A Rare Gateway to an Untouchable Past: Oral Histories of Carrboro Mill Families

Between 1974 and 1978, the Chapel Hill Historical Society conducted interviews with men and women who had lived and worked in and around Chapel Hill and Carrboro during the early twentieth century. One of their first projects, “Generations of Carrboro Mill Families” consisted of 117 interviews with Carrboro residents and textile mill workers. The interviews were in response to the Carrboro Board of Alderman’s decision to tear down the original Carr Mill building. For a rather complicated, and long-winded reason, the Southern Historical Collection holds 40 of the 117 interviews conducted, both the audio cassette tapes and their 30-50 page typed transcripts. Question topics run the gamut, and there was a clear effort on the part of the Chapel Hill Historical Society interviewers to gather information about “everyday life.”

“Textile Mill, Greensboro” in the Bayard Morgan Wootten Photographic Collection #P0011, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.
This image of a textile mill in Greensboro, NC shows a carding room ca. 1904-1954, probably similar to the one the interviewees describe from the mills in Carrboro.

Some of this work is captured in Valerie Quinney’s article, “Mill Village Memories” published in Southern Exposure in Fall 1980. Quinney was one of the interviewers from the Chapel Hill Historical Society in the 1970s. She offers a meaningful overview of the oral history collection and provides supportive context. Although she includes direct quotes, there’s value in the raw format of the interview collection that is worth pursuing.

Continue reading “A Rare Gateway to an Untouchable Past: Oral Histories of Carrboro Mill Families”

Creator of the Month… Guion Griffis Johnson

[Each month we feature a “creator” or one of the SHC’s manuscript collections. In archival terms, a creator is defined as an individual, group, or organization that is responsible for a collection’s production, accumulation, or formation.]

Guion Griffis Johnson of Chapel Hill, N.C., was a professor, author, scholar, journalist, women’s advocate, and general civic leader. Johnson held a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of North Carolina. She published three books: A Social History of the Sea Islands (1930), Antebellum North Carolina (1937), and Volunteers in Community Service (1967). Her husband was Guy Johnson, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the 1920s and 1930s, Johnson and her husband worked together at the Institute for Research in Social Science at University of North Carolina. Continue reading “Creator of the Month… Guion Griffis Johnson”

Nell Battle Lewis scrapbook

Page from Nell Battle Lewis scrapbook
Page from Nell Battle Lewis scrapbook

As we’ve stated before, one of our major goals in publishing this blog is to bring to the forefront smaller collections, lesser known items, and interesting gems embedded within larger collections of manuscript materials here in the Southern Historical Collection.

An example of the “embedded gem” variety has just reemerged and been called to our attention. It’s a wonderful scrapbook that was kept by a woman named Nell Battle Lewis. The scrapbook is embedded within the Kemp Plummer Lewis Papers, Collection #3819 (Nell’s brother’s papers).

Nell Cornelia Battle Lewis (1893-1956) was a journalist, feminist, lawyer, educator and a strident human rights advocate in Raleigh, N.C., in the early twentieth century.

In 1918, Nell Battle Lewis, joined the YWCA’s canteen service with the American Expeditionary Force in France. Her scrapbook from this year in Nice, France, contains Nell Battle Lewis’s passport, the Nice area “leave rules” for women, ration cards, portions of love letters and pictures from servicemen whom she met during service, photographs and post cards of Nice, and a fragment of a flag.