Friday, January 25, 2013

Demand-led Employment Growth in the Mills

My friend Marie (name change) and I were chatting about our youth around (but not in) the millyards, textile and otherwise, of Manchester NH in the 40s or thereabouts.  Marie threw in one great story I had not heard before:
Why there were so many three decker homes on both sides of the [Merrimac] River, owned by Amoskeag Corporation?  These homes were purchased at a very reasonable price if   the owner met the agreement to bring down two  more families from Canada to work in the mills....
 Makes sense to me--demand-led employment growth in the textile industry.  I do remember that the mill population in our day was (or so I thought)_ heavily French Canadian: they used to say that the Friday night traffic on the road back towards Trois Riviers (Quebec) was so thick you could hardly move.  

I told Marie about my own grandmother who was left a widow with seven kids.  I never her knew her; she died the year I was born, perhaps of exhaustion. Of her seven children, the oldest three had to quit school and go to  work early.  Of the seven, all who survived through adulthood (two died early) went on to useful and productive lives.   "At least my children never worked in the mills" their mother is said to have said.  Not that mill work was beneath their dignity--just that it was grinding, implacable and unremunerative.  Marie, resisting the impulse to deliver a bitch slap, responds with a story about  Roland (name change), her husband of 50-plus years:

Roland worked in the mills right after high school in order to pay for his schooling, and help support his parents, as his mom had a brain tumor, and couldn't work at Leavitt's dept store, and had a little sister.  He'd go to school at NH School of Accounting located up over a fruit store on Hanover St. (eight in his graduating class)  owned my Mr & Mrs. Shapiro.     Well anyhow he'd attend class from 8  - 1 PM...then head to a beef company to work on their accounting books.  At 3 PM he'd leave for the dye mill  until 11PM..that job was easy, so he could study.  He just had to keep an eye on the pressure gauge or some machine.  Then at home of course  at 11 PM he had to call me right away every night--then fold laundry and off to bed.
"So he quickly learned," says Marie, "mill work wasn't for him"  Copy that, but it sounds to me like that Marie got a keeper.

For optional reading:  Marie recommends Hareven and Langenbach, Amoskeag: Life and Work in an American Factory-City.

There's a wonderful summary of the early history of labor in the mills, in Atack and Pasell, A New Economic View of American History (a favorite; why doesn't somebody do a new edition?)--at 175-190.  I just now notice that they include a reference (at 182) to my old college roommate. Robert B. Zevn--this guy.  Yo, Bob!

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