The Mill Work Our Grandmother Did

Children in the early 1900's working in the mills.
Children in the early 1900’s working in the mills.

My brother James “Ted” Theodore added this very informative and interesting information about our grandmother on a recent post 11-03-2022. Here is his information from talking with our grandmother and his own experience working in the very same mill as she did.

“I worked at the same mill, Dunean J.P. Stevens, as an Industrial Engineer. I often did job manuals, time studies and incentive systems for doffers in the Spinning department. I discussed the jobs with her and she gave me a lot of good insight as to what the job was like.

Unions were causing a lot of problems and anything management wanted to do was questioned by union representatives. Because of my talks with her, I realized I could not watch a job and understand it. So I came in off shift and learned how to spin and how to doff. I was not great at it but I understood how tiring it was. Because of that, I had great cooperation from the employees and the union evidently liked my approach.

During the 6 years I was an engineer there, I never had any of my work questioned. The other engineers were questioned weekly and had reviews with union reps regularly. During Grandmother King’s last years at Dunean, she was a spinner. This required a skilled move of her hands to attach a broken end of yarn back to the bobbin in a way that prevented or treated a weak spot while a “traveler” (a small weight on a ring) added a twist to the yarn. Fifty spindles created (filled) a bobbin, similar to a sewing machine spindle filling a bobbin but here there were fifty of them. Ten to sixteen machines were tended by one spinner. She had to be constantly walking a circuit to keep ends fed into the yarn being produced.

Grandmother King had a heart attack while I was working 3rd shift doing a time study. I arrived at the hospital that morning and she was in a coma. The doctor came in and we spoke a few minutes. I noticed her hands would jerk every few minutes and asked him if it was a muscle spasm. He said no, it was her subconscious … probably some motion or something she did a lot with her hands over the years.

I looked again…and she was putting up ends…just like she had for many many years. There were a lot of people I spoke with at Dunean that knew or remembered her…and all spoke very fondly of her. It was a different world back then. Work family was family. If someone’s house burned down…money was raised, people came from all over the mill village with tools donated supplies and they rebuilt it. Someone was sick…people raised money or sent food. They took care of each other. Seeing that made me feel we are all connected. As a world, we lost a lot of that and I hope we can return to that one day.”

(I had no idea how hard it was for her. She worked until she reached retirement age. (Except as I understand it, while our mother and her brother were young.)

6 thoughts on “The Mill Work Our Grandmother Did

  1. You’ve taken a great snapshot of early 20th century industrialized America from the remembrances of your brother, who appears as caring about work and people as you are. Bravo to him and your grandmother.
    Labor was hard and long and employed children, and women whose only protections were the Unions. Something we’ve forgotten today. I’m sure your grandmother worked very long days in addition to having the care of her family. That she died at work is telling of the hardships of 19th century labor. Another thing most people have forgotten (or maybe never knew) is it was a Democratic legislature who passed child labor laws, social security, Medicare, women’s right to vote and civil rights laws. All voted against by the Republican Party. Some things never change.


    1. Deb, actually she retired at whatever age retirement was back then. She enjoyed her retirement and then she met Papa King, who had a small farm, a mule, peacocks, strawberry patch, corn and she loved being on the farm and she loved Papa King.. She died when she was about 92. Several years after Papa King. Thank you for commenting. She could be quite a character.


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