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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ila Hartsell Dodson, May 23, 1980. Interview H-0241. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Starting work in a textile mill at age 14

Dodson recalls starting work at a textile mill at age fourteen. After her parents gave into her persistent pestering, she got a work permit to put in eight hours per day.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ila Hartsell Dodson, May 23, 1980. Interview H-0241. 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

ALLEN TULLOS:
And you say you had to get a permit.
ILA HARTSELL DODSON:
A worker's permit. And Mama wouldn't even take me to town to get it. My daddy wouldn't go with me. And I said, "Well, give me the Bible, and give me a dime, and I'll go get it." Because a nickel streetcar fare up there and a nickel back. I went up to the City Hall-they've tore that old building down now; it's got a big, nice building up there on Main Street-and I got the Bible because I had to prove my age. And I got that worker's permit, and boy, I caught that next streetcar home. But Mama did give me the dime to ride.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did they not want you to start work then?
ILA HARTSELL DODSON:
No, they done everything they could, but I like to worried them to death. I carried my money to school for three weeks to pay for my books. And the teacher said, "Ila, I want you to bring that book money tomorrow." I said, "Yes, ma'am, I'll bring it." I had it right then in my pocket, but I didn't want to give Mama's money away, because I had a feeling I was going to win out. And I just worried her, and every time Papa'd come in from work I'd start on him again. I never will forget, he said, "Bertha, she's going to run us crazy if we don't let her go to work. If you'll give her permission, I will." And Mama said, "Well, I've got to have a little peace around here. Well, we'll just let her go to work." So I won out.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Why was it that you wanted to work so bad?
ILA HARTSELL DODSON:
I wanted to make my own money. I had done had two sisters go to work, and I seen how they was having money, and so I couldn't stand it no longer. But I've never regretted it.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did your mother and father want you to go on to high school?
ILA HARTSELL DODSON:
They wanted me to go on to school, yes, but I couldn't see that. Back then, there didn't too many children go on to high school. It was just a common thing that when they'd get old enough, let them go to work.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did they have truant officers back then that would come around and check up on the children?
ILA HARTSELL DODSON:
No. Didn't have nobody checking up on nothing.
ALLEN TULLOS:
There must have been a good number of small children in the mills whose parents let them go on in.
ILA HARTSELL DODSON:
Young like me, yes.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did they ask you any questions when you got up to the City Hall with your Bible?
ILA HARTSELL DODSON:
No. All they wanted was just the proof that I was fourteen. I went to work in September, and I wasn't fifteen till January.
ALLEN TULLOS:
And you started at the Brandon Mill.
ILA HARTSELL DODSON:
The Brandon Mill.
ALLEN TULLOS:
How many hours a day would you work?
ILA HARTSELL DODSON:
They wouldn't allow you to work but eight hours. They were running ten hours a day, and you had to be off two hours.