Textile Mill Workers
I received your letter on Thursday the 14th with much pleasure. I am well, which is one comfort. My life and health are spared while others are cut off. Last Thursday one girl fell down and broke her neck, which caused instant death. She was going in or coming out of the mill and slipped down, it being very icy. The same day a man was killed by the [railroad] cars. Another had nearly all of his ribs broken. Another was nearly killed by falling down and having a bale of cotton fall on him. Last Tuesday we were paid. In all I had six dollars and sixty cents paid $4.68 for board. With the rest I got me a pair of rubbers and a pair of 50 cent shoes. Next payment I am to have a dollar a week beside my board...
I think that the factory is the best place for me and if any girl wants employment, I advise them to come to Lowell.
Excerpt from a Letter from Mary Paul, Lowell mill girl, December 21, 1845.
Knoxville, Tennessee, January 20, 1937
I am addressing this letter to you, because I believe you will send it to the proper department for right consideration.
The labor conditions at the Appalachian Cotton Mills here are worse than miserable—they are no less than slavery. The mill has only two shifts, day and night shifts, and each of them 10 hours long. The scale of wages is very low, and the mill is a veritable sweatshop. None of the women workers know what they are making, until they draw their pay check at each weekend, and their wages is not sufficient for them to live on.
The mill should have 3 eight hour shifts, or two 8 hour shifts with a considerable increase in their wages. The women and men too, draw from $4.00 to $12.00 per week. Mr. Roosevelt, men can not live on such wages as this, and feed even a small family. Such conditions as these are worse than coercion, it will force men and women to steal, and it surely is not good Americanism. Am I to think that this great big civilization is going to stand for such intolerable conditions as these I have mentioned above. I believe sir, that they are worse than criminal. Such conditions bring sufferings to the unfortunate poor, that have to reek out a miserable existence without even a slaves opportunity to attend worship on the Lord’s day. It will take sharp detection to get the facts from this mill, but someone should see to it, that the long hours and short wages be put to an end. If the workers were to rebel against these unfair, and unamerican conditions, then the authorities would pronounce them Reds, or communists. The women have asked me to write this letter to you, because they believe you would remedy the conditions, and lighten their burdens. Now that I have wrote it I have used the fifth chapter of St. James in the N.T. [New Testament] as a base for the letter, which is literally fulfilling every minute.
Let us hope for the best.
R. H. O.
Burlington, North Carolina, March 4, 1937