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

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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.
Format: lesson plan
Old Gilliam Mill
Located on Big Pocket Creek, the mill was built by Howell and John Gilliam in 1856. It is one of the largest grist and cotton mills in Central North Carolina.
Format: article/field trip opportunity
White Oak Cotton Mills (postcard)
White Oak Cotton Mills (postcard)
Postcard shows the White Oak Cotton Mills (a division of Greensboro-based Cone Mills) and several houses in the mill village. A river runs between the mill and the village.
Format: image/ephemera
Gastonia Cotton Mill
Gastonia Cotton Mill
Format: image/photograph
The Alamance Cotton Mill
In Antebellum North Carolina, page 4.7
In 1837, Edwin Holt founded the Alamance Cotton Mill, which began the industrial development of Alamance County. The mill produced the first colored fabrics in the South, including the popular "Alamance Plaid."
Format: article
Textile mills in North Carolina, 1896
Textile mills in North Carolina, 1896
Map shows locations of North Carolina cotton and woolen mills, 1896. Counties are drawn with present-day boundaries for reference.
Format: image/map
Some of the larger spinners in Catawba Cotton Mills, Newton, N.C.
Some of the larger spinners in Catawba Cotton Mills, Newton, N.C.
Format: image/photograph
Making yarn in a cotton mill
Making yarn in a cotton mill
A worker at White Oak Mills in Greensboro, North Carolina, makes yarn.
Format: image/photograph
Two young spinners in Catawba Cotton Mills.
Two young spinners in Catawba Cotton Mills.
In this sepia photograph taken in December of 1908, a young girl with her hair pulled back is seen standing at a spinning machine in a textile mill.There is cotton lint on the wooden floor boards under the machines. Two women can be seen working at the spinning...
Format: image/photograph
Loray Cotton Mill
Loray Cotton Mill
Caption reads "Gastonia, N.C. Loray Cotton Mill (57,000 Spindles)."
Format: image/illustration
Ending child labor in North Carolina
In The Great Depression and World War II, page 2.1
The movement to ban child labor began in the early 1900s and slowly turned the tide of public opinion. As mill work changed in the 1920s, mills employed fewer children. North Carolina finally regulated child labor in 1933.
Format: article
Child labor
In North Carolina in the early 20th century, page 7.1
In North Carolina History: A Sampler, page 7.7
Slideshow Lewis Hine, photographer for the National Child Labor Committee, documented child labor across...
Format: article
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.
Format: lesson plan
By Dayna Durbin Gleaves.
New machine shop in Plymouth, N.C.
In North Carolina in the New South, page 2.11
Broadside advertisement for a machine shop opening in Plymouth, North Carolina, in 1880. Includes historical commentary.
Format: advertisement/primary source
Commentary and sidebar notes by L. Maren Wood.
White Oak Cotton Mills: Notice!
White Oak Cotton Mills: Notice!
NOTICE! Prizes will be awarded as usual this year for the best front yards and neatest kept premises. In planting vines and shrubbery at the various houses, the company does not mean or intend to take the control or arrangement of the front yards...
Format: image/poster
Life on the land: The Piedmont before industrialization
In North Carolina in the New South, page 1.1
In the decades after the Civil War, commercial agriculture and industry made their way into the North Carolina Piedmont, requiring subsistence farmers to adapt their farms and their ways of life to new economic realities.
Format: article
By James Leloudis and Kathryn Walbert.
Industrialization in North Carolina
In North Carolina in the New South, page 2.3
In North Carolina History: A Sampler, page 2.7
Industrialization needed five things -- capital, labor, raw materials, markets, and transportation -- and in the 1870s, North Carolina had all of them. This article explains the process of industrialization in North Carolina, with maps of factory and railroad growth.
Format: article
By David Walbert.
Life in the mill villages
In North Carolina in the New South, page 3.3
By 1900, more than nine-tenths of textile workers lived in villages owned by the companies that employed them. Mill villages included stores, churches, and schools, but workers found ways to avoid too much dependence on their employers.
Format: article
By James Leloudis and Kathryn Walbert.
Alice P. Evitt oral history excerpt (cotton mills)
Alice P. Evitt was born in 1898 and began working at the cotton mills near Charlotte, North Carolina in 1910 when she was 12 years old. She worked 12 hours a day, every day except Sunday, and earned 25 cents a day for her work. Here, she talks about the management’s...
Format: audio/interview
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.
Format: lesson plan (grade 8–12 Social Studies)
By Dayna Durbin Gleaves.