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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Vesta and Sam Finley, July 22, 1975. Interview H-0267. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Mill conditions and the reasons for the strike

Vesta and Sam explain how workers found jobs and how issues of age and gender determined which job they worked.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Vesta and Sam Finley, July 22, 1975. Interview H-0267. 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

MARY FREDERICKSON:
Let me ask you a few things about why you were working in the mill; actually, what kind of work you did within the mill. You said you started in the cloth room?
VESTA FINLEY:
Yes. I was inspector in the cloth room.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
How did you get trained to do the work that you did?
VESTA FINLEY:
Well, they train you on the job. They take you in and have an experienced helper to train you.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
How long did it take you to learn how to do what you were supposed to do?
VESTA FINLEY:
Oh, well, about three to six weeks, usually. Now I went to weaving; I left the cloth department and went into the weaving shop department, because you could make more money being there. And Irene Hogan taught me; she taught me to weave, and I worked with her. She taught me to weave; she was a weaver. We always shifted around to where we could make more money, and the weaving shop paid more money than any other department at that time, you know.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I see. Do you remember how many of the employees were women?
VESTA FINLEY:
Well, the majority in the cloth room were women at that time, because it was grading and inspecting cloth. You had to ask the boys to do the heavy lifting work at that time. Of course, in the weaving shop it was about equally, I guess, women and men.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was it hard for women to get a job in the weaving shop?
VESTA FINLEY:
No.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I mean, they weren't eager to give jobs to men more than women because it paid more.
VESTA FINLEY:
Well now, I guess they probably employed more men, I don't know, in the weave shop, because they had to have mechanics and people who did heavy lifting that the women weren't. . . . I guess there were more men, but they weren't discriminated against because of their sex, you know. They hired women as much as. . . . And they do so now.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
How old were most of the women who worked in the mills?
VESTA FINLEY:
Well, some of them went to work at fourteen years of age. I know one lady that's working down there now. She started work at fourteen years of age. Her father was my boss-man; and she's still working. But the average was in the teens, you know, and on up to. . . . Well, they let you work as long as you were able to work. They didn't fire you because you got sixty-five. You worked on until the seventies if you was able to work.
SAM FINLEY:
So long as you could cope with the job, you were all right.
VESTA FINLEY:
Yes, keep up production on the job.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
How long were people usually able to keep up production [laughter] ? Did people usually have to quit at a certain age because of their health or something?
VESTA FINLEY:
Well, that would be the only thing.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was that common, for people to have to quit because they couldn't work any longer?
VESTA FINLEY:
Well at a certain age, you get up to sixty-five or seventy years old, you know, you're not capable of maybe keeping up with one that was speeded up. The machine wasn't speeded up in those days as they are now. A person sixty-five now can hardly keep up a job in these kind of mills, because it's speeded up so. And you are working piece-work; you've got to make so much "picks", as they call it, on the machines and so forth to keep up production. And if you can't keep up with that production they just get rid of you, now.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
They're still working on piece-work now?
VESTA FINLEY:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you work on piece-work when you were. . . ?
VESTA FINLEY:
No, we just worked ten hours a day [laughter] five days a week.
SAM FINLEY:
Eleven hours.