Lesson Plan: Overview

Memories of a Mill Town


Grade Level: 3rd

Outside the Vaucluse Mill

Academic Standards

Social Studies Standard 3-5: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the major developments in South Carolina in the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century.

3-5.3 Summarize the changes in South Carolina’s economy in the twentieth century, including the rise and fall of the cotton/textile markets and the development of tourism and other industries.

Social Studies Literacy Elements

E. Explain change and continuity over time
H. Construct maps, graphs, tables, and diagrams to display social studies information

Essential Questions

1. How did the mills provide for families in the mill town?  
2. Why did families continue working in the textile mills despite poor working conditions? 
3. How did families cope with long hours and the hardships of mill life?

Historical Background Notes

South Carolina Mill Towns were an integral part of South Carolina’s economy and lives of its citizens following the Civil War during Reconstruction. Mills started to be built in the southern states of South Carolina, Alabama, North Carolina and Mississippi. Labor was cheap, and water power made it profitable. Since cotton was grown in the south, it could be processed where it grew and saved money on transporting it to farther mills. Many farmers moved to the mill towns during Reconstruction in search of a steady paycheck, since crops were wielding them less and less profit.

Children were a common sight in the mill factories, and many started working as early as 6 years old. Young children were often designated to work in the spinning rooms, and the more experienced children taught the newcomers the ins and outs of the job. If children attended school during the day, many would work in the mills after school hours. Work could be dangerous for the children since they were not tall enough to reach the machines. In an interview with James Pharis, he explained how at the age of eleven he smashed his hands in an elevator pulley. The mill company didn’t notify his family until hours later, and as a result of poor medical care his hand was disfigured ever since.

Children found ways to entertain themselves during the long working day. In the interview with Naomi Trammel, she states that the girls would use the leftover remnants of cloth wrapped on boards to slide down while the boss was away at lunch. Naomi also states that the girls found ways to slyly leave the mill to eat lunch elsewhere, and her fellow co-workers would cover for each other and do double the work while they were done.

A mill workers’ pay was desired because it was a steady one. Most mill workers were paid either weekly or bi-weekly. The hours were a 12 hour/ 6 days a week job. Jobs held by white men paid the most, followed by white women, blacks and then children. An average rate of pay was between $4.00-$7.00 a week. The pay was received by some in gold coins and could be traded in for goods at the mill stores. Unfortunately, the mill’s prices were inflated and much more than what could be purchased elsewhere. When employees transferred from one room to another, the rate of pay would increase.

The mill could be a dangerous place to work. Loud noises could cause deafness; high heat and humidity made them ill, causing tuberculosis and a disease nicknamed “brown lung”. Employees’ limbs could become dismembered in the fast moving machinery, or workers could be killed. No insurance or Worker’s compensation was offered during this time period.

Life in the mill villages centered around a sense of community. The majority of the mill workers walked to work. The mill usually included homes to be rented by the mill workers, one or more churches, a school and a company store. Families coped with the stress of mill working by holding dances that were hosted in a worker’s home. Mills also provided employees with social workers, recreational activities, clubs and educational activities. Sewing clubs, nurseries and mill baseball teams were created, but many employees felt these were ways to keep them connected and loyal to the mill. Mill workers were still allowed to keep small farm animals and grow gardens. The workers would also help each other in need by providing food or other necessities when they were down on their luck.

In all, the life of a mill worker was a hard-working and honest one. These citizens were trying to make a better life for themselves and moving on from the farm to the factory.

Cultural Institution Partner

South Caroliniana Library


Primary Sources

“Doffers at the Bibb Mill No. 1, Macon, Georgia.” Photograph. Collection of the National Archives and Records Service. Washington, DC. Photgraph taken by Lewis Hine, 1909.

ETV. When the Mill Closes Down. ETV Carolina Stories, 2006.

“Outside the Vaucluse Mill.” Photograph. Collection of University of South Carolina-Aiken Library. Gregg Archives, Photo Collection. Aiken, South Carolina, 1910.

Tullos, Allen, dir. James and Nannie Pharis Interview. December 5, 1978; January 8 and 30, 1979.

Tullos, Allen, dir. Naomi Trammel Interview. March 25, 1980.

