K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education


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About this recording

From oral history interview with Ila Hartsell Dodson, May 23, 1980. Interview H-0241. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).

Date created
May 23, 1980
This recording copyright ©2004. All Rights Reserved
Original audio housed by Documenting the American South / UNC Libraries

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  • Cotton mills from differing perspectives: Critically analyzing primary documents: In this lesson, students will read two primary source documents: a 1909 pamphlet exposing the use of child labor in the cotton mills of North Carolina, and a weekly newsletter published by the mill companies. Students will also listen to oral history excerpts from mill workers to gain a third perspective. In a critical analysis, students will identify the audiences for both documents, speculate on the motivations of their authors, and examine the historical importance of each document.
  • Children at work: Exposing child labor in the cotton mills of the Carolinas: In this lesson, students will learn about the use of child labor in the cotton mills of the Carolinas during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They will learn what life was like for a child worker and then write an investigative news report exposing the practice of child labor in the mills, using quotations from oral histories with former child mill workers and photographs of child laborers taken by social reform photographer Lewis Hine.

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Ila Hartsell Dodson was born in 1907 in South Carolina and began working in the Brandon Cotton Mill at age 14. Her mother, father, and all of her nine siblings worked for various cotton mills in North and South Carolina. She met her husband working in the mill, and spent all of her young life living in mill villages. Here, Ms. Dodson speaks about her strong desire to begin working, despite her parents’ hope that she will continue attending school.


Allen Tullos
And you say you had to get a permit.
Ila Hartsell Dodson
A worker’s permit. And Mama wouldn’t even take me to town to get it. My daddy wouldn’t go with me. And I said, “Well, give me the Bible, and give me a dime, and I’ll go get it.” Because a nickel streetcar fare up there and a nickel back. I went up to the City Hall, they called it — they’ve tore that old building down now; it’s got a big, nice building up there on Main Street—and I got the Bible because I had to prove my age. And I got that worker’s permit, and boy, I caught that next trolly home — a streetcar, there wasn’t no trolly, a streetcar — 5 cents up there and 5 cents back. But Mama did give me the dime to ride.
Allen Tullos (interviewer)
Did they not want you to start work then?
Ila Hartsell Dodson
No, they done everything they could, but I like to worried them to death. I carried my money to school for three weeks to pay for my books. And the teacher said, “Ila, I want you to bring that book money tomorrow.” I said, “Yes, ma’am, I’ll bring it.” I had it right then in my pocket, but I didn’t want to give Mama’s money away, because I had a feeling I was going to win out. And I just worried her, and every time Papa’d come in from work I’d start on him again. I never will forget, he said, “Bertha, she’s going to run us crazy if we don’t let her go to work. If you’ll give her permission, I will.” And Mama said, “Well, I’ve got to have a little peace around here. Well, we’ll just let her go to work.” So I won out.
Allen Tullos (interviewer)
Why was it that you wanted to work so bad?
Ila Hartsell Dodson
I wanted to make my own money. I had done had two sisters go to work, you know, and I seen how they was having money, and so I couldn’t stand it no longer. But I’ve never regretted it.
Allen Tullos (interviewer)
Did your mother and father want you to go on to high school?
Ila Hartsell Dodson
They wanted me to go on to school, yes, but I couldn’t see that. Back then, they didn’t too many children go on to high school. It was just a common thing that when they’d get old enough, let them go to work.