Sunday, May 16, 2010

What is a Lint Head?

Lint-Head is the slang for cotton textile mill workers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Under harsh and mostly unhealthy conditions, workers spent most of their lives toiling in a cloud of cotton fibers that latched and tangled in hair.  The term, generally speaking, has always been considered a slanderous accusation of social rank.   I am from that generation and spent five years of my life working in a cotton mill both Lydia Mill and Clinton Mills, Inc. I never heard that terminology until I was in high school. Some one said mill folks were lintheads. It never bothered me then nor does it bother me today. I did grow up knowing that there was some different between mill folks, the blacks, and the town people. I remember my parents talking about certain store owners downtown that talked about mill folks. We stayed out of those stores, but I could only guess which stores they were because I never heard my parents name people or stores. I was always conscience of that fact as I grew up and went to school all my life with town folks and integrated schools. I did not go to the mill village school. I don't know why my parents did not send me except the fact that the end of segregated schools and the civil unrest and my parents wanted to start me in school where I could easily adjust and not have to change schools when the schools were force to integrated. This happened at the end of my second grade year.

I have never used or thought about the term "linthead" again until after I finished college. That is when my father was retired and shared an opportunity to learn about his past.  I was simply fascinated by the history of a textile mill village. I watched the closing of the company gas station and the store before I graduated from high school. I thought at an early age the textiles would be a way of life for ever and I really thought for a short period of time I would spend my life in that changing industry.

My history lesson with my father led me to some oral history publications from UNC Chapel Hill about life and times of working and living in cotton mill village from the turn of the century. Then that lead to some research from textile mills and first mill village in Lowell, Massachusetts in the early 19th century through the early 20th century. After the Civil War, cotton mills began to spring up across the southern states and they needed labor.

Between my history lessons with daddy and around 1997 that term lint-head kept popping up and in 1990 I found a book written by Wilt Browning called
Linthead: Growing Up in a Carolina Cotton Mill Village. That name appeared again.  Wilt book was interesting but was truly a mistitled book. Lint-head is not a kind name to stereotype southern textile worker but his book was about all the fun stuff- the front porches, the ball games, the hard working people, company picnics, long working hours- but the book gave you as sense of life of a mill village. Some reviewers have been harsh with the did not capture the full picture of the people.

I am proud to call myself a "lint-head." That is my history! I would never EVER want that to change and I never EVER want to not remember it.  I used the Growing Up as Linthead as a title for this blog very proudly! There are so many great stories to be told. There is so much history in mill villages across the south that needs to be told, digested, and understood so that we can all learn from it. Textiles have left this country for good. Many mill villages are exits as small communities. The mills no longer roar. No more sounds of the flying loom keeping beat 24 hours a day except a Sunday. The front porch gathering don't exist. The company store is long ago. I don't want it to be forgotten!

I come from a lineage of textile mill workers! Hard working people! I am the product of that great life along with my sibling and other friends. I am not putting down the great people that have made me who I am today! I am celebrating them! I use the word lint-head proudly!!!!


  1. My aunt used to work in Miley, SC, which was the mill town for Lightsey Brothers....lots of logging and saw milling. I used to love to go in the company store with her. The mill closed many years ago and just about everybody who lived there has died but some of the houses are still there.

  2. I agree with you on being proud of our lineage. Although some may take offense to the term " lint head" I understand where it came from. I remember seeing my grandmother gaskins coming home from the cotton mill and the first thing I always noticed was the cotton in her hair. I also remember daddy coming home. At non for lunch and his shirt would be so wet from sweat that he would have to change before he went back.all the cotton mill workers were hard working people and very gee people.

  3. I am trying to locate a book which someone suggested to me about growing up in a mill village and the author eventually ends up living in the mill owner's house. Do you know this book? I grew up in Greenville, SC, in Judson mill village where my grandmother worked for almost 40 years. I hope you can help.

    1. Did you know the Cagles? My granddmother was EVelyn Cagle and they all worked in the mill

  4. I wish I could help with this. I am not familiar with this book. Bill

  5. Leon Neal e-mail: bowlman-neal@nc.rr.comJanuary 24, 2011 at 3:19 PM

    Bill -
    I am very proud of my personal and family heritage growing up in a Southern cotton mill village - I also worked in the mill as a teenage (not skilled work - sweeping and laying up roving). My mill village was Caroleen, NC in Rutherford County. I had an uncle who lived worked/was spinning room overseer in Clinton. He retired to Union, SC in the 1950s. He was universally known as 'Uncle Pete' - last name was Lowe - a great man. I used to visit in Clinton with Uncle Pete and Aunt Lula (really my 'great' uncle and aunt).
    I am a member of a group trying to preserve a 'more balanced' view of life in Southern textile mill village (most history really 'puts us down' - written by academics and labor union workers). Love to have you join us. The group is located at Textile Heritage Center, P.O. Box 667, Cooleemee, NC 27014 Tel: 336.284.6040
    This is a 'Southwide' initiative - from Richmond, VA to Vally, AL. We envision a 'textile heritage corridor' where folks could visit and learn more about this wonderful life and the great people.
    Leon Neal - e-mail:
    Raleigh, NC

  6. Greenwood, SC, my family comes from the cotton mill industry. Although my father exited Greenwood in the1950's courtesy of the USAF, the Matthews Mill Village became my "permanent address" for many years. Certainly, I remember summer vacations spent in Greenwood with my family. From my grandparents I learned the history of the mills and experienced the front porch/backyard joy of honest hard working life. Please call me your linthead cousin once removed!

  7. Bill,
    Enjoyed your blog. I grew up on Clinton Mill Village. I also wrote a book. The title was "Mill Hill Poor".
    Hank Fowler

    1. Hi Hank,
      Thank you for commenting! Where can I obtain a copy of your book?


    2. Bill,
      I sent you an email requesting your physical address, but received no reply.