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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 >>

Finding childcare as a single mother

Mary Thompson and her first husband separated shortly after her daughter was born, and she explains how she juggled working and childcare as a single parent, especially once she had to begin traveling for jobs.

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

JIM LELOUDIS:
Who took care of the child after you went back to work?
MARY THOMPSON:
My mother, till she got bigger, and then you could hire colored people for two dollars a week to come there every day and take care of them, so I hired a colored woman after she got big enough, weaned and all.
JIM LELOUDIS:
I was talking to a woman this morning who told me that while her child was young, they allowed her to come home during the day to nurse the child.
MARY THOMPSON:
I did.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did they allow you to do that?
MARY THOMPSON:
I sure did. I worked there after me and my husband separated. My father then was living at Union Bleachery. I don't know whether you know anything about Greenville or not, but it's about a mile or a little more from American Spinning Company. I don't know whether they still go by that name now or not. It's next there to Poe Mill. I went to work at American Spinning Company. It's a little over a mile, cutting through; it's a little more if you went around the street. I'd get up and go to work every morning, and then we got an hour for dinner. We worked ten hours then. And I'd walk home—I mean it was uphill most of the way [Laughter] —and let her nurse and then walk back and work till six o'clock that night, then walk back home.
JIM LELOUDIS:
But they didn't give you any special time off, did they, to do …
MARY THOMPSON:
No.
JIM LELOUDIS:
I talked to this woman, and they had given her breaks during the day.
CARL THOMPSON:
Well, they would, practically, in some …
MARY THOMPSON:
They didn't let me have no breaks to go home.
CARL THOMPSON:
I remember several there at Rock Hill that had babies, and they let them go home and nurse.
MARY THOMPSON:
They lived right close, but you see …
JIM LELOUDIS:
But you were a good ways away.
CARL THOMPSON:
In other words, they could walk home maybe in ten minutes, and they'd give them about thirty minutes to go home and nurse the baby, then go back.
MARY THOMPSON:
After my daughter got up in school, I went back to work at Slater and I took her and we moved up there. And I'd always work all I could. If they had plenty of drawing in, sometimes I'd work sixteen hours a day. And after she got in school, when they wanted me to work late I'd go home and get her and bring her some coloring books and pencil and paper, and bring her down there and sit her by the drawing frame, and we'd sit there and I'd work till eleven o'clock and take her home. [Laughter] I've worked many a time with her sitting right by me. [Laughter]
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did many women do that? Was that a pretty common practice?
MARY THOMPSON:
No, there wasn't too many of them that was single like me that was raising a child. That wasn't as common then as it is now. Most of them was married people, and if they had to work they worked them hours, some of them did. Some of them that had husbands wouldn't even do that, if they had more than one child. But I just had one. And they didn't have to do it, to tell you the truth, but there wasn't very many. There was one once in a while that would bring their child if they had to have work, but it wasn't a common thing.
JIM LELOUDIS:
You said you had a black woman to come take care of her. Would she just come take care of the child, or did she help you with your housework?
MARY THOMPSON:
She'd do the housework and take care of the child. You could usually pick up right good colored people. Of course, sometime you'd have trouble with them. I never did like to, but I had to do it anyway. I went to the welfare office lots of times and asked for somebody to keep my child, and I'd always have to let them live in. And they'd send me somebody, and if they didn't work out they'd take them off of the welfare. If they done something that they could have helped doing and just didn't work out, why, they'd tell them that they'd have to work or they'd be took off the welfare. If they'd do that now, they'd be better off. Then they'd send me somebody else. But very seldom I had to report them, that something happened. They'd steal money or steal food or something like that, and I'd catch them and have to let them off, and then they'd just turn them out of the welfare.
JIM LELOUDIS:
You said they would live in. Was that pretty common? Did most of the women you had work for you live in?
MARY THOMPSON:
Most of the time they did, because when she was at that age from starting school on up till I had to start leaving Greenville to get jobs, Slater is in the country like, and I lived on my father's cousin's place, and that was up in the country. And I'd get help from town, because there wasn't no help around there to get. And I'd have to go get them on Sunday night and take them back on the next Saturday evening. And so they had to stay all the week. And I could get help thataway better, because there was always plenty of help in Greenville, because there was lots of colored people and they were lots of them on welfare. So that's the way I got help.
JIM LELOUDIS:
When did your mother start taking care of your daughter?
MARY THOMPSON:
She taken care of her before she started school, from the time she was a baby on up. She'd go sometime and stay with Mama a week or two at a time, but she didn't take care of her after she started school. I'd always hire somebody.