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The audio on this tape is very soft and difficult to discern. Interview conducted as part of the Crafted with Pride project, which documented residents of Gaston County's mill village communities. Ruby Eldridge of East Gastonia describes life in several mill villages where she worked. At the Victory Mill village she attended the village’s four-year school, which she says gave everyone a good basic education, “enough to get by,” and where discipline was commendably strict. A younger sister of hers was able to get extra schooling and eventually got an office job at the mill. Eldridge’s first job was when she was 14 as a spinner for 10 cents an hour, and her paycheck went to her father. (She has one anecdote of trying to trick her father once in terms of her wages and getting caught and punished for it.) Spinning involved completing 11 sides to a frame. When you came on your shift you would pick up where a previous spinner had left off. Her family of nine lived in three rooms of a five-room house in the village there, with another couple occupying the other two rooms. Weekly rent for their three rooms was $2.50 a week, which included lights and water. She estimates that there were between 150 to 500 people employed at a time at the various mills where she worked, and almost everyone lived in the villages in company housing. People could fix their houses up if they were inclined, and the company paid for paint, lumber, and other materials. Eldridge says it was a good but simple life; much easier than for young families starting out now. She emphasizes that everyone in the villages knew each other and helped each other out in times of need, even sitting with sick people around the clock to help family members, and that personal relations between labor and management were much better than they are nowadays. There was no health insurance, but doctors and medicines were cheap, and everyone tended to stay healthy. She describes losing part of her finger in an accident at work, and admires the company for having paid her five dollars compensation and given her a new task to perform which was easier (sitting down and repairing pieces that had been badly made). She has one anecdote about a woman who allegedly received an electrical shock at work and sued the company unsuccessfully; she kept her job but was ostracized. After Ruby was married she and her husband managed to buy their four-bedroom house (at the Hillcrest Mill, possibly -- unclear) from the company for seven hundred dollars on credit. She recalls some efforts by organizers to unionize the mill workers, but these efforts failed because the workers weren’t interested. She says at one point a group of them wrote a letter to Congressman Broyhill telling him they were anti-union. Based, presumably, on what she’d heard from unionized mills elsewhere, she felt that unions tended to make people nervous and mistrustful of each other. Two highlights of the mill village year were the Fourth of July, when the company staged a huge picnic for the residents of its different villages, complete with barbecuing hogs and staging a greased pole climbing contest, and Christmas, when the company gave everyone in the villages big bags of fresh fruit. People did most of their shopping at company stores, on credit, and in one of the villages where she lived one would buy books of stamps for either one or five dollars to use as scrip (up to the equivalent of one week’s pay). She is proud of the fact that as a former mill employee of J.P. Stevens (timing not specified) she has a lifetime discount card she can use to buy sheets, towels, and other textile goods at the company store in South Carolina.





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