At the zenith of the 19th century, America was advancing promptly as an industrial nation. The growth in industrialization spurred innumerable changes in both social and economic spheres. Factories hastily replaced the agrarian era which had dominated the economics for long. In New England textile mills honing all sorts of cloth fabrication processes were undertaken beginning from weaving to shipping; these processes were centralized in one locality for ease in management and cost efficiency (Evans 24).
The preferred labor forces in these factories were women, who became the leading operatives owing to their innate sowing skills. Moreover, it was believed that textile work was easy hence suitable for women and at the same time serving to minimize idleness on young girls.
Lowell, based in Massachusetts was the primary hub for textile manufacturing; for the period spanning 1820 to 1850; it provided young girls of New England with the panorama for economic prospect and personal growth (Robinson 67).
This in essence was a very unique opportunity to that era, because women were supposed to play the passive role of helping with house chores but not to go in pursuit of jobs and employment. The women working in these mills were termed as female operatives but described themselves as mills girls asserting their dignity as factory workers (Nancy 102).
In the year 1821, the Boston Associates bought a land located at Pawtucket Canal located north of the city of Boston, Massachusetts (Dubblin 72). After building several imposing structures, they put up numerous textile mills and widened the canal for water supply to enhance power tapping (Nancy 99). The first mills commenced work in the year 1823 and extra mills were added to the industry for the next twenty five years.
Several years later, in 1848 Lowell won the accolade of the leading industrial center in America, since the mills were able to produce capacity of up to fifty thousand miles of cotton annually. The associates required a hefty work force to cater for its busy mills, explaining their decision to employ young women who were otherwise idle and obtainable (Faragher and Mari 52). The enlisted girls in the labor force were excerpted from New England farms, Lowell was known around the globe for its inventive solution.
These young girls, expressing themselves daughters of Yankee farmers were persuaded to take up the jobs by the prospect of making their own money and supporting their families. In the factory facility they were offered monthly wages, job opportunities and boarding facilities. This led to massive exodus of young girls into the big city to pursue economic acumen, where they worked tirelessly for six days, twelve hours a day. Later as they got acquainted with each other they protested the harsh working conditions and the long labor periods.
The young girls became acutely aware of their rights and later protested against the associates who seemed to overwork and under pay them. Terming themselves as daughters of freemen they refused to be trampled on with impunity (Robinson 78). In spite of the harsh working conditions, women persevered and worked for the associates for a long time. Later in the nineteenth century, women formed a two-third of the overall labor force as immigrant women joined them to bloat the industry.
In the early years of 19th century, a woman working in a factory was unheard of, so when the Lowell mills announced job offers for young women it was broached with uttermost dissension. Nevertheless, the job offer was accompanied with an enticing package which compelled young girls to leave comforts of their homes to earn extra income to support the poor families.
Lowell mills associated structured a good working milieu ensuring that girls had three mills per day together with boarding facilities, not forgetting the monthly remunerations. To beguile more of the young girls into working, they promised that job opportunities would abase idleness until the girls were ready for marriage.
Mill life was exceedingly daunting at first, the girls followed stringent working schedules marked by the ringing of bells. The company expected the girls to observe time, follow company rules and attend church services(Kessler 144).
The culture of New England in the beginning of the 19th century groomed young girls and women to be meek, decent, and familial. Therefore Lowell mills associates had an added advantage in convincing parents that working in their factories would afford their daughters the most ideal environment to enhance the most treasured attributes of the society.
Francis Cabot Lowell adapted an excellent idea on how to use the girls as laborers at the same time sharpening their personal dispositions (Robinson 58). Their boarding houses were kept and managed by morally accurate old woman who guided and instilled good morals into the young girls. The activities in the boarding facilities wee equally regulated including the sleeping time and the prerequisite that all the girls attended church service.
Lowell ensured that the supervisors and overseers at work places were morally straight and could be entrusted with young girls. There was a strict regulation which segregated the girls from the other male workers, except the supervisors owing to the cultural precepts of the time. One of the requirement for all the girls enlisted for work in the mills was good moral conduct, there was no room for immorality as this would foul the reputation of the industry.
