The Story: The Mills

Oh, it was awful hot. You'd come out of there, your clothes was plumb wet...all that stuff a-runnin', machinery makin' heat. It was bad. Terrible hot out here.

- Alice P. Evitt, former child mill worker - Concord, NC

Boy has worked two years at warping machine

Boy has worked two years at warping machine...
among 150 employees twenty appeared
to be twelve years of age or less."
- Child Labor in the Carolinas (1909)

Working conditions in the cotton mills were often uncomfortable and harmful. Former workers remember the oppressive heat of the carding, spinning and weaving rooms, created by the constantly running machinery. In some mills, managers allowed employees to open the windows, but in others the issue of fresh air was an endless battle. “They didn't have air conditioning in the mills…they wouldn't let you raise the windows very high. Sometimes they'd let you raise them and prop a bobbin under them. I'd put the window up at the end of my frame, then here'd come the section man along and take it down. When he'd leave and go on off, I'd raise it again. I couldn't stand the heat,” said Eva Hopkins, who began working at the Mercury Mill in Charlotte, NC at age 14.

Interview with Frank Durham
Chatham County, NC

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Along with suffering from the heat, mill workers breathed in tiny particles of cotton lint floating in the air. Exposure to these dust particles could cause a condition called byssinosis, also known as “brown lung”. The condition caused coughing and difficulty breathing, and eventually disability and death.