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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Emma Whitesell, July 27, 1977. Interview H-0057. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Moving from job to job in the mill economy

Despite financial needs, Whitesell left a variety of positions at a variety of mills, including raveling, sewing, winding, and spooling. Whitesell showed her mettle when she quit a sewing job when her boss would not give her a raise she demanded.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Emma Whitesell, July 27, 1977. Interview H-0057. 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

CLIFF KUHN:
You stayed at Lakeside, maybe a year?
EMMA WHITESELL:
Three years, we stayed there three years. Well that'd make me about fourteen years old. So, we didn't stay at Aurora but a year, and we moved to Elmira. But during the time we lived at Aurora it was hard to get a job, you know, a young girl like that. So I went to Haw River( ) Hosiery Mill to learn to top. [Interruption] Then I didn't stay over there but three weeks. I was learning to top—you had to put the top on you know, and ravel it. Well, I hadn't learned to put the top on but I learned to ravel it. The one who was learning me—somebody stayed out and they had to give this girl more machines. And they'd give me what come off one machine to ravel for her. And I couldn't keep up—just learning you know. I made thirty three cents—my machine stood most of the time. So, I quit. [Laughter]
CLIFF KUHN:
Even though it was hard to find a job you quit after a few weeks.
EMMA WHITESELL:
Yeah. Well, I wasn't making enough money. I never was interested in a hosiery mill. So then I went and learned to spool.
CLIFF KUHN:
Where?
EMMA WHITESELL:
At Aurora. They didn't need nobody but I learned anyway. So I went to work up at—on Main Street they had a sewing mill—and I went up there. I worked, I went in learning and I was putting button holes and buttons and buckles on overalls. They paid me two and a half a week when I first went in. Well, some of the rest of 'em was doing the same job that I was doing and some of 'em getting three dollars a week, some three and half, and some four dollars. And so I asked the boss man for a raise, and he said that was all he paid. I said, well I can't pay my board for that—'cause board was about three dollars a week then. He said you don't have to pay board do you. And I said no, but I don't know when I will have to pay for my board. So my mother had told me to ask for a raise and if he didn't give me one, then quit. So I quit. And I went home, momma said, Emma you can't quit, you have to go back. Poppa said, no she won't either, you told her to quit. [Laughter] Then I went to King Cotton Mill and I got a job over there winding. And I made about a dollar a day. But the job run out. So I didn't have nothing. So I went home and went down to the—what was the name of that hosiery mill—Sellars Hosiery Mill down close to the coffin factory. I started down there that morning and something happened to the power and they couldn't start up. And before they got started up my brother come down there on a horse and said they want you at Aurora spooling. And I run every step of the way home. I was living right there at Aurora, living right at the mill. [Laughter] From then on I spooled at Aurora. I could make a dollar a day, most times a dollar and ten cents a day. They give us checks for a box of spools, you know. Well I'd keep those—five cents a check you know—well I'd keep two of 'em and wouldn't turn 'em in 'till Saturday. Then we'd work 'till twelve [Interruption] work 'till twelve o'clock on Saturday and I'd turn the extra ones in you know, so I'd make a dollar a day. And that was six dollars a week. That was at Aurora. But I didn't live there but a year.