Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2015/Fall/Section 018/Della Connor

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Della Connor
Born1907
Danville, Virginia, U.S.
Diedunknown
OccupationCotton Spinner
SpouseRoy Connor

Della Connor (1907—?) was a cotton mill worker in Danville, Virginia, an American "company town".[1]


Biography[edit]

Early Life[edit]

Connor was born in Danville, Virginia in 1907. Beginning at age sixteen, Connor worked as a loom operator at Dan River Mills (also called Riverside Mills). During this time, Dan River Mill Co. was among the largest textile companies in the American South.[2][3]

Marriage[edit]

Connor (whose maiden name is unknown) married Roy Connor around 1927, though the exact date is unknown.[4] For a brief period after her marriage to Roy Connor, the couple lived on a farm outside Danville.[5] After an untreated spinal injury left Roy severely disabled, the Connors were eventually forced to leave their farm and return to Danville.[6]

Middle Life and Working at the Mill[edit]

Connor represented a minority of laborers able to hold steady employment throughout the Great Depression.[7] By her own testimony, Connor was grateful for the hours she was able to work at Dan River Mills despite the sometimes-harsh working conditions.[8]

Dan River Textiles building, today closed.
View of the Dan River, the main energy source for the Dan River Mills

Despite a dramatic decrease in the availability of work during the Great Depression, Connor's skill as a loom operator allowed her to better weather cuts: "Working nine frames meant deadly concentration and high speed. Della could work fast and she was accurate. That meant A-1 rating at the mill and she was always among the last to be laid off" [9] It is likely that Connor's wealth of experience helped her avoid the difficult financial situation of many mill workers. "After I got learned, I could make anywheres from thirteen to fourteen dollars a week, working six days a week. Right smart wages that was, come to think of it. But — the work was a sight harder then than 'tis now over at Riverside." [10]

Children[edit]

Together with her husband Roy Connor, Della Connor raised two daughters, Hallie and Francis.[11] Unlike many families who encouraged their children to enter the workforce as soon as possible, Della Connor insisted on education for her daughters Hallie and Frances, [12]

Connor's date and place of death are unknown.

Context[edit]

Company Town[edit]

Company towns housed workers of local industry and were often owned by the same corporation that employed their residents. Sometimes called corporate paternalism, company towns forced workers to rely on their employer for all their needs.[13] Many company towns provided health care, education, recreational facilities, and other infrastructure to their residents. However, they were also criticized for using welfare as leverage against their workers during negotiations.[14]

At their peak, over 2,500 company towns existed in the United States.[15] Amid the reforms of the New Deal, the Federal Government began to scrutinize company towns and their often adversarial relationship toward their workers.[16]

Company towns had reputation for exploiting their workers. Workers generally had to buy goods from a "company store" with a currency called "scrip". Scrip was marked like U.S. currency, but was under complete control of the issuing company. Goods at the company store usually carried a 10-15% premium over their free-market equivalents, while scrip was undervalued by about 10-15% at outside shops.[17] Workers also lived in mostly identical homes, which they were prohibited from ever buying (so they could be evicted on short notice).[18]

Mill Workers in the Depression[edit]

Most industry during the time period suffered economically. Dan River Mills, for example, lost over $1 million in 1938, its worst financial year ever.[19] Many mill workers lost their jobs or had to work fewer hours.[20]

Working conditions for mill workers had improved in the South because of a 1931 law that prohibited shifts over eight hours and workers under sixteen years of age.[21] This might have created demand for more workers, because people could not work as much as they had in the past. However, the economic downturn of the Great Depression meant most mill workers saw a decline in their working hours beyond those mandated by the law. Furthermore, investments in new technology (like those at the Dan River Mill Co.) represented an effort on the part of mills to replace their workers with more sophisticated machines.[22][23]

Amid declining hours, wages, and working conditions, textile workers across the South declared a strike in 1934.[24] Deep into the Depression, the United Textile Worker's Union had called on its members to walk out of their mills and demand reform. Over 300,000 workers around the country participated in the strike.[25]

References[edit]

  1. Taylor, Tess. "The Price of Rebellion." The New York Times, June 1, 2013.
  2. Morrissett, Pearl. "Interview of Mrs. Della Connor." Federal Writers Project (May 1939). http://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/03709/id/1325, 5.
  3. Smith, Robert S. Mill on the Dan, 295. Duke University Press, 1960.
  4. Connor was born in 1907 and is interviewed with multiple children. Inferring from her biography, she was likely married around 1927.
  5. Morrissett, Pearl. "Interview of Mrs. Della Connor." Federal Writers Project (May 1939): 7.
  6. Morrissett, Pearl. "Interview of Mrs. Della Connor." Federal Writers Project (May 1939): 7.
  7. Wandersee Bolin, Winifred D. "The Economics of Middle-Income Family Life: Working Women During the Great Depression."The Journal of American History 65, no. 1 (June 1978): 61.
  8. Morrissett, Pearl. "Interview of Mrs. Della Connor." Federal Writers Project (May 1939): 2.
  9. Morrissett, Pearl. "Interview of Mrs. Della Connor." Federal Writers Project (May 1939). 2.
  10. Morrissett, Pearl. "Interview of Mrs. Della Connor." Federal Writers Project (May 1939).
  11. Morrissett, Pearl. "Interview of Mrs. Della Connor." Federal Writers Project (May 1939): 1.
  12. Morrissett, Pearl. "Interview of Mrs. Della Connor." Federal Writers Project (May 1939): 2.
  13. Green, Hardy. Company Town : The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy. Boulder, CO, USA: 2-3, 57.
  14. Green, Hardy. Company Town : The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy. Boulder, CO, USA: 3.
  15. Green, Hardy. Company Town : The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy. Boulder, CO, USA: 3.
  16. Green, Hardy. Company Town : The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy. Boulder, CO, USA: 6.
  17. Green, Hardy. Company Town : The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy. Boulder, CO, USA: 57-58
  18. Green, Hardy. Company Town : The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy. Boulder, CO, USA: 58.
  19. Smith, Robert S. Mill on the Dan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1960: 350.
  20. Green, Hardy. Company Town : The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy. Boulder, CO, USA: 100.
  21. Green, Hardy. Company Town : The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy. Boulder, CO: 100.
  22. Smith, Robert S. Mill on the Dan. Durham, NC: 333-335.
  23. Green, Hardy. Company Town : The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy. Boulder, CO, USA: 100-101.
  24. Green, Hardy. Company Town : The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy. Boulder, CO, USA: 103
  25. Green, Hardy. Company Town : The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy. Boulder, CO, USA: 103-104.