Tobacco Bag Stringing

Report on Tobacco Bag Stringing Operations in North Carolina and Virginia, 1939


Leaksville, N.C.
March 30, 1939.

Mr. Sherlock Bronson
Richmond, Va.

Dear Sir:

In response to your request that we as distributors of cotton tobacco bags for stringing write you our experiences, whether the work has been detrimental or helpful to our community, I would like to say it has been very helpful here, and I as agent, as well as the stringers in this locality, appreciate this work more than mere words could ever say.

For one thing it has been a spare time work and could be carried on in conjunction with other occupations. A mother with young children, who could not leave home to work, if any work was to be had, could string bags at home in spare time and earn enough to provide herself and children with sufficient clothes. Even provide money for school books and hot lunches for children in school. One mother is stringing bags to provide money for her daughters business course. Another is buying a sewing machine with money she earns stringing bags. Two mothers that I know of have bought scout uniforms and provided vacations for their children which they could not have had any other way. One mother of a large family of working age (only one of which has been able to secure employment) strings bags and provides medicine for her husband who is now a hopeless paraletic. She tells me she keeps all insurance premiums paid, as well as buying medicine, clothes, food and other necessary things that the one at work cannot provide.

A school teacher in Leaksville graded school strings bags in her spare time to buy books for the under privileged children in her grade who haven't been able to get them before.

Then there are a number of blind, crippled, and handicapped people here, who could not find work in regular fields. If work was plentiful. These people have to live some way, probably they have families who do all in their power for them. Yet there are always things needed that cannot be provided. Now that they can get bags to string, they not only can provide the necessary things for themselves, but it gives them a new outlook, a feeling that they are not useful citizens, instead of helpless burdens.

These are only a few instances of the real conditions here. But if you will send some one to investigate I can take you to dozens of homes where these bags are not only appreciated, but where they are a real necessity.

The mills here have been running short time for several years now. And I believe less than one half of the people normally employed are now at work. Boiled down this means there probably is one in each household partly employed. So every day I have hundreds of requests for bags above that I am able to provide. They come at me from every angle, telephone, doorbell and since my business is in my residence, they'll even go around the house and come in the back door just to tell me how needy they are, and ask me to please get them some bags to string to help out in the little they now receive.

Those fortunate enough to get the bags tell me they have been greatly benefited and often tell me they have no idea how they could have managed to live without them. So since the work is really an easy simple pastime, enjoyable as well as profitable, I cannot feel it has ever harmed any one.

Mr. Bronson, what we people of North Carolina need is more work, an encouragement of private industry, and certainly not a secession of the little we have left. So won't you please send this letter to our Congressmen and ask them to plead our cause for us? Tell them we prefer to make an honest living by the sweat of our own brows rather than let our government support us. But how can we do this if private industry is discouraged to closing its doors? Time was when we needed spare time to rest and play, but now all we have is spare time. So we need some good honest work to live on. I for one vastly prefer being worked to death to doing nothing and starving to death. And I'm sure many other feel the same way. Then please tell our Congressmen if they cannot do anything to encourage private business, so it can open its doors and put men back to work, then don't stand by and let the Wage and Hour Bill take what is to some of us the "last hope".

Just now there are a great number of our people living altogether on welfare. And if our bags are taken from us the government will have quite a few more families to take care of, either in welfare or government work for something would have to take its place at once or these people will suffer.

So far I haven't been able to work out any way to keep time on bag stringing. I rather thought of it as a contract, paying so much for so many finished bags, regardless of whether the work was finished in an hour or in a month. Have been leaving that entirely up to the stringer as to what amount of time she wanted to devote to bag stringing. Now, in studying the matter I wonder if I wouldn't be defeating more than helping anyone by keeping time on the work. No way could be provided for that except to gather the stringers under one roof. And in doing that our mothers with young children, our blind and crippled and handicapped ones who now so happily earn for them selves would be left out again. Just as they are in all other occupations. So I feel that the only way I could handle this work is the way I have been doing in the past.

Trust our work and its conditions will be thoroughly investigated before it is taken from us for even if business was good and there was a job waiting for every able bodied man and woman in this community, our bags would still be needed and appreciated for the extras it provides and for the hope it gives those who are handicapped and who never will be able to work in regular fields of endeavor. So please put me on record as one who has found this work beneficial with not one instance of its ever having hurt anyone.

Sincerely,

Mrs. H. B. Jones, Agent,
Leaksville, N.C.


[Source: "Tobacco Bag Stringing Operations in North Carolina and Virginia." Richmond, Va.: 1939. North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.]