Academic journal article The Oral History Review

From Farm to Factory: Transitions in Work, Gender, and Leisure at Banning Mill, 1910-1930s

Academic journal article The Oral History Review

From Farm to Factory: Transitions in Work, Gender, and Leisure at Banning Mill, 1910-1930s

Article excerpt

Abstract This study explores new and traditional forms of leisure enjoyed by white southern rural millhands at Banning Mill between 1910 and the 1930s. As they moved from farm to factory, millhands experienced unfamiliar working conditions, changes in gender roles in and outside the home, and an increase in leisure time. While both farmers and millhands had opportunities to socialize, this study will compare traditional forms of entertainment available to farmers with similar and new recreations found in rural mill villages such as Banning Mill in Carroll County, Georgia.

A comparison of leisure activities also reveals new ways in which rural cotton millhands separated themselves in social settings. Gender divisions in village recreation reflect changing roles at home as men and women coped with the transition from farm to factory in different ways. Specific or individual interests created an atmosphere in which wives, husbands, teenagers, and children typically socialized with members of their own sex and age. Juxtaposing the ways in which men and women chose to spend their free time suggests husbands had a more difficult time adjusting to work and life in mill villages than their spouses or children.

Keywords: Mill towns, Banning Mill, Georgia, Leisure, Women Migration.


Few factories dotted the South's landscape at the eve of the Civil War. As the phoenix rose from the ashes, the dawn of the New South brought increased industrialization, and with it, changes in work and leisure for landless farmers. As white sharecroppers migrated to mill villages throughout the South, they were greeted with unfamiliar working conditions, changes in gender roles, challenges to patriarchal order, and above all, new forms of leisure. Farm families maintained traditional forms of secular and religious entertainment while taking advantage of an increase in free time to participate in new recreations, such as baseball games and company-sponsored events. Using Banning Mill, a pre-Civil war cotton mill located in rural west Georgia as an example, this essay explores the similarities and differences between traditional forms of entertainment on the farm and new ones available in rural mill villages throughout the Georgia Piedmont during the early twentieth century.

Examining the ways in which millhands used their leisure time provides insights on how individuals adapted to or dealt with the transition from farm to factory. A comparison of gendered social events reveals how men and women adjusted to life in mill villages in different ways. While wives continued to use their free time to care for neighbors or provide necessities for their families, husbands escaped from reality in less productive ways. The ways in which husbands and young men socialized hints at the difficulties they faced coping with the transition from farm to factory.

To date, historians have not discussed in depth the transition of southern yeomen and their families from farms to mill villages in terms of leisure. Two recent scholarly works, Like a Family and Plain Folk in the New South, include discussions about entertainment within mill villages, yet both regard social events as little more than traditional pastimes perpetuated in a new environment. (1) These studies conclude with little analytical insight into the important differences between leisure time on the farm and that of the factory. Although the authors pay equal attention to the factory work of male and female millhands, neither provides much insight into the leisure activities available in the mill community.

When discussing farm families, southern scholars mention little about activities outside the home. Perhaps this is because little happened outside the farm house or field. Visiting and attending church were the most common leisure activities mentioned. Southern historians often touch upon more topics than revivals, singings, and house parties, but not in great detail. …

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