The University of Georgia School of Social Work sits on the banks of the North Oconee River at a site called Cedar Shoals. The waterpower generated at these shoals was first harnessed for industrial purposes by the “Athens Cotton and Wool” mill, which began producing thread and cloth in 1833. The mill investors reorganized themselves as the “Athens Manufacturing Company” in 1835, but the Williams Street mill was always known locally as the “Athens Factory.” During its first 25 years in business, the Athens Factory was re-built three times after fires and floods, and the current brick building, erected in 1857 after a devastating fire, now houses UGA Social Work.
Complex Cloth is a project that investigates the history of the Athens Factory in the context of social work. What does it mean for a School of Social Work to be located in a cotton mill—likely built by enslaved labor—that was established to turn slave-produced cotton into wealth for white mill owners? How do social work students reflect on common practices at the Athens Factory—like slavery and child labor—that were legal and considered ethical in their time?
Complex Cloth also explores Athens’ first social work experiments, several of which—The East Athens Night School & Neighborhood House, the Bessie Mell Home, and the Hiawassee Settlement—were developed to serve mill workers and their families.
Complex Cloth seeks to tell these stories and many others.