- 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
It seemed like you were locked in when the Amoskeag owned the mills. If you told the boss to go to hell, you might as well move out of the city. The boss had the power to blackball y ou for the rest of your days. The only way you could get a job there again was if you disguised yourself. Some of them did that. They would wear glasses, grow a mustache, change their name.… It was that or starve to death.
When the union people came to Manchester, it was up to us to vote whether we wanted them in or not. [Treasurer F. CJ Dumaine himself said in a meeting that “the grass will grow on Elm Street before the union will come into my mill. Ill close it down.” He said, “I’ve always been fair to my help, and I don’t need the union. They have a union in Massachusetts, and they don’t do what I do for my help.’ It was true in a way. It was on his account that we had all the benefits the Amoskeag gave us. Nobody else would do that, but the newer generation wanted more money, and they wanted someone to represent them.
They put me out of the Amoskeag because I was talking for the union. After the strike of 1922, they made a company union, and I was elected to go to the meetings. There were about ten or eleven of us who went to those meetings, and they said we had to go back and tell our weavers that their pay was going to be cut. Get on a chair there and tell them, “Boys and girls, you’ve got to work for $11.00 or $15.00 a week.” I came back and told the people what was really going on at those meetings. The boss, Bert Molloy, didn’t like it. I was telling the workers what to do. So he said, “I’m going to get rid of her.” It wasn’t fair.…
My father got fired once at Amoskeag. He had made a mistake in the cloth, and my father said to the boss, “The hell with you,” and walked out on him. The next day the boss said to me, “Tell your father to come back in.” So this was a really good boss.
When I was little [my mother] worked in the Amoskeag. She’d leave one of my sisters, who was twelve or thirteen, in charge of us; but my sister wouldn’t stay in the house. She’d go outside to be with her friends. One day, I tried to reach the kettle to take it off the stove, and I dropped it and burned myself and one of the babies. My mother never went back to the mills after that.
We had bad luck when they closed the Amoskeag. They did a foolish thing, wanting the eight hours. Ill never forget that. They closed all the mills. … People were never the same after that. I would never like to go back to those times.
My mother was one of the few that didn’t work in the mills after she was married. This was the reason my father worked so hard. I can remember my father working in the mill, seven days a week without a day off, without a vacation. He did that for seven years, without loafing one day. Would you believe that something like that could happen? Incidentally, when I say my father worked seven days a week, that included Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s—seven days a week, 365 days a year. That guy had to go to heaven! He worked in the mill on Sundays. It’s hard to believe. He worked from six in the morning till six at night, and I carried his dinners in. Then the hours got better; we went to forty hours. That eliminated a lot of this slavery, III tell you. He died at the age of fifty-eight Of course, some people worked as hard as he did, and they lived to be ninety. I can’t say the job killed him, but I can’t say that it helped him either.
Those were the good old days, when there was no pollution [laughs]. When I was a teen-ager, I lived in a corporation tenement on Canal Street, and the trains used to go right by, many trains every day. You could smell the carbon monoxide more than you can from automobiles now. But it wasn’t just the trains; there were a lot of smokestacks, too. Most of the Amoskeag ran on coalfed boilers. So there was a lot of smoke and pollution, but we didn’t think of it as pollution. It was a livelihood.