Child labor in the cotton mills
The resources on this page are designed to help educators teach about what life was like for children working in the cotton mills of North Carolina in the early 20th century. Through these lessons, students will learn about child labor by listening to the oral histories of people who worked in these cotton mills as children.
The following resources and lesson plans have been provided by the University of North Carolina Libraries. To learn more about this topic, read the Child Labor in the Cotton Mills story from UNC Libraries.
- Children at work: Exposing child labor in the cotton mills of the Carolinas by Dayna Durbin Gleaves
- Grades 8-12 Social Studies
- 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.
- Cotton mills from differing perspectives: Critically analyzing primary documents by Dayna Durbin Gleaves
- Grades 9-12 English Language Arts and Social Studies
- 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.
- Labor unions in the cotton mills by Dayna Durbin Gleaves
- Grades 9-12 Social Studies
- In this lesson, students will learn about the labor union movement in the U.S., specifically the union influence on the cotton mills of North and South Carolina. Students will listen to oral histories from former mill workers explaining why they did or did not become involved with the union and then will be asked to make that decision themselves. They will provide an explanation for their decision by giving a speech to convince their classmates to join or not join, drawing on the oral histories and what they’ve learned.
- Take action: Working to stop child labor today
- Grades 9-12 Social Studies
- In this lesson, students will first learn about child labor in the cotton mills of North and South Carolina from the 1880s through the 1920s by listening to oral histories from former child mill workers. They will then research child labor in today’s world. Students will brainstorm and implement actions to stop child labor around the world, such as educating themselves and others about the issue, letter writing campaigns to governments and companies, and donating to organizations that work to stop child labor.