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Camella Teoli Testifies about the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike
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Camella Teoli Testifies about the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike

When 30,000 largely immigrant workers walked out of the Lawrence, Massachusetts, textile mills in January 1912, they launched one of the epic confrontations between capital and labor. The strike began in part because of unsafe working conditions in the mills, which were described in graphic detail in the testimony that fourteen-year-old millworker Camella Teoli delivered before a U.S. Congressional hearing in March 1912. Her testimony (a portion of which was included here) about losing her hair when it got caught in a textile machine she was operating gained national headlines in 1912—in part because Helen Herron Taft, the wife of the president, was in the audience when Teoli testified. The resulting publicity helped secure a strike victory.


CHAIRMAN. Camella, how old are you?

Miss TEOLI. Fourteen years and eight months.

CHAIRMAN. Fourteen years and eight months?

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

CHAIRMAN. How many children are there in your family?

Miss TEOLI. Five.

CHAIRMAN. Where do you work?

Miss TEOLI. In the woolen mill.

CHAIRMAN. For the American Woolen Co.?

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

CHAIRMAN. What sort of work do you do?

Miss TEOLI. Twisting.

CHAIRMAN. You do twisting?

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

CHAIRMAN. How much do you get a week?

Miss TEOLI. $6.55.

CHAIRMAN. What is the smallest pay?

Miss TEOLI. $2.64.

CHAIRMAN. Do you have to pay anything for water?

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

CHAIRMAN. How much?

Miss TEOLI. 10 cents every two weeks.

CHAIRMAN. Do they hold back any of your pay?

Miss TEOLI. No.

CHAIRMAN. Have they ever held back any?

Miss TEOLI. One week’s pay.

CHAIRMAN. They have held back one week’s pay?

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

CHAIRMAN. Does your father work, and where?

Miss TEOLI. My father works in the Washington.

CHAIRMAN. The Washington Woolen Mill?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN. How much pay does he get for a week’s work?

Miss TEOLI. $7.70

CHAIRMAN. Does he always work a full week?

Miss TEOLI. No.

CHAIRMAN. Well, how often does it happen that he does not work a full week?

Miss TEOLI. He works in the winter a full week, and usually he don’t in the summer.

CHAIRMAN. In the winter he works a full week, and in the summer how much?

Miss TEOLI. Two or three days a week.

CHAIRMAN. What sort of work does he do?

Miss TEOLI. He is a comber.

CHAIRMAN. Now, did you ever get hurt in the mill?

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

CHAIRMAN. Can you tell the committee about that — how it happened and what it was?

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

CHAIRMAN. Tell us about it now, in your own way.

Miss TEOLI. Well, I used to go to school, and then a man came up to my house and asked my father why I didn’t go to work, so my father says I don’t know whether she is 13 or 14 years old. So, the man say you give me $4 and I will make the papers come from the old country saying you are 14. So, my father gave him the $4, and in one month came the papers that I was 14. I went to work, and about two weeks got hurt in my head.

CHAIRMAN. Now, how did you get hurt, and where were you hurt in the head; explain that to the committee?

Miss TEOLI. I got hurt in Washington.

CHAIRMAN. In the Washington Mill?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN. What part of your head?

Miss TEOLI. My head.

CHAIRMAN. Well, how were you hurt?

Miss TEOLI. The machine pulled the scalp off.

CHAIRMAN. The machine pulled your scalp off?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN. How long ago was that?

Miss TEOLI. A year ago, or about a year ago.

CHAIRMAN. Were you in the hospital after that?

Miss TEOLI. I was in the hospital seven months.

CHAIRMAN. Seven months?

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

CHAIRMAN. Did the company pay your bills while you were in the hospital?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN. The company took care of you?

Miss TEOLI. The company only paid my bills; they didn’t give me anything else.

CHAIRMAN. They only paid your hospital bills; they did not give you any pay?

Miss TEOLI. No, sir.

CHAIRMAN. But paid the doctors bills and hospital fees?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

Mr. LENROOT. They did not pay your wages?

Miss TEOLI. No, sir.

CHAIRMAN. Did they arrest your father for having sent you to work for 14?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN. What did they do with him after they arrested him?

Miss TEOLI. My father told this about the man he gave $4 to, and then they put him on again.

CHAIRMAN. Are you still being treated by the doctors for the scalp wound?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN. How much longer do they tell you, you will have to be treated?

Miss TEOLI. They don’t know.

CHAIRMAN. They do not know?

Miss TEOLI. No.

CHAIRMAN. Are you working now?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN. How much are you getting?

Miss TEOLI. $6.55.

CHAIRMAN. Are you working in the same place where you were before you were hurt?