“Unidentified Worker on the Job.” Photograph. Collection of University of South Carolina-Aiken Library. Gregg Archives, Photo Collection. Aiken, Suth Carolina, 2005.

Secondary Sources

South Carolina Cotton Museum. The History of Cotton. Virginia: The Donning Company Publishers, 2005.

“South Carolina’s Cotton Mills.” South Carolina Studies Weekly, Week 16, Section 1.

Social Studies Weekly newspaper #16
• Analyzing photograph graphic organizer
• Interpreting interview worksheet
• Pacolet Mill video, When the Mill Closes Down
• Photographs of mill workers and buildings in the mill village (see Primary Sources section above)
• Interview recordings of Naomi Trammel and James and Nannie Pharis

Lesson Plans

Day 1: Students will read Social Studies Weekly in whole group instruction and discuss/highlight reasons for families leaving farm life for the mill town experience. Students will also gain basic knowledge of hardships experienced by the mill workers.

Day 2: Students will be placed into groups of 3-4 students and given a random photo depicting the mill community or of working inside a textile mill. Several of these are photos taken by Lewis Hine. Students will be given 2 minutes to view the photograph and then will analyze the photograph for people, objects and activities. Based on the observations, students will infer what is taking place in the photograph and are encouraged to use their prior knowledge from the Social Studies Weekly newspaper to design their inference. Afterwards, they will write a question to research in the future.

Day 3: Students will listen to an interview with Naomi Trammel of Greenville, SC and her experience in the mills. Portions of a second interview with James and Nannie Pharis will be used to compare wages and community life experiences of life in a mill village. Students will complete the interview worksheet. Students will then view a ten minute video on the former mill of Pacolet, SC entitled When the Mill Closes Down. This documentary from ETV highlights first-hand recollections from former employees and residents of Pacolet Mill. The students will take any additional notes for use in their final assessment.

As a culminating activity, students will write a short essay from the point of view of a mill worker. They may assume the role of either an adult or child and must include information about their pay and hours, mill work, and family life in the mill community.

Teacher Reflections

Working with TAHSC has provided me with the opportunity to bring history to life with my students. As a fan of teaching 20th Century History, this opportunity has provided me with insightful methods and instructional materials to use in my classroom.

The course has influenced the way I use primary resources in several ways. First of all, I rarely used primary resources in my lessons. Usually I depended upon my students to bring in resources from home, such as photographs, articles, and magazines. Now that I teach third grade which revolves around South Carolina history, I am aware of the vast resources in our local community. I have used interviews and their transcripts with my students to teach about life in the mill villages and factories. The use of photographs is especially interesting to my third grade students. They have enjoyed analyzing pictures from after Reconstruction. They have even made the comment, “This is cool!” When discussing Ben Franklin on the Hundred Day of school, I even thought to bring a current version of a Farmer’s Almanac. Newspaper and reproductions of notices helped me explain the succeeding of South Carolina during the Civil War. These items I was able to purchase from the State Archives, which was one of my favorite locations. Sifting through boxes of old letters to the governor during the Great Depression gave me several ideas of how to incorporate these with my students. I will use some of these letters in my future lessons on the Great Depression and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Paul’s sessions with us enabled me to have a deeper understanding of American History. At times, the level of instruction was way beyond what I would ever use in a third grade classroom, but would fit better in teaching a high school setting. His information about life after Reconstruction was informative, and several parts I could explain to my students, especially about the changing over of parties between whites and blacks. His humor and easy going manner made it pleasurable to gain new information from him. I found the choice of novels interesting and appreciated the fact that they covered different geographic areas of our state. An improvement would be to include more information for elementary teachers as I felt the course was geared more toward middle and high school levels.

Preston and Mitchell’s lessons provided great information on Photo Story. I also will be incorporating some of the lessons using sound recordings in my classroom, such as the song about the Boll Weevil. I have used political cartoons before when I taught 5th grade, but I am still having a difficult time finding ones geared for younger students. When I can locate some, I will incorporate them and use the technique of analyzing them by quadrants. Their lessons were ones that I could modify to fit the needs of my students. The textile mill baseball teams were a subject I knew not much about. My students showed much interest in the subject when I showed them the newspaper articles and photographs that they shared with the class.

