“Stay in Mt. Airy and Work with Us.”

The fashionable young women posing here about 1930 are Reba Oakley (right,) her cousin, Ethel Mae Atkinson (left,) and another friend or relative in Surry County, N. C.

In 1929, when Reba was seventeen years old, she was employed at Argonne Hosiery Mill in Mount Airy. She was described as a button machine operator in the 1930 census. During the years of the Great Depression, many people started to work in the mills at ages as young as thirteen. They could expect to work until they were about sixty years old.

An ad from the Mt. Airy News in 1920 advertised for female workers, promising good wages, ideal working conditions, and the advantage of staying in your home town.

At the Spencer knitting mill of Mt. Airy, in 1930, female employees made 75 cents a day. They worked shifts of up to twelve hours, as many as 6 days a week. A full week at that rate would net $4.50. Men were paid a higher wage. However, half of all textile workers were female.

Statistics from the 1920 census show that North Carolina had become the second-most industrialized state in the South, with an output of a billion dollars per year in textiles, tobacco products, and furniture. By 1930, North Carolina was first in the nation in producing cotton textiles and first of the southern states in knitted textiles.

Copyright 2020 by Glenda Alexander. All rights reserved.


Ad, Mt. Airy News, Mt. Airy, N. C., Feb. 26, 1920.

North Carolina Museum of History, “History Highlights/Twentieth-Century North Carolina,” August 25, 2006, http://ncmuseumofhistory.org/nchh/twentieth.html, accessed Aug. 29, 2006.

“The History of International Working Women’s Day: Ella Mae Wiggins,” no date, http://www.mltranslations.org/US/Rpo/women/iwwd1.htm, accessed August 29, 2006.

Ernest H. Miller, Miller’s Mount Airy, N.C. City Directory, Vol. 1, 1928-1929 (Asheville NC: Southern Directory Co., 1929), p. 198.

Alice B. Hatcher, Spencers, (Dobson NC: published by the authors, 1988) p. 11.

1930 U.S. Census, North Carolina, Surry County, Franklin Township; sheet 2-B, line 65.

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