Children of the poor in America, as elsewhere, were an important source of cheap labor in mines, quarries, in the manufacture of glass, candy, matches, rope, canned goods, garments, textiles, tobacco products, and much more.
BABIES IN THE MILL was written by Dorsey Dixon in the 1960s remembering the child labor he had known in earlier years of mill work. He and his family worked in the Aleo Mills in East Rockingham, North Carolina. With his brother Howard he played music at secular and religious gatherings in his community. An especially articulate writer, he... had a stint of recordings in the 30s. He had some commercial success with his WRECK ON THE HIGHWAY sung by Roy Acuff. Only that song, and to some degree his INTOXICATED RAT and WEAVE ROOM BLUES have gained popular currency.
HEDY WEST, liner notes for "Whores, Hell, and Biscuits for 2 Centuries," Bear Family Records BF 15003, 1976.
Lyrics as recorded and transcribed by Hedy West, ibid.
I used to be a factory hand when things was moving slow,
When children worked in cotton mills, each morning had to go.
Every morning just at five the whistle blew on time
To call them babies out of bed at the age of eight and nine.Come out of bed, little sleepy head,To their jobs those little ones was strictly forced to go.
And get you a bite to eat.
The factory whistle's calling you,
There's no more time to sleep.
Those babies had to be on time through rain and sleet and snow.
Many times when things went wrong their bosses often frowned.
Many times those little ones was kicked and shoved around.
Those babies all grew up unlearned, they never went to school.
They never learned to read or. write. They learned to spin and spool.
Every time I close my eyes, I see that picture still
When textile work was carried on by babies in the mill.