Lowell mill girls

Female workers who came to work for textile mills in Massachusetts / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The Lowell mill girls were young female workers who came to work in textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, during the Industrial Revolution in the United States. The workers initially recruited by the corporations were daughters of New England farmers, typically between the ages of 15 and 35.[1] By 1840, at the height of the Textile Revolution, the Lowell textile mills had recruited over 8,000 workers, with women making up nearly three-quarters of the mill workforce.

Tintype of two young women in Lowell, Massachusetts, USA (c.1870)

During the early period, women came to the mills for various reasons: to help a brother pay for college, for the educational opportunities offered in Lowell, or to earn supplemental income for the family. Francis Cabot Lowell emphasized the importance of providing housing and a form of education to mirror the boarding schools that were emerging in the 19th century. He also wanted to provide an environment that sharply contrasted the poor conditions of the British Mills notoriously portrayed by Dickens. While their wages were only half of what men were paid, many women were able to attain economic independence for the first time, free from controlling fathers and husbands. On average, the Lowell mill girls earned between three and four dollars per week. The cost of boarding ranged between seventy-five cents and $1.25, giving them the ability to acquire good clothes, books, and savings. The girls created book clubs and published journals such as the Lowell Offering, which provided a literary outlet for the girls with stories about life in the mills. The demands of factory life enabled these women to challenge gender stereotypes.

Over time, adult women would displace child labor, which an increasing number of factory owners, such as Lowell, were disinclined to hire.[2] As the "factory system" matured, however, many women joined the broader American labor movement, to protest increasingly harsh working conditions. Labor historian Philip Foner observed, "they succeeded in raising serious questions about woman’s so-called ‘place’."[3]

In 1845, after a number of protests and strikes, many operatives came together to form the first union of working women in the United States, the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association. The Association adopted a newspaper called the Voice of Industry, in which workers published sharp critiques of the new industrialism. The Voice stood in sharp contrast to other literary magazines published by female operatives.