Mill Family: The Labor System in the Southern Cotton Textile Industry, 1880-1915

Mill Family: The Labor System in the Southern Cotton Textile Industry, 1880-1915

Mill Family: The Labor System in the Southern Cotton Textile Industry, 1880-1915

Mill Family: The Labor System in the Southern Cotton Textile Industry, 1880-1915

Synopsis

The growing cotton textile industry of the postbellum South required a stable and reliable work force made up of laborers with varied skills. At the same time, Southern agriculture was in a depressed state. Families, especially those with many children, were therefore forced to look for work in the textile mills. Mill managers, in their own interest, created the basis for a distinctive social and economic structure: the Southern cotton mill village. These villages, which included such accoutrements as good schools for the children, were paternalistic work environments designed to attract this desirable source of workers. This book examines the role of the family labor system in the early evolution of the postbellum Southern cotton textile industry, revealing how the mill village served as a focal point of economic and social cohesion as well as an institution for socializing and stabilizing its workers. The paternalism of the mill villages was not merely an instrument of capitalistic indoctrination, contends McHugh, but was shaped by market forces. McHugh employs a valuable body of archival material from the Alamance Mill, an important cotton textile mill in North Carolina, to illustrate her arguments.

Excerpt

The recruitment and utilization of a factory workforce for the southern cotton textile industry between 1880 and 1915 form the central subject of this book. Throughout the postbellum period, which saw the rise of a new cotton textile industry in the southern piedmont region, the labor force was composed mainly of members of families recently transferred to the mill villages from impoverished farms of the piedmont region. Both the source of factory labor and the patterns of labor organization differed from the earlier experience of textile firms in the northern states and created the basis for a distinctive social and economic structure--the southern cotton mill village. This book focuses chiefly upon the industrial developments in North Carolina and gives particular emphasis to the experience of the Alamance Mill as a representative case study. the internal logic and dynamics of the family labor system and of the form of mill village paternalism with which it came to be associated in the South are investigated and related to the problems encountered in securing a factory workforce in the southern piedmont region.

The new social history has been extended into the history of labor and the family. Recent research has stressed the significant influence exerted by culture, customs, and social institutions in shaping the labor process. According to Herbert Gutman . . .

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