LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

photograph of cotton mill workers

A “Group of Southern Cotton Mill Operatives” photographed in the 1890s. About the photograph

Rural people who moved from farm to factory faced a difficult transition. Work in tobacco and textile mills was hard and dangerous, and it involved entire families, just as farm work had. Many of these workers lived in mill villages owned by the companies that employed them, and they created new communities and new ways of supporting one another. But low pay, long hours, and dangerous working conditions also led them to begin thinking about organizing into labor unions. In this chapter, we’ll read — and hear — the stories of some of those workers, and we’ll evaluate their lives, their work, and how they adapted.