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Oral History Interview with Nell Putnam Sigmon, December 13, 1979. Interview H-0143. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    In this 1979 interview for the Piedmont Industrialization series, Nell Putnam Sigmon describes her upbringing in a large family, her decision at age eighteen to take a job sewing women's gloves, her work in the mill, and her experiences as wife and mother of two children. Sigmon grew up in a family of three girls and five boys; the family moved to various locations on account of her father's work supervising construction projects for Duke Power Company. On her own initiative, out of desire to make money and be with friends, she left school after completing the tenth grade and took a job sewing gloves at Conover Glove Company, in Conover, North Carolina. Except for a brief hiatus following the birth of a child, she worked her entire adult life in local textile mills sewing gloves, even taking a sewing machine into her home in order to continue working while tending to her ill husband and to earn extra money in retirement. She especially enjoyed the camaraderie with other women sewers and the relative independence afforded to them at the mill. Sigmon's mother died young, at age fifty-five, from a heart attack, which Sigmon attributes perhaps to the strain attending the overseas military deployment of all five of her brothers during World War II. At age twenty-seven, Sigmon married. Although her marriage was a happy one, she nonetheless recalls how she and another man, who still resides in the community, had earlier had strong feelings for one another. Sigmon explains how she knew nothing of childrearing upon getting married, but nonetheless managed with the help of her husband to ensure the children's health and education. Sigmon's husband, a mechanic, suffered from serious problems with his feet and later died of cancer after a long and painful decline; she was supported through this trial by women friends. Sigmon describes in detail her work making gloves, sketches the implications of changes in ownership of the mills, and notes that she and others often felt that the mill owners could have paid them more; that said, she regards unions as anathema. She also reflects on race relations in the mill and community, noting first that she can readily understand the desire by African Americans to have equal rights ("Well, they want to live, too") but also that she disapproves of mixed-race marriage ("that's just going too far") and worship.
    Excerpts
  • Father's work for Duke Power as a steel foreman
  • Mother dies of the strain of having five sons in WWII
  • Meeting her future husband; their wartime romance
  • Adjusting to married life
  • Changing standards of behavior for young women
  • Clinton Sigmon suffered from his war wounds for the rest of his life
  • Pride in children's accomplishments
  • Finding community and friendship as a widow
  • Relationship with her husband; his death and funeral
  • Differences between religious denominations
  • Home remedy and helping one's neighbor
  • Responsibilities of farm children
  • Dropping out of school to work
  • Learning to sew gloves
  • Impact of the New Deal on workers; working with other women
  • Pride in her work as a glove maker
  • Arthur Little becomes owner of a glove-making factory
  • Reasons for personal opposition to unionization
  • Integration of the mills
  • Birth control methods and sex education in the early twentieth century
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Subjects
  • Women in the textile industry
  • Concord (N.C.)--Race relations
  • Newland (N.C.)--Social life and customs--20th century
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.