In May 1926, roughly 150 female textile mill workers from Charlotte and Gastonia paid a visit to President Calvin Coolidge in the White House. A photograph from their visit is our January Artifact of the Month.
The newspaper accounts we’ve found don’t reveal how the visit was initiated, but they do tell us that the girls and women worked hard to fund their trip, “producing plays, selling movie tickets, staging parties, making and selling candy, and in a dozen other ways” — in addition to the hard work they were undoubtedly doing in the mill.
At the White House, the delegation presented the president with Charlotte-made cloth and Gastonia spun yarns from the Chadwick-Hoskins and the Highland Park Mills. The question on everyone’s mind was whether Coolidge would meet the women personally; he hadn’t shaken any hands since his father’s death months before.
But Coolidge shook the hand of every member of the group — to the delight of the women and of newspaper headline writers, who gushed effusively:
Coolidge Gives Carolina Girls Genuine Thrill
Shakes Hands with 150 Piedmont Textile Workers
Young Women Having Time of Their Lives
Worshiped Sunday in Same Church with President and Mrs. Coolidge
142 Carolina Industrial Girls Honored in Washington
Appearance and Conduct Make Hit in National Folk
The other men in the photo are US Senator Lee Slater Overman and US Congressman A.L. Bulwinkle, both from North Carolina, with whom the delegation met. Bulwinkle also acted as the group’s official escort in Washington.
For firsthand perspective on the event, one newspaper article quotes a young women identified as “pretty 16-year-old Beulah Crouch, who, with the aid of her brother, supports her mother, younger sister and invalid brother by her work in the Nebel Knitting Mills of Charlotte.” Crouch says, “This trip has taught us many things, and one of them is how to act in a large crowd, and to be proud of our country. We shall have lots and lots to look back to in the future.”
We’re grateful to Charlotte Observer librarian Maria David for salvaging this photo and donating it to the North Carolina Collection, as well as to Lew Powell for conveying it to us. Thanks, too, to NCC Photographic Archivist Stephen Fletcher for research help and for overseeing the proper care and housing for this unique photographic treasure.