The cultural institution sessions that were most useful for my teaching were the McKissick Museum, South Carolina Confederate Relic Room, Lake Greenwood State Park, Kensington Mansion and South Carolina Department of Archives and History. I had never been to the McKissick Museum and found this museum to fit perfectly with our 4rd grade standards, even the floor with the science exhibits. We tried to include the museum in with a field trip to the State House, but because of our large class sizes this year and the State House’s lack of available dates, our 3rd grade team was unable to all go on the same or on 2 separate days. I will definitely try to incorporate the museum into a field trip next year. I also have never been to the SC Confederate room. Joe Long was interesting to hear, and I enjoyed seeing him take on the roles of the people he was lecturing about. I was glad to know they would offer some video guided tours but would love the students to actually be able to try on a uniform or a replica. The World War I exhibit that coincided with our visit gave a fantastic view into the time period. I even brought my own son in to view the exhibit. Lake Greenwood State Park, although a far ride, was informative. The interpretation of the New Deal by “Roosevelt” himself captured the audience’s attention. It sparked a notion to search for some period-inspired dress to introduce lessons. In fact, I even had attended a reenactment of a Revolutionary battle in Camden in hopes of obtaining some costumes of that time period. (They were way too pricey for my budget though). The museum at Lake Greenwood was very small, but our outdoor tour guide did a great job explaining the role of the CCC to the students. The Kensington Museum was another part of Americana I didn’t know existed. The outdoor kitchen reinforced the information given in our Social Studies (SS) newspaper we use in 3rd grade. It would a nice local place to bring a class. The tour of the house helped in understanding the time period, but the activity with using the maps to analyze crops grown, roads, towns, etc…was difficult to read and frustrating, and I could see my students struggling with that part of the tour as well if it was included. Finally, the SC Archives had many relevant types of primary sources for a third grade classroom. The Kershaw County school report cards, original documents and letters were ones I have used in my classroom. The students are amazed that I was able to touch the original documents (letters to the governor). The staff was extremely helpful in aiding us with locating materials. The South Caroliniana Library has a plethora of materials, but the staff seemed rude and condescending when several of us asked for help or guidance in finding resources. I did find several items in their digital catalog to use in my lesson on the Cotton Mills which were easy to access.

My student work illustrates effective instruction in the manner the students analyzed several photos of children and adults working and living in the mill towns. It was a task they enjoyed doing and was one that held their interest. They had some background information from their SS newspaper, but it had some interesting inferences based on what they saw in the photographs. The interview portion of the lesson went fairly well, but the students became impatient with trying to interpret the strong southern accents of the interviewees. I pretty much had to retell what the interviewee had said. The interview with Mr. and Mrs. Pharis had a transcript that they could follow along with on the Smartboard which made it easier for them to follow along. The resource that kept their interest the most was a segment of an ETV documentary of the Pacolet Mill in South Carolina. They seemed amazed by the fact that the “old woman” talking in the interview was actually once a young lady as seen in the footage. The learned about the importance of having the mill near a water source, but at the same time it was the river that took it down. They questioned why this mill seemed to treat its employees better than some of the mills seen in other photographs. Next time when teaching this lesson, I will definitely choose an interview that has a transcript to follow, and narrow it down to one, since two was an overload for them. I will also allow more time for the groups to share the details they found in their photographs about the mills.

Overall, I have enjoyed the sessions TAHSC has offered to me. Ashley was a great help in providing some resources, although I went ahead and changed my topic at the last minute. I will still be using the resources I found on the Great Depression and the CCC when I teach it in the next week or two.

Student Assessment

Students will write a 2-3 paragraph description of mill work and their experience of life in a mill community from the perspective of a mill employee. They may choose the perspective of an adult or child. Students must include their reasons for moving to a mill town, wages and work experiences, and community life. Students will be graded on the attached rubric (not available).

Examples of Students Work

Attached are samples of photograph and interview responses, notes from Pacolet video (not available), and written perspectives.

Student Photo Analysis Worksheet
Student Photo Analysis Worksheet 2

Student Interview Worksheet
Student Interview Worksheet 2

Student Mill Village Essay
Student Mill Village Essay 2


Tina Summers
Doby's Mill Elementary School
Lugoff, South Carolina