Cotton Mill Women — Sheila Ingle
Today I’m happy to welcome author Sheila Ingle as she shares about the history behind her story. Read through to the end to find out how to enter to win a copy of her book, “Tales of a Cosmic Possum”.
Cotton mills in North and South Carolina hit a boom in the late nineteenth century, and hundreds of mills were built. They advertised for workers from the mountains and the farms. Employment benefits were posted, and company men visited homes to encourage families to move to the mill villages. Mill workers were promised a home, a school for their children, and a weekly pay check. For those, bound to worn-out farms, a mill village sounded like the “promised land.” They traded a lifestyle governed by the seasons to a lifestyle controlled by a mill whistle.
Adjusting to life in mill villages was not easy. Work hours were long, and the jobs were difficult. Women worked as spinners or weavers. A twelve-hour shift started at 6:00 A.M. or 6:00 P.M. Sundays were days to catch up with the garden, mending, sewing, canning, and cleaning; there were few empty hours.
Because their education was usually interrupted during third grade to start work, most women could write their names, as well as read and figure a little. As the girls stood on the edge of the spinning frames to reach the rows of spindles, their mothers modelled and taught the future cotton spinners beside them.
Would you believe that women held the majority of jobs in the textile mills? They performed the tasks that required prolonged concentration and manual dexterity.
Women walked to work and took their lunch. They wore homemade dresses, made out of feed or flour sacks, an apron, and knitted sweaters. Their white socks and solid oxfords came from the mill’s company store. In one apron pocket were scissors to cut the slubs of knotted thread and tie off the ends of the thread at their spot in the spinning room. Hankies, a box of snuff, and a wooden brush to clean their teeth were in the other pocket. Folded carefully was a paper poke on top of the handkerchiefs that held sandwiches, and perhaps an apple, for lunch.
Though the cavernous mill rooms were unheated, overhead pipes sprayed steam in the air to keep down the lint from the cotton. Twelve hours standing on their feet, breathing in lint, monotonously moving thread in a deafening roar of clacking machines was a quite a job for a girl or a woman.
Read more about women’s lives in the mill villages in my book, Tales of a Cosmic Possum.
Readers, leave a comment below to enter for a chance to win a copy of “Tales of a Cosmic Possum”.
About the book:
Tales of a Cosmic Possum is a group of short stories based on the history of eight women in my husband’s family who worked in the cotton mills of SC. They worked together in the mills, shared their gardens, attended church, and enjoyed the playing and singing of the songs from the Grand Ole Opry. When five of the brothers went off to war, those who couldn’t fight took care of their families. The Ingles stuck together, just like they were taught in the Appalachia.
“Be back directly, Tom,” Julie hollered into the house.
The weary wife shut the front door.
Locking it was unnecessary; no one secured their homes in the mill village of Cowpens, South Carolina in 1939.
Julie knew Tom didn’t notice her good-by. He missed so much, and not being able to hear isolated him. So often, she wished there was a contraption to help her husband perceive sounds again. If there were flying machines invented to fight a war, one of those smart scientists surely could create a much smaller device to amplify normal sounds. When Tom turned the radio volume up, Julie had to escape the deafening noise.
Just last year, in October of ‘38, Julie remembered how their neighbors sat and listened to that crazy actor scare half the country to death with his reading of The War of the Worlds. Sitting right next to their Philco radio on the kitchen table with the round button turned as far as it could go, Tom hung on to every word. She sat outside with their friends, the Hatchett and Thornton families, and they heard the chilling report of the Martian invasion loud and clear.
Inside the four-room house, Thomas Emory now nodded in his chair beside the stove. His father’s two canes lay beside him. On the table was a clean, orange ashtray, his tin of Sir Walter Raleigh’s tobacco, and a cup of strong, Cuban coffee. Julie bought the coffee at Dr. Till’s Drugstore; it was a special order, carried only for her veteran husband.
Sheila Ingle is a native South Carolinian. She is a graduate of Converse College and chose teaching as her profession. At USC Upstate, she taught English and education courses. Her two grandmothers instilled in her a love of history and storytelling, which led her into membership in lineage societies. Professing to be a late bloomer, she now is an author and writes about her state’s history. “Courageous Kate,” “Fearless Martha,” “Brave Elizabeth,” and “Walking With Eliza” are her four books for young readers about SC heroines during the Revolutionary War. The SCDAR awarded “Kate” a Historical Preservation Award. She enjoys leading writing workshops and speaking. “Tales of a Cosmic Possum” was chosen as a 2017 fall SIBA Okra Pick. Louise Penny, John Hart, and Jan Karon are three of her many favorite authors.