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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mattie Shoemaker and Mildred Shoemaker Edmonds, March 23, 1979. Interview H-0046. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A boss reverses a silly dress code at a textile mill

Shoemaker and Edmonds remember one mill boss who asked his employees to wear white uniforms. White uniforms in a dirty workplace "kept you busy washing," Edmonds remembers. She asked her boss to relax the requirement and he did so.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mattie Shoemaker and Mildred Shoemaker Edmonds, March 23, 1979. Interview H-0046. 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

MARY MURPHY:
What kind of clothes did people wear to work?
MILDRED SHOEMAKER EDMONDS:
Well, they'd just wear ordinary print dresses. Then we got one boss man up there, Daddy Smith. He wanted us all to wear a uniform. And of all things, white uniforms. You know, you'd get awfully dirty in there. They didn't clean. You'd get grease all over you. You'd have to change them uniforms every day, of course. Kept you busy washing. Didn't any of us like them. Not too many of us, hardly any of us. One day, you know, Mert Odell was the superintendent at that time. He said that if people didn't want to wear them uniforms they didn't have to. He said they wasn't no law to make us wear them. That was just his rule. We went in one morning, and oh me, I was always the leader. We went in and I didn't wear no uniform. He said something to me.
MARY MURPHY:
What did he say?
MILDRED SHOEMAKER EDMONDS:
He was going to send me back home. I didn't do a thing but just walk on down through the mill down to the superintendent's office. I went in there. They come trotting along behind me. Anyway, we went on down there and I said, "Mr. Odell, do we have to wear them old white uniforms?" He said, "No, ma'am. If you don't want to you don't have to. And they can't take your job away from you." From that it got out and every one of them began to shed them off.
MARY MURPHY:
Did they pay for the uniforms?
MILDRED SHOEMAKER EDMONDS:
No!
MARY MURPHY:
You had to buy them?
MILDRED SHOEMAKER EDMONDS:
We had to order them. He had his niece come in there. She measured us all up.
MATTIE SHOEMAKER:
She modeled them all.
MILDRED SHOEMAKER EDMONDS:
Yeah, she modeled them on herself and walked up and down through the mill. Didn't none of them . Anyway, we bought them.
MARY MURPHY:
How much did they cost?
MILDRED SHOEMAKER EDMONDS:
Do you remember how much it was?
MATTIE SHOEMAKER:
Two dollars.
MILDRED SHOEMAKER EDMONDS:
Two and a half or something.
MATTIE SHOEMAKER:
I'll tell you how they was made. They was a square neck around here and—we called them at that time "butterfly sleeves"—is all cut in here together. And it had a belt around it. You slipped them over your head.