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As heartwarming as chicken soup: The story of Dorothy McFadden, retired Campbell “Lead Lady”

Campbell’s History

Sarah Rice, our Senior Corporate Archivist, chatted with Dorothy McFadden, 90, who retired from Campbell after a 25-year career at one of our former plants in Sumter, South Carolina. We sold the plant in 1991. Dorothy recalls her fond memories of life at Campbell, her experience as a Black, female supervisor, and how she continues to keep in touch with her Campbell family.

Earlier this year we received an Instagram message from Taylar Wade, the granddaughter of Dorothy McFadden, who began working at one of our plants in 1960s. Excited for the chance to learn more about our history, I chatted with Taylar and Dorothy to learn more. Their delightful stories tell a piece of Campbell’s 151-year history—and were just too good to keep to myself!  Below, take a look at some of the rich history I discovered through our chats:

two women

Dorothy and her granddaughter, Taylar

Sarah Rice, Senior Corporate Archivist: Dorothy, you began working for Campbell in 1966, at our chicken processing plant in Sumter, South Carolina. Can you tell me how you started there?

Dorothy McFadden, former Campbell employee: I grew up in South Carolina—still live here, in fact, in Elliott—and prior to Campbell I worked jobs on a farm and at a sewing plant. When Campbell came to town, I was thrilled to find a new job there that was better paying and off the farm. I worked second shift in the boning room at the plant. Locker 5102, I still remember 64 years later!

The Campbell’s Soup plant in Sumter, S.C. when it opened in 1966

SR: How did your career progress at Campbell?

DM: A job opened at the plant as a “Lead Lady,” which was a supervisory role in the boning room. My co-workers encouraged me to apply but I never thought in a million years I’d actually get it, especially as a Black woman at that time. A few weeks went by…I’m in the cafeteria eating my lunch, and the lady from the office came up to me and said, “McFadden, you finish your lunch, come to the office.” I said, “Oh my goodness, I wonder what happened?” I went to the office and the manager said, “McFadden, you got the job.” I said, “What?” I felt light as a feather. When I received that promotion, I oversaw 160 ladies on the line, and it was an integrated line, with white and Black women. Something that certainly wasn’t always common in the South. I did that job for over ten years.

white work shirt

Dorothy’s work uniform from the late 1960’s at the Campbell chicken processing plant

SR: You stayed at Campbell for a total of 25 years, until you retired. What made you stay for so long?

DM: It was the people that made me stay. We were like a family, celebrating birthdays, graduations, weddings and retirements together. We celebrated holidays in the cafeteria and had summer picnics near Myrtle Beach or on the plant grounds. It was a hard job. You worked. But it was just like a big family.

SR: As a current Campbell employee, that’s so heartwarming for me to hear! And do you still keep in touch with your Campbell Family?

DM: Yes! A group of Campbell retirees meet for lunch at the local Golden Corral the first Saturday of each month. It’s called the “Campbell’s Soup Friends’ Lunch.” At one point there was nearly 100 of us at the lunch.

SR: What a nice tradition to keep alive. Okay, one last question. What’s the greatest takeaway you have from your 25 years working at Campbell?

DM: At that job, especially as a Lead Lady, you’re dealing with a lot of people, with many different attitudes and different personalities. It taught me to have a strong constitution. You couldn’t let every little thing bother you to be a good leader, but it was also important to me to treat others with kindness.

After my time at Campbell ended, I was visiting a friend in the hospital when a woman recognized me on the elevator. She said, “I know you, you worked at Campbell’s Soup. You don’t know this, but I worked on your line and I got sick.” And then I remembered her story, she wasn’t looking well, she hadn’t complained, but I could tell she was ill. I said, “Lady, you look like you don’t feel so well. Let me take your place and you go to the bathroom for 10 to 15 minutes.” And she said, “You don’t know how much that meant to me. I was about to drop.” She said, “I’ll never forget you now.”


I was thrilled to have Taylar reach out to connect us with her grandma, and I’m so grateful to Dorothy to sharing her story with us! Do you have a Campbell story? Share it with us!

Today, we have 33 office and manufacturing facilities across North America. Learn more about career opportunities and apply to join our team.

Images in header from left: Dorothy McFadden, Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup label from 1966, Campbell’s Quality patch from Dorothy’s work uniform from the late 1960s, photograph of the Sumter, South Carolina plant in 1967, letter about the plant’s history provided by Dorothy.

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