“We’re going to discuss the beginnings of the labor structure that’s called paternalism,” Schmidt said. “It’s when a group of people in authority provide services to those that they deem to be a lesser status and they do it with the perception that they’re being benevolent. The labor structure for Southern mill villages are paternalistic, which means that the mill owners and the mill management provided services and items to the mill workers with the general idea to the public that they were doing it for the workers’ good. When, in fact, it was something entirely different.
“... There are three aspects to a paternalistic relationship. One is there has to be an aspect of coercion. Secondly, there has to be an aspect that some good is being done for the employee or the lesser portion of the relationship. Third, there has to be an intentional interference with the mill workers’ lives.”
With many describing Atco as a self-contained city during the early to mid-1900s, former residents of the mill village had everything at their disposal. In addition to the American Textile Co., then later Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., providing housing, the complex nearly two miles northwest of downtown Cartersville also contained a church, swimming pool, elementary school, a general store and youth organizations.
According to BHM’s research materials, the Atco village was built in 1904 and operated by American Textile Co., which made fabric for horse collar pads. Goodyear later purchased the 400-acre mill complex in 1929 to manufacture tire cord. After the acquisition, the company added 89 houses to the village that is bordered by Sugar Valley Road, Cassville Road, Wingfoot Trail and Litchfield Street. The city of Cartersville annexed the property in 1959, according to submission to the National Register of Historic Places, which the area was named to in October 2005. After which, Goodyear started selling the Atco homes to private owners.
“The mill owners needed a stable workforce for the mills and they had the idea that to provide the stable workforce several things had to happen,” said Schmidt, who lived in Atco from 1954 to 1975, while her parents worked at Goodyear. “They looked at mill workers as a lower class of people. Most of the investors in the Southern textile mills were Northern investors and they looked at Southerners as people who were dim-witted and lazy, drunkards, things like that, because they were on the losing side of the war. It was a very biased perception of Southern people. So they were afraid that when they built Southern textile mills that the workers would not be emotionally capable of moving from that farm work to the more mechanical work in the mill.
“So they decided to do whatever they could to make sure that these employees were stable workers. And what that entailed was making everything in their lives available in that one village. So they built schools to educate the children. They built drugstores. They built grocery stores. They built auditoriums ... [and] provided baseball fields for entertainment. They provided churches. Every aspect of the workers’ lives that they could infiltrate they did and the reason they did that was because they wanted to strengthen that workforce and control those employees.”
For Schmidt, who also is spearheading the “Atco, Georgia, The Village” project, her research and promotion of the Cartersville mill village is to maintain its history, educate others and generate interest for its preservation.
With numerous people having ties to Atco, BHM Director Trey Gaines believes it is an ideal topic for one of the venue’s Lunch and Learn programs.
“There are a lot of people here in Cartersville and around the county that have connections to the mill and to the village of Atco,” Gaines said. “Over the years, here at the museum we’ve done a lot of research — collecting of stories and photographs and objects — related to the mill and the village, particularly growing up and living in the village.
“So there’s lots of families here that have connections there — either they worked there or had family that worked there and then also lived in the village. So in our research and conversations with a lot of these people who grew up in the village, they have a lot of fond memories of the activities that took place in the village — going to school in the village, playing baseball, swimming, those kinds of things that they took part [in] as children.”
To be held at the BHM, 4 E. Church St. in Cartersville, the Lunch and Learn program will be free to museum members and covered in the price of admission for nonmembers. Starting at 11:45 a.m., attendees are invited to bring a lunch, with the lecture following at noon.
For more information, call 770-382-3818, ext. 6288, or visit www.bartowhistorymuseum.org.