Miss TEOLI. No.

CHAIRMAN. In another mill?

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

CHAIRMAN. What mill?

Miss TEOLI. The Wood Mill.

CHAIRMAN. The what?

Miss TEOLI. The Wood Mill.

CHAIRMAN. Were you down at the station on Saturday, the 24th of February?

Miss TEOLI. I work in a town in Massachusetts, and I don’t know nothing about that.

CHAIRMAN. You do not know anything about that?

Miss TEOLI. No, sir.

CHAIRMAN. How long did you go to school?

Miss TEOLI. I left when I was in the sixth grade.

CHAIRMAN. You left when you were in the sixth grade?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN. And you have been working ever since, except while you were in the hospital?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

Mr. CAMPBELL. Do you know the man who came to your father and offered to get a certificate that you were 14 years of age?

Miss TEOLI. I know the man, but I have forgot him now.

Mr. CAMPBELL. You know him, but you do not remember his name now?

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

Mr. CAMPBELL. Do you know what he did; what his work was?

Miss TEOLI. No.

Mr. CAMPBELL. Was he connected with any of the mills?

Miss TEOLI. I don’t know.

Mr. CAMPBELL. Is he an Italian?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

Mr. CAMPBELL. He knew your father well?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

Mr. CAMPBELL. Was he a friend of your father?

Miss TEOLI. No.

Mr. CAMPBELL. Did he ever come about your house visiting there?

Miss TEOLI. I don’t know.

Mr. CAMPBELL. I mean before he asked about your going to work in the mills?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

Mr. CAMPBELL. He used to come to your house and was a friend of the family?

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

Mr. CAMPBELL. You are sure he was not connected or employed by some of the mills?

Miss TEOLI. I don’t know, I don’t think so.

Mr. CAMPBELL. Do they go around in Lawrence there and find little girls and boys in the schools over 14 years of age and urge them to quit school and go to work in the mills?

Miss TEOLI. I don’t know.

Mr. CAMPBELL. You don’t know anything about that?

Miss TEOLI. No.

Mr. CAMPBELL. Do you know of any little girls besides yourself, who were asked to go to work as soon as they were 14?

Miss TEOLI. No, I don t know; no.

Mr. HARDWICK. Are you one of the strikers?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

Mr. HARDWICK. Did you agree to the strike before it was ordered; did they ask you anything about striking before you quit?

Miss TEOLI. No.

Mr. HARDWICK. But you joined them after they quit?

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

Mr. HARDWICK. Why did you do that?

Miss TEOLI. Because I didn’t get enough to eat at home.

Mr. HARDWICK. You did not get enough to eat at home?

Miss TEOLI. No.

Mr. HARDWICK. Why didn’t you propose a strike yourself, then?

Miss TEOLI. I did.

Mr. HARDWICK. I thought you said you did not know anything about the strike until after it started. How about that? Did you know there was going to be a strike before they did strike?

Miss TEOLI. No.

Mr. HARDWICK. They did not consult with you about that?

Miss TEOLI. No.

Mr. HARDWICK. You did not agree to strike?

Miss TEOLI. No.

Mr. HARDWICK. You were not a party to it, to begin with?

Miss TEOLI. No.

Mr. HARDWICK. Was not the reason you went into it because you were afraid to go on with your work?

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

Mr. HARDWICK. You say that was the reason?

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

Mr. HARDWICK. Now, did you see any of the occurrences — any of the riots during this strike?

Miss TEOLI. No.

Mr. HARDWICK. You did not see any of the women beaten, or anything like that?

Miss TEOLI. No.

Mr. HARDWICK. You did not see anybody hurt or beaten or killed, or anything like that?

Miss TEOLI. No.

Mr. HARDWICK. Did you come down to the depot with the children who were trying to go away?

Miss TEOLI. I am only in the town in Massachusetts, and I don’t come down to the city.

Mr. HARDWICK. So you did not see any of that?

Miss TEOLI. No.

Mr. HARDWICK. You do not know anything about those things at all?

Miss TEOLI. No.

Mr. HARDWICK. You struck after the balance had struck and were afraid to go on with your work?

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

Mr. LENROOT. There is a high school in Lawrence, isn’t there?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

Mr. LENROOT. And some of your friends—boys and girls—go to the high school?

Miss TEOLI. I don’t know.

Mr. LENROOT. None that you know are going to the high school?

Miss TEOLI. No.

Source: Hearings on the Strike at Lawrence, Massachusetts, House Document No. 671, 62nd Cong., 2nd sess. Reprinted in Joyce L. Kornbluh, ed. Rebel Voices: An I.W.W. Anthology (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1964), 181–184.