A few years ago, I made a special effort to attend the Annual Meeting of the Alabama Historical Association. That year, the meeting was in Gadsden, AL near Attalla where I grew up. I was quite surprised to learn that one of their places of local interest was the site of the Dwight Manufacturing Company in Alabama City, one of the Gadsden communities.
Dwight Manufacturing Company no longer exists; but had been a booming cotton mill when I was a child. I have fond memories of that location. The mother and aunt of one of my cousins worked there. They lived in company housing, which intrigued me. This would have been in the mid-late 1940s. My cousin’s grandparents lived in the home too. They took care of their granddaughter while the two employed ladies were at work. By that time, child labor regulations were being enforced. I did not realize until recently that those cotton mills had a reputation of working children younger than the now minimum age of fourteen. During the earlier days, the minimum age was twelve and the hours were more strenuous than the reduced hours permitted by today’s Child Labor Laws.
The houses owned by the mill were within walking distance of the plant. When my parents, brother, and I visited our relatives, we could hear the shift change whistles blow. This was old hat to my Dad as he worked for a steel mill located in the same little town. It was, however, exciting for my brother and me.
A brother and sister-in-law of my Dad worked for the Coosa Manufacturing Company in Piedmont, AL. An uncle of my Dad also worked there. We would occasionally time visits in the area to see my Dad’s brother as he was leaving work. Seeing all those men and women moving in and out of the plant during shift change time was exciting for my brother and me. You must remember, there was no television at the time; so we got our excitement wherever we could find it! Fortunately we did not see any pre-teens reporting to work.
The demise of the cotton mills in Alabama was devastating to the families who lived and worked in the mill towns. It had quite an impact on the economy of those towns. My cousin and her family relocated. My uncle and aunt who lived in Piedmont were fortunate enough to reach retirement age before the Coosa Manufacturing Company closed.
By Inez McCollum (2019)