Reynolds: Song Lyrics and Poems
Ballad of Ella Mae
Notes: words and music
by Malvina Reynolds; copyright 1955 Schroder Music Company, renewed 1983.
According to Sing Out!, "Malvina Reynolds wrote this new ballad
after reading Margaret Larkin's article on Ella Mae Wiggins, and Ella
Mae's song, 'Mill Mother's Lament,' in the Fall 1955 issue of Sing
I never could do for my children,
Not even keep them alive, it seems;
Though they came of this small body,
And they built me all of my dreams.
And if you want to know why I'm for the union,
And walking this picket line,
It's the one best thing that I ever could do
For those little babies of mine.
She never had had much schooling,
Because she went to the mills so young,
But the songs came like cool spring water
To Ella Mae's mountain tongue.
Four babies were sick of the fever,
They needed their mama so bad,
But Ella Mae stayed on at the mill
To earn them doctor and bread.
Oh please let me work on the day shift,
Oh change my run if you might,
My little ones sick of the fever,
They cry for me in the night.
But supers are stupid and cruel.
The Company's answer is No,
And Ella came home with the last pay check,
And four of her babes had to go.
The Company killed Ella's children,
And they feared the power of her song,
So they shot Ella Mae on Gastonia's streets
And they never have paid for their wrong.
Gastonia's unions are growing,
The workers are stronger each day,
And the voice that sounds clearest among them all
Is the singing of young Ella Mae.