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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Paul and Pauline Griffith, May 30, 1980. Interview H-0247. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Work conditions and workplace relationships in a textile mill

Pauline Griffith offers a vivid portrait of what it was like to work as a young woman in the Judson textile mill. In describing the perception of her father and two sisters, when they first began to work at the mill in 1915, and that of herself when she went to work in 1922 at the age of fourteen, Griffith brings to life the physical conditions of the textile mill. Her comments on the sheer noise of the looms; the way in which she contrasts a nice boss, Mr. Tidwell, to a more cantankerous boss, Mr. Copeland; and her description of the games the young workers played in order to make their day more fun demonstrates in great detail the kinds of tensions and experiences that characterized work in the textile mills in the early twentieth century.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Paul and Pauline Griffith, May 30, 1980. Interview H-0247. 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:
What was it like for them when they first went into the mill? Do you remember them talking about that, what they saw, and felt, and heard?
PAULINE GRIFFITH:
They were scared [laughter] . See, they had never been used to having a boss over them, and they were scared to death. And the looms made so much racket, they couldn't hear theirselves, you know. And couldn't hear other people. It took a little while to get adjusted to that. I went to work when I was fourteen. And the big boss came through and he asked me what my name was, and I couldn't hear him. He had a big old gruff voice, and he was a great big man, and I asked him three times what he said. Finally I said, "I don't know. Ask my sister." [laughter] . It tickled him because I couldn't hear him, you know. He went down there and he said, "Vita, your little sister couldn't hear what I was asking. She asked me three times and she felt embarrassed to ask me any more and she said, 'I don't know. Ask Vita.' " [laughter] . It was right funny. Back then they just paid about six dollars for anybody learning. So the spare hand-the person that didn't have a set of looms, they called him the spare hand-made fourteen eighty-five. The first ticket I drew was fourteen eighty-five. So I went to this big boss that I was scared to death of, and told him about it, because I didn't want to be dishonest, and he said, "Well, Pauline, I know you could use that money better than the company could. It would take a lot of book work to get on back to that. You just don't say a word about it. I give you permission to keep it." So I started off at the spare-hand wages. I felt rich. [laughter] .
PAUL GRIFFITH:
She's talking about the weaving room. When you haven't been used to it and a person goes in there, you can't hardly hear. You just have to get accustomed to it. That's the way she was. She just had went to work, maybe a day or two. It takes you several days to catch people's voices when you go in the weaving room.
PAULINE GRIFFITH:
But he was a good boss. He was a good overseer. He had a gruff voice, and a great big built body, but he was real mild in his nature towards people. I enjoyed working.
ALLEN TULLOS:
What was his name?
PAULINE GRIFFITH:
Tidwell.
ALLEN TULLOS:
And he was overseer of the weaving room.
PAULINE GRIFFITH:
Yes he was. He was Mr. John Tidwell. And he was a mighty good overseer. But later it was right funny. We had this seat, you know, where you could sit? And we all got our looms running and just for fun, we played like we was sitting down-you know how young people are. And this time, a Mr. Copeland had come to be the bigshot. Mr. Tidwell had moved on. And he looked down the alley and saw us, and he got so mad. Here he come, like to scared us to death. And we ran over there and got our looms started. He balled us everyone out. He liked to scared us to death. So from there out, we didn't try that trick no more.
ALLEN TULLOS:
You all were just playing a joke?
PAULINE GRIFFITH:
You know how young people are? They'll just play like they're going to do. We could not set in each other's laps without the swing a-falling. We was just playing like we would, you know. There were about five of us. Boy, he got us all [laughter] .
ALLEN TULLOS:
Explain how that seat worked.
PAULINE GRIFFITH:
Well, like the loom is on this side, the leather would be fixed to the seat, and it'd be fastened securely. Then over here would be something to hang it up on and make a seat out of it. But normally it just hung by the loom, all the way. When we'd get tired, we could rest a littlewhile. That was back then, during John Tidwell's time. But not in Copeland's day. He didn't allow us to be seated [laughter] .
ALLEN TULLOS:
What was his first name, do you remember?
PAULINE GRIFFITH:
Copeland? I don't remember his first name.
PAUL GRIFFITH:
I don't remember either.
PAULINE GRIFFITH:
It was kind of cruel, but we sure knew to tend our own work and to stay on it.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Let me just go back, so I can understand what you all were doing. You were pretending you were sitting in each other's laps?
PAULINE GRIFFITH:
Yeah. Playing like it. You know, just like the seat was here, you know. And we just stooped over kind of like we was sitting in each other's laps. We really weren't.
ALLEN TULLOS:
All five of you in one seat?
PAULINE GRIFFITH:
All one another. [laughter]
PAUL GRIFFITH:
It was just about this wide apart, the looms on this side and looms on that side, and this strap come over here. Like I'm sitting here. Then the other kind of put themselves right on up like this.
PAULINE GRIFFITH:
We was just playing like, and we was all young, right in there. You have to have some fun as you go along with your work, to make it interesting.
ALLEN TULLOS:
You were hoping that he would catch your eye, really, or somebody would see you all doing this?
PAULINE GRIFFITH:
No, we weren't thinking about that. We was just having fun. We wasn't doing it for anybody's attention. We were just playing with each other, just having fun. Young people play leap frog, and different things, you know, and we was just doing that. Because the one over him, word gets around. And they didn't allow people to be abused back then, which was wonderful. I think it's nice for the people to get to work under good conditions. We turned out a lot of work, but we had to have a little fun along.