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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 >>

Work, bosses, and unions at Liggett and Myers

Scott shares some details about the tobacco factory where she worked, describing a few different tasks; recalls the ways in which the arrival of unions changed the behavior of foremen, who began to treat employees better; and remembers her warm relationships with other employees. This passage offers a more complete picture of work at the Liggett and Myers tobacco factory.

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:
At sixteen you started as a full time employee, a grown-up employee for Liggett and Myers and you were still stemming.
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Then they put me on the bottom working by the day in that time, but you would be still stemming on the line working by the day.
BEVERLY JONES:
What time did you have to go to work?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
We'd go to work at 7:00 in the morning and get out in the evening at 5:00.
BEVERLY JONES:
Did you have a time for lunch?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Yes, we had a half hour.
BEVERLY JONES:
Was that enough?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
It had to be enough. You may of come out and eat your dinner in the cafeteria or wherever you wanted to go out and eat, and eat and go on back in.
BEVERLY JONES:
So they did furnish a cafeteria for you to eat.
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Oh, yes, they had a cafeteria in the later years. Since I been out from up there, it been thirty-three years since I been out. They made a big change, but they did have a cafeteria where you go over there and eat dinner. When you get through eating, then you'd go back in there and go back to work.
BEVERLY JONES:
Do you recall what other type of jobs women were doing other than stemming?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
In the factory? Some of them was working on the belt taking bundles; I have done that too. Take your bundles, and the belt's running, tie it up. Then you take that at the end of the belt running. I have done that kind of work. Some lay'd lay the bundles, and I take them and let them run on down on the belt by this blade, and it cut the heads off. Then I have worked in a part where they hang tobacco. They had a up there with bundles on them. You would take them bundles of tobacco and you hang it on a stick like that. I've done that too. Then I have sweep the floor. You know, they give us jobs to do. So I sweep while. I think I've done just about some of everything in there. [laughter]
BEVERLY JONES:
While you were working up there, what type of relationship did women have with the foremen? Can you tell me whether the foremen were all white or were there some foremen that were black?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
They did have some colored foremans. Just like when you come up there to get a job, they could hire you; if they didn't like the way you do, they could have you fired. Mostly was white foremen, but they did have a few colored.
BEVERLY JONES:
What type of relationship did you have with your foreman that you worked with? Was he a nice person?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Some of them was nice, but some of them was kind of rude. I always tried to do my work right, so they wouldn't have to just get on me about your work. Some of the foremans was nice, and some weren't.
BEVERLY JONES:
Do you know of any women that you worked around that were fired?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Oh yes. They let you stem out your tobacco. They wanted it perfectly clean. They didn't want no tobacco hanging on that stem. Sometimes you leave too much tobacco on your stem, and they would come around. You'd have a little bundle of stems, and they'd pick it up looking all through it, all this tobacco on it. I seen one of the foremans when he went to a lady's table and look at her stems. When he said something to her and walk away, you see them getting down and taking their aprons off. He done fired her. That's the way they did do some when I was there. Then they formed the union. After the union come along, then they had to back the workmen.
BEVERLY JONES:
Did the foremen ever use real bad language around women?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Yes, they did. Some of them used to do all that cursing and carrying on, but after the union was organized, they kind of eliminated that. Always you'll find some people with kind of, no principle. That kind of a person would cuss and raise with women. They used to do it bad, but after the union was organized, that kind of eliminated.
BEVERLY JONES:
Were pregnant women allowed to work up there?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Along then, they would work some. I seen a many of them up there look like they ain't got no business up there, but I guess they had to work. So they did allow them to work up there a while.
BEVERLY JONES:
They did allow them to return after the baby was born?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Yes, they'd come back after the baby was born. Stay out and come on back.
BEVERLY JONES:
Were there any type of particular clothes you had to wear when you first began to work up there, or you could just wear anything?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
When I first began to work up there, you begin to wear an ordinary dress. Then, they wanted you to wear uniforms. They were very pretty blue and white uniforms. The company, they would order them. They order your size, and then you pay for it because they would take it out of your pay before you get it.
BEVERLY JONES:
You didn't get them free?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Oh, no, you didn't get them free. Not when I was up there.
BEVERLY JONES:
You had to pay for them?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
You had to pay for your uniform. What they did in the later years after I left, I don't know, but when I was there, you had to pay for them. They did that so everybody could be looking alike. They did look right pretty. I need to get out in the afternoon, and you'd get out there at Five Points and see all them people coming down the street in blue and white.
BEVERLY JONES:
What about the women that you worked around? Did you form a very close relationship with the women that you…
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Yes, them that worked together? Yes, we all got along nicely. We would have a lot of fun together. We tried to keep it so the bossman couldn't see it, but we just got along nice together. We formed a little club. Just like your birthday's in one month, maybe in December, when your birthday come, all of us that worked there together, we'd go in and give so much money to you. Either we'd take the money and go and buy you a gift. It would make you feel very good. The little group that I was working with, they took up seventeen dollars, but I din't know what they had. Somebody came to me and says, "Look here, hadn't you rather have the money?" I said, "No, just get it in gifts." They went out at dinner time and came back, and they bought me more gifts. Towels and … I got a glass basket here now that they give me, and I've been out from up there thirty-three years. I got it now; it's a glass basket with a handle. I notice now whenever you see those baskets now, if you see any, they're high. Along then, things was cheap.
BEVERLY JONES:
So they just bought a whole lot of gifts?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
They bought me a whole lot of gifts. And they give me a set of doilies to go on the dresser? I got two of them on my dresser right now, and that's been thirty-three years ago. That's right.