By Jim Lynn
From a dress, a savings account. From a torn hem, a culture of the heart. From $60, an institution that became a cornerstone in the development of a community.
A woman working in the Eagle textile mill in 1873 had no place to keep her savings. She said if she kept money in her storage trunk, presumably in a boarding house, someone was sure to steal it. So she stored cash in the hem of her dress. But the dress got caught in a machine one day. A supervisor quickly freed the woman by slicing through her dress with his knife, and $60 in “greenbacks” fell to the floor. It was a lot of money when the highest wage for workers at the mill was $1.50 a day.
Columbus industrialist and Eagle Mill founder William H. Young offered to keep the money for the woman in the company safe. The same perk was soon offered to other employees, and the mill’s “savings department” was formed.
In one version or another, the story has been told many, many times. The workplace accident was described in some detail, though, during an 1883 hearing of the Senate Committee on Labor and Capital, which was examining post-Civil War working conditions in the South. Young testified that the savings department at that point had $1 million in deposits, and 6 percent interest was being paid to its 1,778 depositors. Other historical records indicate the mill used the deposits for “quick capital.”
“The largest depositor… has $9,128.95, which he has saved out of his surplus earnings since he has been with us, that is, during the past 10 years,” Young told the committee. “He has a family and has supported his family well, yet his deposits have accumulated to that extent.”