The Painter-Deaver household reveals how industrialization reshaped family dynamics. Unlike more the more “traditional” family structure of a father, a mother, and their children, the Painter-Deaver household contained not only two siblings’ families but also three boarders who were unrelated to anyone in either family. In mill communities, workers had to rent company-owned houses, and the large majority of homes in the Loray Mill village were owned by the Loray company. Similarly, workers’ relatives often migrated to mill towns in search of work and expected to live with their family members already in the mill community. Mill workers without family connections often lived in boarding houses, but they just as often also sought room and board in the households of regular families.
The eleven people living in the house at 210 South Liberty Street in the Loray Mill village were brought together through a combination of family connections and employment in the textile industry. Calhoun and Mattie Painter and their children, Howard and Isabella, lived with Minnie’s brother, Joseph Deaver, and his three children: Charlie, Minnie, and Joseph “Frank” Deaver. Oscar Norton, Sam Fullbright, and Burch McConnell also lived with the family, renting rooms as boarders. With the exception of Mattie and her young nephew Frank, every member of the household worked at the Loray Mill in 1920. Calhoun was a spooler, meaning he tended a machine that wound cotton cloth, and his son Howard was a section hand, working in a supervisory role over some aspect of cotton production. Isabella, Charlie, and Minnie were all spoolers and would have ensured that cotton yarn was correctly wound onto reels. Oscar, Sam, and Burch were all employed by the mill as carpenters. Although she was not formally employed, Mattie certainly must have labored within the home to meet the domestic needs of not only her own husband and children but also her brother’s family and the three boarders. Joseph’s son Frank was only twelve and attended school instead of working in the mill.
The 1920 census entry for the Painter-Deaver family
The Painter and Deaver families were no stranger to wage labor. Mattie and Joseph grew up in the North Georgia mountains on their parents’ rented farms in both Towns and Rabun Counties. Born in 1867, Joseph was the oldest child of Ruben and Nancy Deaver, and his younger sister Mattie was their fourth child, born sometime around 1876. In the late 1890s, Mattie met and married Calhoun Painter, and by 1900, the two lived in Hiwassee, Georgia, where Calhoun worked as a day laborer and Mattie raised their two young children. Joseph also lived in Hiwassee and worked as a day laborer to support his widowed mother and younger sister. By 1910, however, Joseph had a family of his own. He married his wife Dora in 1902, and they had three children together within eight years. Joseph remained in Hiwassee, but Calhoun and Mattie had moved across the mountains to Cherokee County, North Carolina between 1900 and 1910. There, Calhoun worked in a lumber yard, while Mattie was a helper in a boarding house. Mattie’s employment likely contributed to her decision to open the Painter home to one boarder in 1910, and to allow three to live with the family ten years later in Gastonia. The Painters moved to the Loray Mill sometime between 1914 and 1918, along with many other migrants from the Appalachian South region, and Calhoun immediately sought employment in the mill. Joseph relocated his family to Gastonia after the death of his wife, and the move likely encouraged by information from his sister Mattie. It is difficult to uncover conclusive information on the lives of Oscar Norton, Sam Fullbright, and Burch McConnell before or after 1920. It is very likely, however, that they all immigrated to Gastonia from the North Carolina mountains. They might have chosen to live with the Painter and Deaver families because of this shared cultural connection.
Although the Painter and Deaver family members went their separate ways after 1920, their experience gained working at the Loray Mill continued to influence their livelihood in textile production. The Painters, including Calhoun, Mattie, Howard, and Isabella, left Gastonia in late 1920 or early 1921. They moved across the state line to York County, South Carolina. Around 1926, Isabella married Otis Brakefield, a South Carolina native, and by 1930, the couple and their young son lived with Isabella’s parents and brother. Neither Calhoun nor Mattie worked in 1920, so they must have relied on their children and son-in-law for financial support. Otis and Isabella worked in a local York County textile mill, and Howard was an electrician for Southern Power, a skill he possibly gained while in service for the United States military in the early 1920s. For the next ten years, the family remained in York County, even after Calhoun’s death, and Isabella and Otis continued to support their growing family through mill work.
Although Joseph Deaver and his sons moved to Gastonia after his sister’s family, they would remain long after the Painters left and continue to work in the local mills for decades. By 1921, Joseph and Charles no longer worked for the Loray Mills and instead had moved several blocks away to get closer to their new employer, Trenton Mills. Over the course of the next two decades, the Deavers constantly changed companies but remained in the Gastonia textile industry. Joseph would work as a doffer, a watchman, and a general laborer; his oldest son Charles was a doffer until his sudden death in 1928; and Joseph’s younger son Frank labored as a general textile worker and a sweeper before moving to Greenville, North Carolina, with his wife in the early 1950s.