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“Like One Big Family”: A Former Textile Worker Describes the Closeness of the Southern Mill Village in the 1920s

by Edna Y. Hargett/James Leloudis

The southern textile mills, which had expanded dramatically during World War I, faced serious decline in the 1920s. New tariffs, the growth of textile manufacturing in other parts of the world and the shorter skirt lengths of the 1920s, which required less fabric, exacerbated the problems brought on by wartime overexpansion. Textile manufacturers responded by trying to cut wages and increase workloads. Nevertheless, textile workers often look back at the 1920s with genuine affection and nostalgia. In this 1979 interview with historian James Leloudis, Edna Y. Hargett, a former textile worker, described the closeness of the mill village and the “love offering”: a collection for sick workers to replace lost wages in an era when there was no sick leave.

Listen to Audio:

James Leloudis: Was the mill community real close?

Edna Hargett: Yes, we were. It was a close bunch of people, the mill community was. Now maybe neighbors rang [inaudible]. You go in the hospital and stay in there three and four weeks and come home, and they don’t know you’ve been gone.

Leloudis: Well, why would people visit? What different things would they do when they visited?

Hargett: Well, I always went to see every little new baby, and then if anybody was sick, we’d go and make a pie or something and go down and see them and take it to them. And I always understood we couldn’t stay long because we had to get up and all, and we’d go and stay a while with them. And if we got a new recipe and made a cake or something good, we’d divide that with the others. And we were just like one big family. We just all loved one another.

Leloudis: This love offering is really interesting, too. You would kind of get together. Everybody would chip in

and make up the person’s day’s wages, kind of?

Hargett: Yeah. Make up a person give it to them. Just like they do now when anybody dies, to go around and make up for flowers for the neighbors. Well, we’d make it up in the meal then. And when they got paid, why, they’d come and pay. I was usually the one that had that to do in the weave room. And they’d come and pay us, and we’d take their money and give it to them, you know, and they’d be so proud of it, because they didn’t have a wage come in then.

Leloudis: So it would kind of help them make it through that period of sickness.

Hargett: Yeah.

Source: Oral history courtesy of Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University Of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.