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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 >>

Lying about her age to skirt child labor laws

Offering a glimpse of child labor in the South, Scott remembers that when she was twelve years old, her first employer, Imperial Tobacco, raised the minimum age of its employees. Forced to leave her job there, she made the short walk to Liggett and Myers, where she secured a job by pretending she was fourteen. She felt proud to be earning money.

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:
How did you get your first job at Liggett and Myers. You were working in school, how did you get that first job?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
When my grandmother was working there, she told me that there were a table empty by the side of her. So I told her to ask the bossman if he would hire me. I was working over to the Imperial Tobacco Company, and they make children work over there, and they had shut them off.
BEVERLY JONES:
What was that? Imperial Tobacco Company?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Imperial Tobacco Company. The building is still there. You go up Morris Street, and that big old building you see it up there opposite Liggett and Myers.
BEVERLY JONES:
Was that a part of Liggett and Myers?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
No, no, they worked with green seed, and they worked during the summer. They used to let children work there. I'd work over there. When they raised the age, and said children had to be a certain age to work, then I went to Liggett and Myers.
BEVERLY JONES:
So it was time for you to go.
BLANCHE SCOTT:
So there was this table my grandmother said it was empty. I went over to Imperial and when I got on the outside out there, he cut me off, and I came right over there to Liggett and Myers. Liggett and Myers started to work at 7:00, and it was 7:15. I went over there to the door; they had a man that keep the door. I told him I wanted to see my grandmother. She come to the door, and I asked him about this table. They done gone to work because it would have been too late for to come in behind, but I went. So I said, "Go and ask him," and she said, "Let me know," it was too late. But then I wanted to go and I followed her. Went on in and he was coming down the aisle looking at the people stem, and she touched him and asked him about that table and he would hire me. He said, "How old is she?" I was twelve. I got up on my tip-toe and held my grandmother in the back to balance myself and I said, "Fourteen." [laughter] And I was little. He said, "Go on and give it to her." I went over there. That was the Lord helped me because I used to pray and ask the Lord help me to get a job because I wanted to help mama. So I went over there and got up on that stool and went to work.
BEVERLY JONES:
You were still in school?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Yeah.
BEVERLY JONES:
So you went to work after school. It was all right with him?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
When I went over there Imperial, it was during the summer. We was out of school. That's why I had a chance to get there that morning. Some of the girls that was with me say, "You go in and we wait out here, and if he hire you, you come and let us know." But I couldn't come back.
BEVERLY JONES:
Did any of your girlfriends ever…
BLANCHE SCOTT:
They was out there, so they had cut them off too. I told my grandmother about them and she said, "You go on and go to work." I couldn't go back and tell them I was hired. He wasn't going to hire them to pass work out. But I always did pray and ask the Lord to help me get a job. I wouldn't look to nobody but the Lord because I'm only twelve years old, and told that man I was fourteen. Little as I, I was on my tip-toes and balance myself against my grandmother's back so I could look tall.
BEVERLY JONES:
Did he give you that table?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
Yes, right side of her. I was by the side of my grandmother. She had a stool she put there for me to stand up on and went and got the tobacco and put it up there on the table. I stood up there and started stemming.
BEVERLY JONES:
Did you do stemming at Imperial or did your grandmother help you?
BLANCHE SCOTT:
You take a leaf of tobacco—the bossman would show you if you didn't know—you take a leaf of tobacco and he'd take that stem and show you how to pull it out. Then it's up to you how fast you could do it. You would have to try to work and get as many stems as you can. You had a pile to stem, that would be nine cent, but if you got a hundred, that would be nine dollars. I never did get that far at my age, but I did draw—they used to pay you off in money. They'd give you your ticket, and then you would go give it to him and the money man would come to the table. We'd give him the ticket and he'd pay you off in silver money. When I draw $6.50, I got to feeling I was rich. I run home, gave whatever's given to me to mama. Give mama the whole $6.50 and mama give me fifty cents. I was so glad to get that.