Women's Activism in Lowell

 
Voice of Industry newspaper header with one woman in the center holding scales and a man and woman worker on either side
The header for the newspaper "The Voice of Industry," published by the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association for a time in Lowell, MA.

The Voice of Industry (~1840s)

 
In 1920 the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, stating once and for all that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” This is one milestone in a long and ongoing struggle, a major victory in women’s fight for equal opportunity. Despite immense challenges, time and time again Lowell’s workforce and residents have fought for what they deserved and strove to obtain what others denied them.

We can trace the origins of women’s civic activism in Lowell to the early 1830s. After leaders within several local corporations voted to lower wages, women in Lowell stood up against the city’s corporate interests. They staged walkouts and later, wrote petitions to fight for better work conditions, including shorter days. In this same period, women became involved with other social causes including temperance and abolition. But how far could women take a social movement without the right to cast ballots? Realizing that they needed the right to vote to bring about the changes they wanted to see, women formed organizations dedicated to suffrage.

By the early 20th century, Massachusetts was a major battleground in the fight for suffrage. Many suffragists including Lowell’s own Harriet Hanson Robinson and Florence Luscomb fought dutifully for the vote statewide. While many passionate suffragists rose up so did very powerful anti-suffrage interests who launched numerous counterattacks. Neither side successfully created a large movement in Lowell. Suffragists targeted the city and its workforce, trying to win over both the women of the mills and the workingmen who could vote.

This online exhibition highlights the struggle for women’s rights and especially the fight for the right to vote in the city of Lowell. Arranged chronologically, the collection of articles highlights the notable groups of women as well as a few exceptional individuals who were essential in promoting suffrage and women’s rights.

While individual pages can be read alone, to get understand the full story of American women's activism over time and how deeply rooted it is in Lowell's history, we recommend following the link at the bottom of each page to continue the story in order.
 
  • A mill girl works at a spinning machine in the factories of Lowell.

    Labor Reform: Early Strikes

    Before seeking the vote, many women gained skills and experience fighting for other causes. In Lowell, women fought for their pay and work.

  • Workers holding scales of justice above the header for the Voice of Industry newspaper.

    Lowell Female Labor Reform Association

    Women in Lowell banded together in the 1840s and strove to build organizations and resources to fight for more fair wages and treatment.

  • A photograph of Robinson facing to the right.

    Harriet Hanson Robinson

    Learn more about a former mill girl turned suffragist from Lowell and all she did for suffrage in the state of Massachusetts!

  • Two suffragists conversing while handing out the Woman's Journal newspaper on the street.

    The 1910 Convention

    In 1910 the Annual Woman Suffrage Convention was hosted right here in Lowell, and it left quite the impression.

  • Florence Luscomb standing on top of a moxie box demonstrating for woman suffrage.

    Florence Luscomb

    The Lowell-born suffragist Florence Luscomb in Massachusetts and around the world fought for equal opportunity and the right to vote!

  • Suffragists bearing their yellow and purple flags and banners marching.

    The 1915 Referendum

    In 1915 Massachusetts citizens voted on whether to pass state-wide woman suffrage, and Lowell was one of the battlegrounds.

  • Deolinda Mello sits at her desk in Lowell

    Women's Activism Videos

    Lowell women have fought for equal rights all throughout time. Explore the stories of some of Lowell's activism leaders.

  • Women holding suffrage banners in Washington D.C.

    Suffrage Commemorations Across America

    Throughout the nation parks are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment. Find out more about other women activists.

 

Last updated: August 12, 2022

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