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Mon, Sep 15, 2014

The Story: The Workers

We went to school when we were all living on the farm. But no, I never got to go to school anymore. I always regretted that, but I had to work to make a living. And what I picked up, I picked up for myself the best I could.

- Flossie Moore Durham, former child mill worker - Bynum, NC

CATAWBA COTTON MILL, NEWTON N.C. The girl is spinning, the boy is a doffer.

"CATAWBA COTTON MILL, NEWTON, N. C. The girl is spinning,
the boy is a doffer." - Child Labor in the Carolinas, 1909

Many young mill laborers worked in the spinning room because mill owners felt their small hands were well-suited to this work. Work in the spinning room was not especially skilled or difficult, but required a watchful eye. Spinners were usually preteen or teen girls, who had to constantly attend to the cotton being spun on machines. These were the workers who “put up ends”, or repaired breaks in the thread. Doffers, often small boys, walked back and forth in the spinning room, replacing the full bobbins of thread with empty ones. Sweepers, also small boys, swept up the cotton fiber and lint from the floor and machinery to keep things running smoothly. Spinners and doffers were usually required to keep up with a certain number of machines on a side, and many workers remember“running sides” or being paid by the number of sides they worked.

Interview with Ila Dodson
- Union, SC

Listen Read

Many former child workers speak of their eagerness to earn money, which pushed them to drop out of school and begin working in the mill. Some even began working against their parents’ wishes. It was difficult for some to see the advantage in continuing their schooling when recruitment ads claimed they could make as much as adult mill workers. Workers under 16 usually began working for 25 to 50 cents per day during the early 20th century, and could increase to $1.50 per day or more as they became more experienced.