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Interview conducted as part of the Crafted with Pride project, which documented residents of Gaston County's mill village communities. Madge McLain of Gaston County (born 1903) talks about her years teaching in mill village schools in Ranlo and Cramerton in the 1920s. She started teaching at Ranlo the year she graduated from Winthrop College (1923). She and the other teachers at the mill lived together in a “teacherage” next door to the school. She earned seventy dollars a month and paid twenty-five a month for board. Mr. A.C. Warlick was the principal, and his family lived in the first row of houses in the mill village along with overseers and other management families. McLain taught the high school students. She describes the residents of the mill village in vivid detail, especially the families who lived in the community’s back rows and were the poorest – the ones who “came down out of the mountains” because of poverty and even starvation in their home counties. All mill workers lived in five-room houses with front and back porches and gardens out back. Each room had one light bulb in the ceiling, and families paid 25 cents a month for that electricity. They had wood or oil stoves. She describes these poorest families from the mountains as being shy (“hesitant to reveal anything”), almost entirely uneducated, and tremendously defensive – very sensitive, especially, to any criticism of their children. She says they were good people, though, who instilled in the children respect for teachers and preachers, so discipline was never a problem. One problem McLain discusses concerning these workers from the mountains is severe health issues. Head lice was a constant problem, and the families (the women especially) suffered from pellagra until they introduced more fresh vegetables into their families’ diets. McLean also mentions tuberculosis, epilepsy, hookworm, and some “deformities” as problems. She says the county nurse would visit once a month, and also vaccinated children for smallpox. McLean enjoyed her work, and got on well with the children and their parents. She says teachers had to visit each student’s home every six weeks to two months, in part to keep an ongoing census of how many children there were at home who should be in school. At the best of times, she indicates, school attendance was casual, and tardies were not noted. She gives one vivid anecdote of a teenage girl who only came two days a week to school, who confessed that she was the oldest of many children and both parents had to leave home before sunrise to go to their mill jobs so she had to get the younger children up and fed and ready for school, and wait with the infants for a helper to arrive to take over. Popular teachers like McLean were often invited to have meals with students’ families, and occasionally were given “fruit rolls” by their students (who would roll fresh fruits on the floor up to the teacher when her back was turned, as gifts; the teacher would not know who had rolled what piece). McLean touches upon many other interesting details, including some of the mountain peoples’ teenagers attending school for the first time (one pupil was a year older than she); what life in the teacherage was like; the principal’s reward of a box of candy to every teacher who got friendly enough with a mill family to get a dinner invitation; the “rainy day schedule” whereby school was dismissed at noon in bad weather, so children wouldn’t catch cold from sitting in wet clothing all day; the popularity of school dramas and operettas, written and performed by the students themselves; the ordering and delivery of ice and groceries from the mill store (to be paid for twice a month); picnics, wiener roasts, and hayrides as the favorite social events (though there were movies and a swimming pool in town which families also went to when they could); local churches (she mentions Mr. Dulin at Cramerton); everyone’s being paid every other Friday with silver dollars, to make robbery from the pay office more difficult than if they used paper currency; and Christmas celebrations.





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