Chapter 1:
Major Civilizations
Chapter 2:
14th - 16th Century
Chapter 3:
Chapter 4:
Chapter 5:
Age of Discovery
Chapter 6:
Great Power System
Chapter 7:
Scientific Revolution
Chapter 8:
Chapter 9:
Democratic Revolution
Chapter 10:
Industrial Revolution
Chapter 11:
Modern Ideologies
Chapter 12:
Age of Imperialism

The Lowell Mill Girls

Asya Alexander
The primary author is the individual who drafted the first version of this section; a section that could have been modified since it was originally published.

The Beginning of The Lowell Mills

The Lowell Mills operated in Lowell, Massachusetts during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The founder and mastermind behind the factories was American businessman Francis Cabot Lowell who is responsible for bringing the industrial revolution to the United States. After a couple years of studying the inner workings of the textile industry in Great Britain, he returned to the United States. With his new found knowledge, Lowell formed the Boston Manufacturing Company with help from his brother and a few other business associates. The waterways in Lowell, Massachusetts were great for powering the new company's power looms. The company began to expand rapidly along with the entire textile industry.

Life of a Mill Girl

Women between the ages of 13 and 35 were recruited from New England farms to work at the mills. The women worked long hours; usually 13-15 hours a day. The women originally went to the mills with high hopes. Some wanted to break free from parental authority. All were able to earn their own money and the women also had better educational opportunities. They were responsible for operating the machines and producing the product.

While at the mills, the women worked just as hard as the men, but still were paid half of a man's pay and sometime even less. Although they worked hard for their money, it hardly ever went to them. Instead, it usually went to their husbands or fathers because women were not allowed to own anything. Also, if a woman made even the slightest mistake while operating the machines, she could get injured badly. The women stayed in company boarding houses which had a strict set of rules including church attendance and curfews.

Strikes and Protest

The number of factories in Lowell and in other mill towns increased. In 1834 and again in 1836, there were many mills and this led to overproduction which then led to a drop in prices and profits for the companies. In 1834 and again 1836, the mill owners dropped the women's wages and speeded up their work pace in hopes of solving their financial difficulty. This is when the women decided to take action!

The women stood together to strike and protest for better treatment and pay. Unfortunately, it didn't have the impact they were hoping for. The overproduction of textiles had already caused the market to slow down. Therefore, the mill owners could afford to do without the workers who decided to strike, so factory owners fired the women who held the strikes and protests. Although the strikes and protest did not turn out in favor of the women, it laid the path for further actions against mill owners and for women's rights in general.

The Lowell Offering

The Lowell Offering was organized in 1840 by Reverend Abel Charles Thomas. It was a monthly magazine that collected works of poetry, ballads, essays, and fiction from the women of the mills. The women's writings often used their characters to report on the conditions and situations in their lives. This was a stepping stone in history for women because the women's work was getting published and many were able to read it. For five years, the magazine also gave people a perspective of what it was like to be a mill girl.

Lowell Female Labor Reform Association (LFLRA)

In 1845, a dozen of the Lowell mill girls started the first organization of working women to come together and negotiate for better working conditions and higher pay. The organization was called the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association). The association was known for standing up to authority and getting involved in both petitions and strikes to improve the working conditions.

The Lowell Female Labor Reform Association organized petition campaigns asking the Massachusetts state legislature to stop the work day at 10 hours. The women managed to get 2,000 signers on an 1845 petition, and more than double that on a petition the next year. The women organized chapters in New Hampshire as well, and in 1847 New Hampshire became the first state to pass a 10-hour workday law. They also published "factory tracts," which were flyers that they would hand out to expose the conditions in the mills.

For Further Reading

Dublin, Thomas. Women at Work: The Transformation of Work and Community in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1826-1860. New York: Columbia UP, 1979. Print.

Foner, Philip Sheldon. Women and the American Labor Movement: From World War I to the Present. New York: Free, 1980. Print.

"Lowell Female Labor Reform Association." Antebellum Social Movements. N.p., 21 Sept. 2011. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.

"Lowell Mill Girls and the Factory System, 1840." Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

Ranta, Judith. "The Lowell Offering Index." The University of Michigan Library. N.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.

Robinson, Harriet Hanson. "The Lowell Mill Girls Go on Strike, 1836." History Matters. 1898. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

United States. National Park Service. "Seneca Falls in 1848." National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 17 Mar. 2015. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

Cover of the first issue of The Lowell Offering, (1840)