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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Nell Putnam Sigmon, December 13, 1979. Interview H-0143. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Dropping out of school to work

Sigmon explains why she dropped out of school in 1933 when she was in the tenth grade and how she got her first job in the midst of the Great Depression.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Nell Putnam Sigmon, December 13, 1979. Interview H-0143. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
When you were in high school, you were living at home with your mother and brothers while your daddy would travel around?
NELL PUTNAM SIGMON:
No, that was in West Virginia when I was in high school.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you were already out of school when you settled down here?
NELL PUTNAM SIGMON:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you graduate from high school?
NELL PUTNAM SIGMON:
No, I didn't go any further than the tenth. [laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
What made you decide to stop?
NELL PUTNAM SIGMON:
We moved back here, and I found a job sewing gloves, so I just decided to take that, but then I helped the other boys to get through. They all graduated.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did that happen, that you decided to go out and find yourself a job?
NELL PUTNAM SIGMON:
I don't know. All the other girls were, so I thought I wanted to work, too.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So your girlfriends were getting jobs. Were they mostly working in the glove factory?
NELL PUTNAM SIGMON:
That's about all the kind of work they did, unless they did go to college. And you know, work was the big thing; not many children could go to college. Maybe one or two of them.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Could you have gotten a job in a hosiery mill or a textile mill?
NELL PUTNAM SIGMON:
I sort of applied, but they were full up at the time. Times were sort of hard, and there just wasn't too many jobs. And the girls was just beginning to go into public work around town.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you did apply for work at a hosiery mill?
NELL PUTNAM SIGMON:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were there textile mills around here, cotton mills?
NELL PUTNAM SIGMON:
Oh, that's about all it was.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you think a glove mill was different?
NELL PUTNAM SIGMON:
Yes. I love to sew, and I sort of liked sewing.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You already had learned how to sew at home?
NELL PUTNAM SIGMON:
Yes. I could sew a little bit. I made dresses some.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you just go down on your own and apply for this job, or did somebody else speak for you?
NELL PUTNAM SIGMON:
I went and applied for it myself.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did your parents feel about you going to work?
NELL PUTNAM SIGMON:
Oh, they thought it was all right, because the neighbor girls were working, and I just said, "I want to work, too." I was eighteen, and I thought I wanted to do something different other than just sit around and do nothing. You know, I think all the girls did a wise thing about getting jobs. Who wants to work on a farm? Well, we didn't have no farm, but, you know, you wanted to do sort of like the other girls did. It was either go to work or go to school, so I preferred to work.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you not like school?
NELL PUTNAM SIGMON:
Yes, in some ways I did, but, like I say, moving around, it sort of puts you behind. But the boys was right at the age that they was interested in it. They were all good-looking, and the girls just all fell for them. And naturally that kept them in school.