Both before and after the Civil War, children were a significant part of the workforce at the Athens Factory. Before the Civil War, these children would have been both enslaved Black and free white kids.

Unfortunately, there are no known photos of kids working at the Athens Manufacturing Company, but there is one photo (taken around 1910) of children employed locally at the Whitehall Mill (located near the intersection of Milledge Avenue and Whitehall Road; now condominiums) and there are many early 20th-century photos of children working in Georgia taken by photographer and anti-child labor activist Lewis Hine.

Some Adolescents in a Georgia Cotton Mill by Lewis Hine (1909)

This photo was taken in Macon, but our local work force was similar. After Emancipation, mill work in Athens was largely racially segregated and/or limited to white workers. Lewis Hine took many photos of mill workers and advocated for improved working conditions for children.

Georgia allowed factory work for children and had some of the nation’s most permissive child labor laws. Campaigning for reform of these laws became a popular progressive era cause for outsiders (like Lewis Hine) and for Athens natives like Jacqueline Wilkins.

Social work in Athens really seems to arise to meet the needs of these millworker kids and their families.

  • A night school to educate the millworker kids (and their parents) is first mentioned in the 1850s though it seems to have been short lived. (Though the mill workforce was integrated, this night school was segregated by race.)
  • The most significant effort to help mill kids was launched in 1897. “The Night School,” was founded by Miss Louie Lane, the woman known as “the Jane Addams of Athens.”
  • With support from Athens’ Women’s Club, Miss Louie opened her doors on Oconee St, just up the hill from what is now Nuci’s Space. After a few years of success enrolling hundreds of students, she expanded and moved across the river, offering classes in the Oconee Street School (after it opened in 1907) and in the Neighborhood House, a settlement house she founded that was located where the Dairy Queen is now on Oak St.
  • The Night School was open in the evenings when the children were not working and it also provided many additional services, including showers, daycare, and social events to the kids and their families.
  • The Bessie Mell Home is another early social service agency. It opened in 1889 to serve the families who worked in this building. Located in downtown Athens on the NW corner of Thomas and Washington across from the Civic Center. It served women and children providing places to stay and also lessons.
  • UGA’s Hargrett Library owns a collection of sewing samplers that were made by children at Bessie Mell.
  • A second settlement house for mill families in Athens that was founded after 1910 to serve families working for the Southern Mill. The Hiawassee Settlement was located across the street from where White Tiger BBQ is now at the corner of Boulevard and Hiawassee. It is now a church parking lot.


Click to see full image

East Athens Night School

Bessie Mell Industrial Home

Hiawassee Settlement House