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

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About this recording

From oral history interview with James Pharis and Nannie Pharis, December 5, 1978; January 8 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0039. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).

Date created
December 5, 1978
This recording copyright ©2004. All Rights Reserved
Original audio housed by Documenting the American South / UNC Libraries

See this recording in context

  • 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.

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In the classroom

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Nanny Pharis began working at age nine in the Spray Cotton Mill near Eden, NC. She and her older sisters worked for 25 cents per day. Here, she discusses the conditions in the mill, lunch breaks, and other details of work in the cotton mill.


Allen Tullos (interviewer)
You started working in 1901 or ‘02 when you were nine years old, and then worked until about 1930, in that one place.
Nannie Pharis
That’s right, 1930 in one place.
Allen Tullos (interviewer)
What do you remember about the working conditions in that mill?
Nannie Pharis
They was pretty good, the overseers and supervisors. Was real good, kind to you.
Allen Tullos (interviewer
Did you get tired working those hours?
Nannie Pharis
Sometimes. I didn’t weigh but about eighty-nine pounds, you see, and I could get about. I don’t think I ever got very tired.
Allen Tullos (interviewer)
Would there be ways you could rest during the day?
Nannie Pharis
Yes, if you caught up and didn’t have nothing to do you could sit down a few minutes and watch your work.
Allen Tullos (interviewer)
What would you do when you had a few minutes to sit down and rest? Would you talk to somebody else?
Nannie Pharis
Yes, we’d talk to one another. Maybe one in the next alley to me. They wasn’t very strict, you know. They looked after us, I think, real well, the supervisors and overseers.
Allen Tullos (interviewer)
Would you have a chance to eat?
Nannie Pharis
We got an hour for lunch.
Allen Tullos (interviewer)
Where would you go for lunch?
Nannie Pharis
Went home, because we lived close enough to go to the house. Was a pink bean sandwich be all we’d have. That’s the truth, I ain’t lying. Sometimes something better.