"The Lowell Mill Girls"
The industrial revolution
brought great changes
to a young America.
Factories rose up
and thus drew people to
from the farms to the cities.
Seeking to avoid
the worst mistakes
of European mills,
Frances Cabot Lowell
and his partners established
the Boston Manufacturing Company
to turn cotton lint into finished cloth.
They hired young, unmarried women
from New England farms and paid
three times the rate as service work,
providing housing and education
similar to the boarding schools.
Although the matrons chaperoned
the workers, holding them to strict curfews
and moral codes (or trying to) many of
the mill girls a sense of independence
that they had not known on the farm.
Earning their own wages and living
without a father or husband running
their lives gave them the freedom
to develop themselves in new ways.
Unrest crept in, however, as women
realized the problems of the factory system
and began to protest the dramatic changes
caused by the industrial revolution.
They complained about the loss of
control over economic life, eroding
the freedoms that had attracted them
to factory work in the first place.
They went on strike again and again,
and although they lost every battle,
they never quite lost the war.
The protesters succeeded in
raising serious questions about
the rights of factory workers and
woman’s so-called 'place' in life.
In 1845, the Lowell mill girls
joined with other activists to form
the first union of working women
known in the United States of America,
the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association.
Their newspaper, the Voice of Industry,
printed many pointed critiques of
the changing conditions in
the new industrialism.
It stood out in stark contrast to
the rosy tone of the Lowell Offering,
a literary magazine published by
women who praised life in the mills.
The Lowell mill girls were rebels
with a cause who made their mark
on history by insisting that women had
a right to their own economic freedom
and by demanding decent treatment
for workers of the industrial revolution.
The modern movement of women's liberation
stands on their thin strong shoulders.
* * *
Textile mills have a long history in America. The Lowell mill girls played a big part in that history.