It’s Hard Times, Cotton Mill Girls

Manufacturing, Gone With the Wind

Historians tend to make the same argument: The South lost the Civil War because its economy was agrarian rather than industrial, with too few munitions factories to supply Confederate troops with weapons and too few textile mills to clothe them.  According to these same historians, the postbellum sharecropper system proved to be an economic disaster, in part because it was grounded in agriculture.  Only when the South turned to industry in the late 19th century did she begin to live for the first time.  Color flooded into her cheeks.  She was able to get her hair done and buy a couple of new dresses.  Looking at herself in the mirror, she asked, “Why didn’t I do this before?”  The textile industry in the Carolinas is routinely cited as the best example.

Such historical accounts illustrate the degree to which the ideology of industrialism has wormed its way into the soul of the nation, as if Southern farms were never prosperous or even self-sufficient and all antebellum women went around wearing ragged dresses made from flour sacks, their hair perpetually in tangles.

At the beginning, the rise of the textile industry in the South primarily enriched Northerners.  Eventually, Southerners scraped up enough capital to get into the game—or else, like Confederate Capt. John Montgomery of Spartanburg, secured the backing of New England investors.

The Northerners...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here