• Boott Cotton Mills Museum with Trolley

    Lowell

    National Historical Park Massachusetts

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The Mill Girls

 
Mill Girl newspaper article

Newspaper article describing Mill Girl recruitment.

National Park Service

As much as the massive brick mills along the Merrimack, "mill girls" were an innovation of the early industrial revolution in New England. Lowell's mill workforce in the antebellum decades consisted largely of young single women from the farming communities of northern New England. Most were between 15 and 25, signing on for short stints that rarely exceeded a year at a time. Overall, they averaged about three years of employment before leaving the mills for marriage, migration to the west, other employment, or return to their hometowns.

Dissatisfaction with the work environment was a major reason for leaving the mills. In the 1830s and 40s women operatives protested against mill conditions. Their labor movement was not a narrow lobbying effort, but a broad reform campaign embracing a wide range of issues and underpinned by firm ideals. Writing in the Voice of Industry, Huldah J. Stone described the attitude of Lowell Female Labor Reform Association members toward reduction of the hours of labor: They do not regard this measure as an end, but only as one step toward the end to be attained. They deeply feel that their work will never be accomplished until slavery and oppression, mental, physical, and religious, shall have been done away with and Christianity in its original simplicity..shall be reestablished and practiced among men.

In return for monthly cash wages, female workers in Lowell agreed to regulations that varied little from company to company: work for at least a year live in a company boardinghouse, attend church. Many worked for a year and went back to the farm, some repeating this pattern two or three times.

Source: Lowell National Historical Park Handbook 140

 

Did You Know?

Photo of mill workers outside of a Boardinghouse

There were female and male overseers in the mills of Lowell in the 19th century. In Rev. Henry Miles' book, Lowell As It Was, and As It Is, he mentions that the Boott Cotton Mills has recently opened a new weave room and it is being overseen by two women overseers. More...