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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Flake and Nellie Meyers, August 11, 1979. Interview H-0133. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Working to ensure family's economic survival

Nellie (Workman) Meyers describes various economic survival strategies her family employed while she was growing up near Vale, North Carolina. As the third child and eldest daughter in a family of ten children, Nellie explains that money was often tight. As a result, she began to work in the cotton mills in 1919 while simultaneously helping her father in his blacksmith shop and helping her mother with household chores. Her recollections demonstrate what it took for some southern working families to survive economically during the early twentieth century.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Flake and Nellie Meyers, August 11, 1979. Interview H-0133. 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:
What kind of job did you do?
NELLIE MAE WORKMAN MEYERS:
I run a spooler. You wouldn't know what it was.
PATTY DILLEY:
I sort of know. I've been in a mill a couple of times.
NELLIE MAE WORKMAN MEYERS:
You had a cone thing, you know. You'd hold a spool down, and there's your thread and you held your hand like that and tied the threads. From a bobbin to the spool.
PATTY DILLEY:
And it rewound it?
NELLIE MAE WORKMAN MEYERS:
On a spool about that tall. And I enjoyed it, because I like working. It was very good pay; it was very hard.
PATTY DILLEY:
When your whole family went there, did your father go to work, too?
NELLIE MAE WORKMAN MEYERS:
Oh, yes.
PATTY DILLEY:
And your mother?
NELLIE MAE WORKMAN MEYERS:
No, she had to cook for all of us. And do all the washing for us. She had it hard.
PATTY DILLEY:
How many kids did you have in your family?
NELLIE MAE WORKMAN MEYERS:
There were three girls and seven boys.
PATTY DILLEY:
You could almost run one shift with that crew.
NELLIE MAE WORKMAN MEYERS:
Yes. [Laughter]
PATTY DILLEY:
But your father didn't like the work too much.
NELLIE MAE WORKMAN MEYERS:
Mr. Stanley gave him an easy job. He was getting pretty old. It was 1919.
FLAKE ORAN MEYERS:
He used to run a blacksmith's shop.
NELLIE MAE WORKMAN MEYERS:
Oh, yes, my dad did. He made wheat cradles. It had six fingers to it in the side, built all together, and them six fingers would come around and catch the wheat straw and throw it all in bundles, and then we'd go behind and wrap them and bind them up, and then we'd shock them into shocks of wheat.
PATTY DILLEY:
Would your father make these himself?
NELLIE MAE WORKMAN MEYERS:
Oh, yes. And then he'd run a blacksmith's shop, too, and make wagons and all different things like that. And he would always call on me to run the bellows, a little fire to heat things. Had a big bellows. It was fun.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did you like helping him?
NELLIE MAE WORKMAN MEYERS:
Oh, yes.
PATTY DILLEY:
It was better than working out in the fields.
NELLIE MAE WORKMAN MEYERS:
Yes. Oh, that was real hard. [Laughter] And then Mother and them would call, and I would work till eleven o'clock and go in and help her finish lunch. And then after we all ate, they'd go sit down there. I had to wash the dishes, and when I got through they was ready to go back to the mill. I never got a bit of rest.
PATTY DILLEY:
[Laughter] Were you the oldest girl?
NELLIE MAE WORKMAN MEYERS:
Yes.
PATTY DILLEY:
That's the way it iswith the oldest girl. Always had it the worst.
NELLIE MAE WORKMAN MEYERS:
Yes, that's right. They have more to do than the rest of them. Then I worked some in Lincolnton. Had to to help feed the rest of the family. Dad didn't make much in the blacksmith's shop.