Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Carl and Mary Thompson, July 19, 1979. Interview H-0182. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Courtship, marriage, and adulthood in the mill villages

Mary Thompson explains how courtship worked in the mill villages. She and her first husband married when she was only fifteen, and she talks about how that forced her to become an adult quickly.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Carl and Mary Thompson, July 19, 1979. Interview H-0182. 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

I was going to ask you what type things you did when you had some free time, what type games you played and what you did to entertain yourself.
MARY THOMPSON:
We went to parties and done about the same thing… Well, I don't know what they do at parties now. I don't guess it's the same thing now; I guess it's smoking and all that. Now I don't know what they do, but then we played games, spinning the bottle, things like that. And of course, like all boys and girls, we loved to talk. We wasn't allowed to go outdoors or nothing like that, but get off to ourself and talk, you know. And then we'd have times where they'd all come to one house, different houses, and some of them had pianos, and we had a piano. And we'd play and sing and then sit around and talk.
JIM LELOUDIS:
What would you talk about?
MARY THOMPSON:
Like all boys and girls. [Laughter] Just different things. We'd talk about music and the church, and then we just liked to talk to one another. There ain't too much difference, only just they have more freedom now; they have too much freedom. But there wasn't too much difference; boys and girls then fell in love and fell out, just like now. [Laughter] They fell in love too quick. So I got married real young, and I had a baby, and then that cut it out, all the parties and things. Then we didn't live together too long till we were separated, and so I raised the baby. Oh, he helped some, but not much. He's dead now. But the trouble is, most boys and girls at that time got married too early. They don't get married quite as early now as they did back then, I don't think.
JIM LELOUDIS:
When did you feel like you had grown up, that you were an adult?
MARY THOMPSON:
We was just then like they are now; we thought we knowed it all when we was fourteen years old. All boys and girls thinks that. Then after they get up around thirty, they find out they didn't know nothing. That's the whole thing about it. It's the same thing. They've always thought they knowed it all when they started about fourteen.
JIM LELOUDIS:
How old were you when you married?
MARY THOMPSON:
I lacked one month of being sixteen. I was fifteen.
JIM LELOUDIS:
How did you meet your husband?
MARY THOMPSON:
At a party at my house. He had lived in the mountains about all his life, and his daddy and him had come down and got a job in the cotton mill there at Poe Mill. And they moved down there, and his mother had twelve children, I believe, but one of them was married when I met him. And he come to a party one night there, and that's how I met him. And then after we got married, his people moved back to the mountains. They didn't stay down there very long, and then after we separated he went back up there above Slater. He went to work at Slater and stayed up there with his daddy and them.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did your parents approve of your getting married so young?
MARY THOMPSON:
No, they didn't want me to, but I did.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did you run off? Did you elope?
MARY THOMPSON:
Yes, run off. Like all of them, nearly. Back then, we thought that if we just got married, we could be free then, do as we pleased, and found out you don't ever get free in life. [Laughter] But that's just the mistakes young people makes, but there are lots of them does. Others was marrying young, and I thought I had to, too.
JIM LELOUDIS:
You said you had a child real quickly. How did getting pregnant so young make you feel?
MARY THOMPSON:
I was eighteen when she was born. Back then, I guess everywhere, around where we lived that was mostly what they did. They got married young and started a family young, but I didn't have but one. I stopped. [Laughter] But most of them did that; they had children around eighteen or nineteen years old. And I got a brother, him and his wife married when they were sixteen, and by the time they was eighteen, they'd already had two children. They ain't but fifty-three now. They've just got two children, but they've got seven grandchildren, some of them about grown.
JIM LELOUDIS:
You said once you got married and had a child, that put an end to things.
MARY THOMPSON:
It put an end to running around to parties. You see, married people didn't go to parties then, not with the single ones.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did that upset you any?
MARY THOMPSON:
No.
JIM LELOUDIS:
It sounded like maybe you were just a little …
MARY THOMPSON:
You worked so hard you didn't even think about things like that. I didn't. After my baby got two months old, I went back to work in the mill. We worked so hard, and then we got two rooms there on the mill village and we kept house there on the mill village.