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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Gladys Harris, August 8, 1979. Interview H-0124. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Overview of forty years working in the hosiery industry

Harris describes her nearly forty years of work in Gastonia, North Carolina. Harris first went to work around 1940 as an inspector in a local hosiery mill, where she stayed for nearly fifteen years. Harris then worked for Kaiser Roth for a few years, before going to work sewing for one of the Hickory manufacturing mills. In addition to describing the kind of work she did at these three jobs, Harris also describes how she came to be employed and draws comparisons between working conditions.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Gladys Harris, August 8, 1979. Interview H-0124. 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

PATTY DILLEY:
When did you first start working?
GLADYS HARRIS:
Soon as she was nine years old. I'd been married about twelve years first when I went to work. I went to work in a hosiery mill though. Inspected socks then, and that's been about forty years ago. Would you believe I made more an hour then than I'm a-making right now inspecting socks? I was on production, and I really could throw it out then. While I was working there, this place was going bankruptcy because they paid so good. The people that run it was from Murphy up in the mountains. They didn't realize what other places paid I guess. They paid a lot higher than the others. They had to sell it out. Red Heifer bought it out, and he said that he'd take the hands with the machines and all. So I went on down there and went to work. When I got down there, I started pairing. I paired socks down there then. They put me to getting the samples and all. I had to do all the sample work and everything. That's what I've done ever since then. When I quit that—I was there fifteen years—then I went to Kaiser Roth. He got sick and his work began to go down. Because Paul wasn't able to work, I had to work everyday. So I went to Kaiser Roth and got a job—my daughter-in-law worked there—and I got a job there. When I got up there, though, they didn't put me on production there. They just paid me by the hour, and I did the samples and all that. I worked there four years, and I got so sick of that place that in the morning when I'd start to work, I just felt like I was going to choke to death if I didn't vomit or something, just dreading to go to it. We was living above Sweetwater School then in my husband's old home place. Hickory [-Frye Mfg.] was about a five minute walk from where we live. One evening I come home from work at the hosiery mill and I told my husband, I said, "I'm going down there and see if they need any hands." He said, "You don't know how to do nothing"—I's inspecting then—"You don't know how to do nothing." I said, "Well, maybe I don't know how to do nothing, but maybe they'll teach me." So I went down there one evening, and I asked them about a job. They asked me if I knew anything about sewing. I said, "I don't know anything about sewing in here, but I make clothes and things at home." He said, "You want to work a notice where you at, don't you?" I said, "All that's a-quitting there and been working a notice, they don't let them work a notice, they fire them." They won't let them work up there after they told them. I said, "I want to work the week out, and I'm not telling them. I'm going come on home Friday evening like I'm going back Saturday morning. Saturday morning I'm going to call and tell them they can give my papers to somebody else, I won't be back." He said, "If you quit us, you won't do us like that, will you?" I said, "No, I'll work you all a notice, unless you're going to fire me whenever I tell you I'm going to work notice." He said, "Okay, if you're not going back on Saturday morning up there, just come down here Saturday morning." I said, "Okay, I'll be here." Would you believe—I knew the girl that was over the sewers, teach them how to sew and all—when I went in there Saturday morning, this girl, she sit down and she sewed one cushion. She got up from one machine and she said, "There it is, Gladys, take it. I know you can do it. Sit down there and start." That's the way I learned to sew! Didn't nobody stand over me and tell me what to do and how to do it. When I got started up there, they put me to making samples there. I made samples every place where I've ever worked. I make their samples, and—it's a home-owned place—for everybody that's in the family that wants anything made, I have to make it. They won't let anybody else make it. I told them the other day, if I live till next August when my birthday is, I'll be seventy. Then, I want to quit whenever I've made the amount that I can make. They said, "Oh, you won't do it." I said, "Yes I am too. They better be getting somebody else to do this work, part of it." But I enjoy my work, I dearly love to sew.
PATTY DILLEY:
Are you on production now?
GLADYS HARRIS:
I'm on pile work. Whatever they want done, I had to do like that. Repairs and things like that, I do them. We get along pretty good.
PATTY DILLEY:
What was it about the work for Kaiser Roth at that hosiery place that was. . . .
GLADYS HARRIS:
It was the overseers or whoever was over you, they was just outrageous. When I worked for Red Heifer—I worked for him for fifteen years—we didn't even have a boss. We just had a floor lady. We all done just the same way. We knowed what we supposed to do and how we supposed to do it. Nobody bossed us or nothing. I think that was really what was wrong. When I went to Kaiser Roth, they were so bossified and strict and everything. I think that's what got on my nerves so bad. Too, they had a couple up there that was so bad to run to the big boss if you done the least little thing, they would run to him about it—always keeping something stirred up. I don't like things like that. I think everything ought to go along smooth, like be no difficulty between anybody, I don't think. Some people's not satisfied unless they got something stirred or an argument or a fuss or something. While I worked with Kaiser Roth, they started making leotards, and they put me out there cutting them and sewing them to start with. I been into lots of little odds and ends things.
PATTY DILLEY:
You talked before that work in the hosiery was tedious?
GLADYS HARRIS:
Well it is. It's more tedious than furniture factory. In other words, your socks have got to be perfect, or they want them perfect before they go out. You have so many shades to pair from and can't let a hole go through, not to let a mend go through in the first class or anything like that. It takes good eyes and you got to be on your toes whenever you're on production especially, trying to make something and a-pairing them. I don't know, I just prefer sewing. I don't know why I stayed in the hosiery mill as long as I did. It was just dreading the change of jobs. I just don't like to change jobs. I reckon that's the reason I've been in this furniture place as long as I have—nineteen years July 31. If I stay till next year if I be able to work, it'll be twenty years. I think long enough at one place.