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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James and Nannie Pharis, December 5, 1978; January 8 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0039. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Describing experiences as a child worker

Nannie Pharis describes how she first went to work at the Spray Cotton Mill at the age of nine. Along with her other siblings old enough to work, Pharis was paid twenty-five cents a day, most of which was handed over to her father to help support the family. Pharis briefly describes how she learned her job and working conditions for child workers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James and Nannie Pharis, December 5, 1978; January 8 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0039. 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

Us children worked. I went to work when I was nine years old.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Where did you go to work?
NANNIE PHARIS:
At the old Spray Cotton Mill. Twenty-five cents a day. Twenty-five cents then went almost as far as a dollar nowadays.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Were you the first of the children to go to work?
NANNIE PHARIS:
No, I had some older sisters who worked.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Where did they go to work, where did they start?
NANNIE PHARIS:
They started just about where I did.
ALLEN TULLOS:
At the cotton mill?
NANNIE PHARIS:
Yes, then we went to work, they called it the Rhode Island Mill. They built that then. We all worked there. That's where me and him worked when we married.
ALLEN TULLOS:
When you were nine years old and beginning to work, how did you start?
NANNIE PHARIS:
The spinning room, I spun the yarn that made cloth in the shuttles.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did someone teach you how to do that?
NANNIE PHARIS:
Oh, yes. I remember her very well. Her name was Hattie McBride. I remember her teaching me. She always spoke well, she'd tell me I was smart, easy to learn. When payday come we was so happy. Get three dollars every two weeks.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Which day would payday come on?
NANNIE PHARIS:
On a Saturday.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Would you finish in the middle of the day on Saturday?
NANNIE PHARIS:
A lot of times we'd work until four o'clock. Work twelve hours during the week, that's right. Or was it ten. Twelve hours. I think it was ten hours on Saturday.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did you get paid as soon as you went into the mill, or did you have to stay there and learn how to do your job before they began paying you?
NANNIE PHARIS:
I don't think they paid us anything to learn. But after we learnt, we got a job, a machine of our own.
ALLEN TULLOS:
How long would it take somebody to learn?
NANNIE PHARIS:
Not very long. It didn't me, at least.
ALLEN TULLOS:
How long would that be?
NANNIE PHARIS:
I reckon in about three weeks I'd be able to get on my own on a machine by myself.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Were there lots of other children working at this mill?
NANNIE PHARIS:
Yes, plenty of them. They was glad to get them. They would come to our home, because there was so many of us. They needed help, hands in the mill. That's how we started. They got our father to move into town and we all went to work. I think I run the first spinning machine in the Rhode Island Mill was ever started up. Work on one side and go on to another.
ALLEN TULLOS:
The mill was built in 1905?
NANNIE PHARIS:
I run the first spinning machine there that was ever started up. They made blankets there and we'd spin the yarn that made the blankets. Each one that started up, I got to about six machines, and that's as far as I went.
ALLEN TULLOS:
So all of your family went to work in….
NANNIE PHARIS:
We did, every one of us. We thought we was rich.