Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2016/Spring/Section 023/The Hughes Family

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James C. Hughes
BornJames C. Hughes
31 January 1877
Barbour, Alabama
Died14 June 1939
Eufaula, Alabama
Other names"Doc"
OccupationCotton Mill Machinist/Loom Fixer
Drucie E. Hughes
BornDrucie E. Porter
25 September 1883
Died1 July 1958
Eufaula, Alabama
Other names"Dru"
OccupationCotton Mill Worker/President of the Women's Missionary Union


The Hughes were white, middle-class members of Cowikee Mill Village in Eufaula, Alabama. James C. Hughes was a Loom Fixer at the local cotton mill. His wife Drucie Porter Hughes was the President of the local chapter of the Women's Missionary Union (W.M.U.) and worked at the mill. They were the subjects of an interview for the Federal Writers' Project in 1938[1].


Early Life[edit]

James C. (“Doc”) Hughes was born in Barbour, Alabama on the 31st of January 1877, to James and Nancy Hughes. His wife, Drucie (“Dru”) Porter Hughes was born on the 25th of September 1883, in an unknown location. Mr. and Mrs. Hughes met while working at a small cotton mill in the late 1890’s. The date of their marriage is unknown.

Personal Life[edit]

When Dru Hughes' father (“Old man Porter”) died, the couple inherited his land to build on. Dru Hughes stopped working in the mill to take care of her three unnamed children – two boys and one girl. According to her husband, Dru Hughes “wouldn’t leave them babies for nothin’"[1]. However, when they were old enough to go to school, Mrs. Hughes returned to work”[1]. All three of their children were put through most of high school and were married[1].

When Mr. Hughes was promoted to a “loom fixer” at the mill, he started making 8 dollars per week. During the Federal Writer's Project interview, Mr. Hughes explained that he earned enough money to take care of his family, so Mrs. Hughes was able to stop working at the mill. At the local mill, workers threaded lint through their mouths and picked up the excess thread from the dirty floors. This combination led to an exposure to harmful bacteria and increased the chances of getting Tuberculosis. During Mr. Hughes' time at the mill, many people died from Tuberculosis.

Community Involvement and Work[edit]

The Hughes family was Baptist. Doc Hughes was a Deacon and one of his sons was the Secretary of the local Church. They were involved in many church activities and housed many visiting Preachers. In addition, Dru Porter was the president of the local chapter of the Women’s Missionary Union (WMU) and taught a Sunday school class. Doc Hughes was a member of the Men’s Club in their neighborhood.

Later Life[edit]

James C. Hughes died on the 14th of June 1939 in Eufaula, Alabama. Drucie Hughes died on the 1st of July 1958, in Eufaula, Alabama. The current whereabouts of their children is unknown.

Social Issues[edit]

Mill Villages:[edit]

The majority of mill employees lived in Mill Villages owned by textile companies.  Mill Villages typically included small houses for employees and their families, religious buildings, a school and a general store. The houses were small, poorly heated and rarely had substantial plumbing[2].  

Mill Villages allowed workers to be supervised by their employers, who paid for most community amenities. Members of the community were encouraged to join social clubs, sports teams, religious groups and participate in recreational activities. Typically, villages were uniform and did not allow for much self-expression. However, many Mill Villages had unions that defended workers rights and promoted creativity[2].  

Labor conditions for Cotton Mill Workers:[edit]

Mills relied on the labor of both men and women, and in larger mills they often employed children. Most mill employees worked either an eleven-hour day or a twelve-hour night. Mills had the longest working week of any significant manufacturing industry in the USA[3]. Alabama, in particular, had no restrictions on the number of hours spent working in a week. Nor did they have regulations on breaks. Often times, workers ate their meals during shifts. This was extremely dangerous and unsanitary and increased exposure to Tuberculosis. Usually, workers were permitted a 15-minute break during their entire twelve-hour shift. The work required employees to stand all day and pay close attention to the task at hand[2].

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious bacterial disease that affects the lungs. Bacterium spreads through airborne droplets, usually transferred when coughing or sneezing. Tuberculosis affected many lives in the early 1900s. According to Shanna Lewis of Colorado Public Radio, “In the 1940s the right cocktail of antibiotics was finally discovered and TB deaths in the US and other countries declined dramatically”[4]. Those most affected by the disease were lower class citizens, factory workers, and mill workers. The inadequate sanitation and poor ventilation of factories and mills added to the problem.

Child labor was common in cotton mills. In states where education was not required, children would drop out of school to work in mills. They chose work over an education. Often, the employees did not oppose children working in the mills. Sometimes poorer families wanted the employers to give their children more work and more money[3].

Women's Missionary Union (WMU):[edit]

The Women’s Missionary Union (WMU) was a product of the Southern Baptist Convention, held in Virginia in 1888. An assortment of women from twelve states came together to organize the Executive Committee of the Women’s Mission Societies. The Executive Committee of the Women’s Mission Societies later became known as the Women’s Missionary Union in 1890. When the WMU was created, the headquarters was established in Baltimore, Maryland and Annie Armstrong was elected as the first WMU secretary[5]. The WMU was, and still remains, a self-governing organization. It is a branch of the Southern Baptist Convention, yet is completely self-sustainable.

The original purpose of the WMU was to pray for Baptist missionaries around the United States. It also aimed to unify the Southern states’ missionary organizations. This improved collaboration between states. During the early 1900s, the Baptist Church was predominantly run by men, so the WMU allowed women to become involved in the church. The WMU was a popular outlet for Baptist women in the South during the Great Depression. Many women used the WMU to organize communal food drives and prayer meetings. They aimed to help members of their church survive the Great Depression. Members of the WMU also used their faith as a coping mechanism to get through the Depression[5].

In 1921, the WMU’s national headquarters relocated to Birmingham, Alabama and has since remained in that area. Approximately one million Protestant women are members of the WMU today. Today, the WMU aims to educate community members about Christian missions. According to the official website of the Women's Missionary Union, “Although originally geared towards women, girls, and preschoolers, both genders are active participants in WMU organizations and ministries today”[5].


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Interview of James C. Hughes by Gertha Couric, October 20, 1938, Series 1. Life Histories, 1936-1940 and undated. / Subseries 1.1. Alabama, Coll. 03709, The Southern Historical Collection at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Blanshard, Paul. Labor in Southern Cotton Mills. New York City: New Republic, Inc., 1927. PDF eBook.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Johnson, Amanda. n.d. “Life in Southern Mill Villages, 1900s.” In Joyner Library, East Carolina University. http://www.ecu.edu/cs-lib/reference/instruction/millvillages.cfm.
  4. Lewis, Shanna. “How Tuberculosis Fueled Colorado’s Growth.” Colorado Public Radio, October 2, 2015. http://www.cpr.org/news/story/how-tuberculosis-fueled-colorados-growth.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Johnson, C. (2015). History of WMU. Retrieved from http://www.wmu.com/index.php?q=history-wmu