Communal Changes Spurred By Lowell Mills Girls
The girls working for the mills afforded the Lowell Mills associates with glut of their skill and labor a factor which caused the industry to blossom to be the most productive textile industry in America by the year 1948 (Dublin 87). Not only were the finished products sold locally, they were also exported for foreign trade a factor which enhanced higher profits and growth on the industry.
The employment opportunity offered the young girls many opportunities for self improvement and learning since the mill afforded them well equipped libraries for reading and debating clubs for equipping them with insightful knowledge. The knowledge acquisition helped to increase the level of literacy amongst girls increasing the living standards in the society.
The mills had a magazine ran and operated by the workers of the company which gave the girls a platform to express their voices and views. And when they had a revolt against working schedules and wages, they brought fellow women folk into a higher realm where rights of workers and women are respected (Evans 45).
The young girls, who lived together in boarding facilities, had time for discussions and deliberated on existing events such as anti-slavery and Mexican war and this opened up their minds to the world shoring their sophistication and ability to blend with the external world.
Even though the working conditions at Lowell Mills were harsh, the young girls garnered satisfaction from their work since they were independent and in a position to own their income. The money earned as wages was mostly utilized to support families and for self improvement.
As a result of this the poor Yankees were able to improve their lives and change their lifestyles. In comparison to other positions available for women, these jobs were highly paid and this allowed women to be economically independent a factor which not only changed their mind sets but also changed the societal perceptions on the girl child.
Societal Impact on Lowell Mills Girls
Working at a Lowell textile mill gave young girls chance to explore their skills and abilities as they earned income. With it came financial independence and liberation from male chauvinistic society which had deemed girls as worthless in the labor world.
Faragher and Mari point out that women became a significance in the political economy (112) Women were empowered to soar and discover their potentials since the wages earned were utilized by many workers to further their education. For the period spanning 1830-1832 free schools were established in Lowell and any girls from the villages had an opportunity to better their educations and pursue other better paying professions.
Even though many operative at Lowell mills did not hold fond memories of the experiences, many admitted that it aided them in achievement of their life goals. Mill work was never permanent but it was a gratifying step between the workers rural past and middle class anticipated future (Faragher and Mari 215).
Many girls who had the real goal to marry were able to amass money for their dowries, as Francis Lowell once said, the employment opportunities made girls good wives and mothers. As Kessler established eight five percent of the girls were married immediately after leaving the mills and they had ascended from the lower class, since farmers daughters opted not to marry farmers but sought for middle class men and settled in towns(96).
Analysis and Summary
The textile mills at Massachusetts advanced astonishing productivity of power driven equipment. The most interesting precept of this blooming industry was the enlisting of women as the key laborers a factor incongruent with the societal tenets of that era. The newness on machinery and women workers who were highly effective causes Lowell mills to be illustrious, standing in sharp contrast to the gloomy bigoted social culture which had inhibited the girl child from exploring her potentials.
For many women who worked at the mills, the working opportunities were frail for they were within the limits of imposed textile corporation (Nancy 132). The control exerted on the workers was resented though it is believed that, control enhanced productivity and excellence.
The mills were mainly controlled by men who were very keen on the morality and social conduct of their employees. The pre-industrial tradition of self-rule and autonomy made the management of the Lowell mills to be sensitive to the management policies a factor which enabled them to transform the lives of young girls at the same time garnering massive profits.
The experiences of Lowell women depict a paradoxical picture on the impact of industrial capitalism Labor protests, clearly illustrated the dissatisfying labor regulations and wages on the part of the employees. However, the Lowell mills offer the much needed opportunity for women to grow and change their lives and goals. In nutshell, Lowell mills both subjugated and enlightened women in ways unfamiliar to the reindustrialize opinionated economy.
Dublin, Tom. “Women Transformation at Work Place.” New York: Cornell University Press, 2001. Print.
Evans, Sylvia. “Born for Liberty.” New York: The Free Press, 1996. Print.
Kessler, Alice. “Out to Work, Women Perspective.” New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.Print
Robinson, Loom. “Women at Work Place.” HI: Press Pacifica, 1992. Print.
Nancy, Woloch. “The American Experience and Women at Work.” New York: The McGraw-Hill Inc. 2004. Print
Faragher, John and Mari, Buhle. “Out of many (6th Edition).” New York: Prentice Hall. 2008. Print.