Ella May Wiggins did not live a life based on the expectations of her day. She was a white mill worker who refused to live in mill housing and instead chose to live in an African-American neighborhood called “Stumptown.” She was the mother of nine children, four of whom died of whooping cough. Wiggins was a devoted member and supporter of the Loray Strike. After joining the textile union, she eventually became its bookkeeper. However, her most notable contribution might be the ballads, or simple sentimental songs, she wrote expressing the struggles of workers and union views in an artistic and compelling way. Wiggins was shot and killed in September 1929 while on the way to a union meeting.
The Mill Mother’s Lament
We leave our homes in the morning,
We kiss our children good-bye,
While we slave for the bosses,
Our children scream and cry.
And when we draw our money,
Our grocery bills to pay,
Not a cent to spend for clothing,
Not a cent to lay away.
And on that very evening
Our little son will say:
“I need some shoes, Mother,
And so does Sister May.”
How it grieves the heart of a mother,
You everyone must know.
But we can’t buy for our children,
Our wages are too low.
It is for our little children,
That seems to us so dear,
But for us nor them, dear workers,
The bosses do not care.
But understand, all workers,
Our union they do fear.
Let’s stand together, workers,
And have a union here.
Citation: Wiggins, Ella May, “The Mill Mother’s Lament.” NCpedia. https://www.ncpedia.org/anchor/mill-mothers-lament. Accessed 28 August 2023.
- According to “Mill Mother’s Lament” what was a significant impact of the struggles of the mill workers?
- Who do you think was the intended audience of the song, and what was the song’s purpose?
- When Ella May Wiggins writes “How it grieves the heart of a mother” (line 13), what specifically is the mother grieving?