Gender Matters pp 115-125 | Cite as

Paternalism and Protest in Augusta’s Cotton Mills: What’s Gender Got to do with It?

  • LeeAnn Whites


With the publication in 1921 of this classic work The Rise of the Cotton Mills, the historian Broadus Mitchell set the framework for discussions of the nature of the mill workforce and the mill owner in the southern textile industry: According to Mitchell, the development of that ndustry in the late nineteenth century was benign and benevolent. The white southerners who established mills wanted to promote the betterment of their communities and ameliorate the condition of the growing ranks of the rural and urban poor created by the economic decline of southern agriculture. In establishing textile mills, local capitalists were empowered to offer these less fortunate white members of the community remunerative employment when their farms failed. They often supplied improved housing, started schools for children, and helped to finance mill churches. Altogether, Mitchell concluded, mill owners behaved more like fathers than like employers to “their” mill people, and the workers responded with gratitude and intense loyalty to the men who had created a better way of life for them. It was unfortunately true that these mill owners paid workers miserable wages and worked them long hours, while making handsome profits from their employees’ labor. However, since the profit motive was basically secondary to the mill owners’ desire to promote class relations that would mirror those found in a happy family Mitchell expressed his hope that this one blight on the industry would soon be eliminated.1


Labor Relation Profit Motive Gender Matter Winter Chill Revisionist Historian 
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  1. 1.
    For a later expansion of Mitchells’ argument, see Wilbur J. Cash, Mind of the South (New York, Vintage, 1941).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Melton MuLaurin takes this position in Paternalism and Protest; Southern Cotton Mill Workers and Organized Labor, 1875–1905 (Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 1971).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The story of these strikes has been told in several places. See McLaurin, Paternalism and Protest; Marl E. Reed, “Augusta Textile Mills and the Strike of 1886,” Labor History 14, no. 2 (Spring, 1973): 228–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Richard German, “Augusta Strike of 1898–1899,” Richmond County History 4, no. 6 (Winter, 1972): 35–48.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Two studies of Augustas’ hinterlands, source for most of the towns’ operatives, describe yeoman farmers in these terms; see P J. William Harris, Plain Folk and Gentry in a Slave Society: White Liberty and Black Slavery in Augustas’ Hinterland (Middletown, CT, Wesleyan University Press, 1985)Google Scholar
  6. Orville Vernon Burton, In My Fathers’ House Are Many Mansions: Family and Community in Edgefield, South Carolina (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1985).Google Scholar
  7. Barton C. Shaw, Wool-Hat Boys: Georgias’ Populist Party (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984)Google Scholar
  8. C. VannWoodward, Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel (New York, Oxford University Press, 1963).Google Scholar
  9. 5.
    Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, James Leloudis, Robert Korstad, Mary Murphy, LuAnn Jones, and Christopher Daly, Like A Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World(Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1987)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Robert Korstad, and James Leloudis, “Cotton Mill People: Work, Community, and Protest in the Textile South, 1880–1940,” American Historical Review 91, no. 2 (April 1986): 245–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 6.
    See, e.g., John W. Blassingame, Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Plantation South (New York, Oxford University Press, 1972).Google Scholar
  12. Herbert Gutman, Black Family in Slavery and Freedom 1750–1925 (New York, Pantheon Press, 1976)Google Scholar
  13. Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York, Vintage, 1976).Google Scholar
  14. 9.
    For a further discussion of historians’ treatment of black manhood, see Deboran Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South (New York, Norton Press, 1985).Google Scholar
  15. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  16. 10.
    For a further discussion of changes that were occurring in the social construction of male gender roles, see Ted Ownby, Subduing Satan: Religion, Recreation and Manhood in the Rural South, 1865–1920 (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  17. Anthony Rotundo, American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era (New York, Basic Books, 1993).Google Scholar
  18. Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization: Multicultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880–1917 (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1995).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© LeeAnn Whites 2005

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  • LeeAnn Whites

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