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South Jordan Journal

South Jordan Elementary fifth graders to learn local mining history, compare to textiles in the South

Oct 01, 2022 08:32PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

South Jordan Elementary students in Noelle Mauri and Patricia Gotberg’s classes may be weaving stories of their past into their learning this year after the two schoolteachers attended an immersive workshop that taught them how to explore and teach histories of their community.

The workshop, “Fabric of the Past: Weaving the Twentieth Century at the Beaumont Mill and Village in South Carolina,” used Spartanburg County’s textile heritage as a teaching model. The two Utah teachers were chosen amongst 37 educators from 16 states to attend the July session at South Carolina Upstate, which was made possible with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“We both were interested in the textile industry in the South as it was something that neither of us knew a lot about,” Mauri said. “It also had the pedagogy model of inquiry design that would be another way for us to teach and defend and design curriculum and bring that back to our classes, our team and our school.”

During the week-long workshop, they explored industrialization in the early 20th century, race relations at the onset of Jim Crow segregation, class and labor friction during the Progressive Era and Great Depression, gender dynamics during World War II, the mill’s closure at the end of the last century and the mill property’s revitalization at the start of the 21st century.

They said what they learned fits into their fifth-grade curriculum and they plan to use it in their classrooms, from sharing pictures to recording oral histories to role plays and making those relatable to the students.

“When we talk about the Industrial Revolution, we talk about the child labor; I can tell them about conditions in the mills and have scenarios of how they would respond if they were in that particular situation,” Gotberg said.

Mauri said that it looked different than it does today.

“Kids worked in the mills and there were a lot of dangerous, really horrible conditions, barefoot, 13-hour days around dangerous machines,” Mauri said. 

“They had 10-minute lunches and if you were behind in your work, you didn't get a lunch because you were trying to make it up,” Gotberg added. “A lot of them were 6, 7 and 8 years old.”

She said that many kids didn’t have schooling. If they did, it was likely only half of a day because a schoolteacher costs the mill money and the lack of workers when kids were in school cost them as well.

“It would be up to age 16, they were supposed to be in school, but if you looked like you were 16, nobody would ask questions and you’d be working in the mill,” Gotberg said.

Another way to have students understand what the textile industry involved is through some demonstrations and hands-on experiences.

“We could also do carding, and weaving and spinning, and we can either watch some videos or have some people actually do physical demonstrations. I was also trying to purchase some spindles so that we would have some artifacts,” Gotberg said.

Mauri said that using the inquiry design model, she hopes to interest students and inspire them to ask questions about their own community and guide them through the sources to find their answers and draw their own conclusions.

“We wanted to tell our students about this so they can explore the story of this area, of being miners, why they’re miners, of the Copperton area and how mining in some ways was similar to the textile mills and how they were different,” she said. “They also talked about how to get the students to do oral history so when we talk about that era and those jobs, students can compare and contrast their own history and what this community started as. We’ve found old pictures of the original Bingham High and some old maps and have already gathered some really cool resources that our kids could look through and make those connections.”

Gotberg said that through oral histories of students’ relatives and people in the community, they may be able to learn more of this area’s history during the mining days and transcontinental railroad during western expansion. She also said they could use a “bed sheet,” or a way to see changes in the community using mapping skills.

“We figured out how communities would change and how it expanded and how things disappeared. It was pretty interesting because railroads were expanding and then railroads disappeared, or lakes that they had for industry were there, then the lakes disappeared. Roads were always changing, and we questioned ‘why was that?’  It’s a nice activity to go along with a lesson that’s really visual for students,” she said.

During the workshop, the two teachers visited mills and heard first-hand stories of residents working in them.

“One of them was the Beaumont Mill,” Gotberg said. “It's now a hospital administration building. There was a fellow who had worked in the mill, and he went down in the basement with us where they have water table problems. He talked about how he worked down there, and how the conditions were scary. He said it was all moldy and how as a youngster, he had to push carts that were heavier than he could push.”

Mauri said that throughout the time he was employed at the mill, he worked all three rotations — day, evening and night.

“He started as a young teenager and worked there all the way until they closed that mill. That was his occupation. They had a big whistle or the bell when the shifts changed and depending on what one you got, they’d differ on the amount you got paid – and it was in tokens or script money,” she said.

Gotberg said when they walked through the neighborhood, or what the locals called “the mill village,” they learned the millworkers were “always poor, and they never got rich. Even if it was you, your husband and your three kids, and you were all working, it just seemed nobody was ever earning enough to get on top. The mill owned the store, the mill owned the food, the mill owned the house, the mill owned the electricity. Then, they’d use their script money to pay them back for all this stuff. They talked about how they lived in certain houses proportioned to their jobs as millworkers and that’s all they knew. Their life as well as their work all was centered around their mill,” she said. “During some of the depression, they never would shut down, but they would reduce the hours. Then, everybody had reductions in their food rations and what they could spend at the company store. It was a hard life and a poor life.”

Yet, the locals were proud of their heritage and community, she said.

“A lot of the mill houses are still there. One lady we talked to was the daughter and she’s 70 or 80 years old, and she still lives in the house that her parents had lived in. She talked about how the mill village she grew up in was like a small community that took care of each other,” Gotberg said. “She said everybody gave what they had and shared, even during a ‘stretch out.’ The ‘stretch out’ came when the mill would stretch out the workers’ hours, or their money, or their food.”

Mauri said locals wanted to share their history with them.

“We met so many people who wanted to tell their story and about their community, the things that had been lost about their history,” she said, adding that each mill village would have its own baseball team and play each other for entertainment. “It was a big part of mill life, and some of them got some time off for playing ball. There were people from some of the Southern mills that went on to play major professional baseball. For mill life, baseball was a huge part of the culture. It was a sweet spot.”

Much of that ended with World War II, when the pride of the mills was based on earning government-distributed exceptional performance flags with a capitol E on it for efficiency. They were awarded on their productivity for the war effort, Gotberg said.

“They stopped making what they were making, usually flour sacks, and turned everything into what’s called duck cloth (cordura or canvas), like the tarp,” she said. “They changed the whole mill over to produce that; everybody was all hands on deck.”

At some mills, they used engineering skills to develop new machinery and fabrics and would patent those. At another, they helped make clothing more fire retardant, they developed a way to make plastic water bottles clear and created washable markers.

“That was cool to learn so when we teach engineering and STEM, we can share pictures of how they started with a problem and then how they innovated it,” Gotberg said. “Our students can follow that blueprint. Here’s a problem, here’s how they can go about sketching ideas and solving it for their final product.”

The teachers also heard about the closing of the mills and the impact on the community in the 1990s and early 2000s.

“There were buyouts of the mills,” Gotberg said. “One guy said one day they worked and the next day there was a sign that said it was closed. They weren’t told. They just arrived at work one day and there were padlocks.”

They learned the mills closed because they weren’t able to make the product cheap enough.

“There were a lot of mills in the South and they didn't have as many railroads to get the product up to the north. So, they started trying to just do products that the South would use, and the southern people already made their own textiles using their own looms,” she said.

Mauri added: “They also couldn't keep up with the change of the technology in the textile mills.”

While some mills have gone to ruin, others, such as the Drayton Mill, were turned into thriving businesses. Some are high-end condos and boutiques. Another was turned into art studios and exhibit space.

While the two have attended previous seminars across the United States that have addressed other topics they’ve incorporated into their teaching, they said this one earned high marks.

“We got to see the landmarks, we got to talk to the people, we got to know their history and we got to learn how to incorporate it into our teaching; it was phenomenal,” Gotberg said. “We’re excited to bring it int