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Interviews - Peebles, Rowan

Josephine Peebles, Burt Rowan Click on the MEDIA ITEMS below for more information


Josephine Peebles
Interviewed by Erin Degyansky

Mrs. Peebles applied for a job at the silk mill when she was legally fourteen years old. However, due to child labor laws she was technically not allowed to work on the machines. Mrs. Peebles got around the laws by changing the four to a five on her christening certificate. She fooled the managers and began working at the mill on what was called the "tables". Raw silk arrived at the mill in bales. The men in the basement would open the boxes and bring the silk upstairs in a tub. Each woman in the tables had her own table. The women would tie six skeins in three places and then throw them in a tub. The raw silk was sent to the basement and soaked overnight. The next morning the wet silk was brought back up to the tables department, and the women would hang the tied skeins on racks to dry. After she became "16" Mrs. Peebles went to work on the winders. She remembered that as a winder she was paid by piecework. The workers would try to get the machines that ran faster so that they would make more money. However, the women knew that they all had to take their turn on the faster machines. Mrs. Peebles did not like this pay system because she believed the company did not accurately record the weight of the workers piece. The women also took their turn working the "double deckers", which were two winders on top of one another. Mrs. Peebles did not enjoy working the "double deckers" because "it was hard to get used to". Every once in awhile Mrs. Peebles would work on the reels. "The worst part of that (job) was lacing the thread, because your fingers would get sore." While working at the mill, many workers would get "silk poisoning". Mrs. Peebles never had it, but she remembered that many workers' hands would break out in a horrible rash. Mrs. Peebles worked at the mill when rayon took over silk. She remembered that the rayon and dope ran faster than the real silk.

The workers at the mill had a "good time". Once the workers went on a company picnic in Burlington. Although money was scarce in the community, every day the women in winding would pool money for spice cakes. The workers even knew that the mill was going to close. Mrs. Peebles could not remember what exactly happened, but she did say, "we just knew". Mrs. Peebles was one of a few who forged their ages to work at the silk mill. She really regrets what she did, but she is very proud that she was able to help support her family.

Burt Rowan
Interviewed by Amber Sallerson

Mr. Rowan was employed as a spinner at the silk mill in 1944 and part of 1945. The spinning machine had bobbins on the bottom and bobbins on the top. The silk ran through what was called a pigtail, and it twisted and rolled on the bobbin. When the bobbin was full, the cord of silk was broken and the full bobbin was put on the rack and an empty one was placed on the machine. Mr. Rowan remembered that there were several other jobs at the mill. The dyeing department was in charge of making sure that one shipment was the same color so that the shipment stayed intact. Mr. Rowan did not know much about the other jobs because he never went upstairs. He did remember that all of the workers congregated in certain rooms on each floor to smoke, since smoking was not allowed on the floors. Most women at the mill worked the day shift, occasionally one or two women would work at night. The dyers and packers also worked daylight. "The only real (continued on next page)

Photograph of Burt Rowan and Amber Sallerson


Page #:

Allegany High School, Oral history project

Allegany High School, Cumberland


Collection Location:
Cumberland, Maryland

Original Size:
28 cms x 22 cms

Anne Failing, Erin Degyansky, Chris Jewell, Amber Sallerson, Dan Whetzel and Mike Lewis

Allegany County (Md.), History; Lonaconing, Allegany County (Md.), History; Lonaconing Silk Mill; Silk mills, History.

Allegany County (Md.), 1907-1957

Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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