weren't tall enough, he said, "Little girl, how much do you make a week?" I looked at him and I said, "Five dollars and go to school!" He said, "You do! You can buy your own shoes!" I said, "Yes sir!" See along then, they would let children—when you got old enough you could work all day—they would let you go to school. Along then, the elementary classes would get out at 1:00. Then the other class, from fifth to sixth, I got to get out at 1:30. Then that would give me a chance to walk from school to Liggett and Myers, and I'd get down there about 2:00.
BEVERLY JONES:
Did you work because you had to?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
I worked because I had to work. My mother stayed sick a whole lot. My grandmother and my grandaddy, they weren't making money. So, every little bit I tried to make would help mama.
BEVERLY JONES:
Were you the oldest in your family?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
I was the oldest of mama's children. I reckon I'll never forget it. The first pay I got was $2.50.
BEVERLY JONES:
Where do you think you developed this type of feeling of independence?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Want to work? I always wanted to work. I'm small to my age. The first job that I ever got was when I was about nine years old, and I was making fifty cents a week.
BEVERLY JONES:
What type of job was that?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Taking care of little boy just about two or three years old. I'd take care of him for fifty cents a week. I felt like I was making something. Along then, wages was low, and you could get two cakes of washing soap for a nickel. You could get a pound of fat back for a nickel. These that we paying almost $2.00 a can, these They was fifteen cent a can.
BEVERLY JONES:
So that fifty cent went a long way.
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Oh yeah. I always wanted to work to help my mother because she stayed sick a lot.
BEVERLY JONES:
Was your family a very Christian family?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Yes, they were, but they were very poor. They were poor.