The Mill Girls
National Park Service
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?
Protests came to Lowell in the mid-1830s. Mill management...twice reduced the take-home pay of women workers. Faced with growing inventories and falling prices, owners believed the only way to sustain profits was to cut labor costs. The mill workers were not willing to accept this logic.