- Historic Sites
Voices Of A Vanished Amoskeag
The life and death of the world’s largest textile mill, in the words of the men and women who worked there
October/November 1978 | Volume 29, Issue 6
When I graduated from grammar school at fourteen, in 1930,1 got a job in the mill. I was actually scared of the mills. As a child I used to go and visit my father in the spinning room. You can’t hear yourself talk in there, the noise is so loud. So I was petrified when I found out I was going to work in the mills. My mother came with me to the office to get a job. We spoke to the man, and she told him that she preferred that I didn’t work in one of the places where men and women were working together. She wanted me to go where there were only girls. So I got into the cloth room, where it was nice and quiet. It was all finished cloth. I was so happy there. I guess it was the relief of not having to go to those horrible mills that I hated so. When I would go to visit my father, I would almost cry.
I learned how to dance in No. 4 Mill, with the girls, not with men. At that time I didn’t start work until eight o’clock in the morning because I was only sixteen. Those that were over sixteen started to work at seven o’clock. At noontime, the frames were stopped for an hour. We’d sit in the alley and eat our lunch; and if there was a good singer, she would sing and we would dance along the aisle.
The hardest job I had in the mills was when I was fourteen and took a job for the summer. It was a job I’ll never forget, cleaning out the picker machines. All the cotton seeds that came out of the cotton would drop down under the pickers, and we would have to go under there and get all those seeds. We’d have a wad of cotton in our mouth to filter out the dust and keep us from choking. It would be so hot, and we’d get that cotton seed on our skin, and it would hit you something terrible.…
Each of the mills had its own bell tower; and when the signal came over the electric wire, the bell ringers would jump onto the ropes. The ropes went up through all the floors to the bell tower, and all the bells would ring. When the bells rang, it was time to go home. The people flocked out of the mills. All the gates on Canal Street would be opened, and the people would come across the bridge. They’d be bustling and joking—nine thousand people trying to get out of those gates to get home as quickly as possible.
I heard a woman say recently that the Amoskeag was such an awful place. Of course, it could be awful, because the mills themselves were terribly dirty, horribly dirty. But I was there in some of the better days of the mills when they were making a lot of money. It was wartime. Everything was looking up, so they did a lot for their help. For instance, they had a first-aid service, and they employed a doctor. After the mills went out, there was no doctor in town quite like him. Of course, any concern would have a first-aid station, where you could go with minor things, but the Amoskeag doctors would even come into your home. They had nurses who spent all of their time going around to homes where there was sickness. For their time the Amoskeag did all right, except in the way of money, perhaps. They didn’t give much money. Now Jack Frazier, my husband’s brother-in-law, has a very good job in the mills, but he was brought here because he was a baseball pitcher, just like they bring people to college because they are good players. Exactly! He was Amoskeag’s star pitcher.
People who went to work at the Amoskeag worked there until they died or until they got too old to work. Some lived in the corporation tenements. To live in them, you had to work in the Amoskeag. A son would move in with the father; and when his father died, the children would take over the tenement. In fact, a fellow told me one day that if he could buy all the real estate here, he would buy those tenements because they would never be empty. The people in the tenements had excellent living conditions. They all had a good roof over their head—it didn’t leak—and they had modern conveniences, felt just like a millionaire—we didn’t have to run outside.