Hard Times Cotton Mills Girls, Excerpt 2
The [textile] industry's growth was based on a vastly expanding number of women
and children in the mills. In the four textile states in 1890, men formed only
35 percent of the work force, women made up 40 percent, and children between
the ages of ten and fifteen made up 25 percent. A seventy-hour workweek earned
about $2.50 in 1885 and slightly less in 1895. At the same time profits were
phenomenal. According to historian Broadus Mitchell, "It was not unusual . . .
in these years to make 30 to 70 percent profit.” . . .
Lower wages and longer hours accounted for cheaper cotton manufacturing in the
South. Southern states permitted night work for women, and the eleven-hour
workday six days a week and twelve-hour worknight five nights a week were
In the South, children of fourteen could, by law, work the same hours as adults,
but at the Amazon mill, children started to work at a much younger age. . . .
These children, who might have worked a sixty-four hour workweek, were allowed
to keep maybe twenty-five cents of their wages, if any, after household
expenses were taken care of. Many children looked forward to becoming of age to
work in the mill as a way of getting out of the hot and back-breaking work of
farming, while others preferred to remain on the farm. The choice, however, was
not theirs to make. If it had been, all the women I talked to would have chosen
to be in school.
Victoria Byerly, Hard Times Cotton Mill Girls. Personal Histories of Womanhood
and Poverty in the South (Ithaca, N.Y.: ILR Press, 1986), pp. 43–45.
Educational Resource Materials, Levine Museum of the New South, 2003. www.