The women working in the Mills at Lowell found their lives very much changed from the gender norms of the 19th century. In what ways were they independent as mill workers? How did they use this independence to further their own interests and goals? Were they successful in achieving their goals? Did anything stand in their way?
First of all, it is necessary to highlight the basic events, which took place in the first half of the 19th century in Lowell, Massachusetts. In the early twenties of the nineteenth century, a big textile manufacturing center was constructed. The decision to build the center was taken by some Boston capitalists who decided to buy the land.
In other words, I suppose that the capitalists saw a great opportunity, as at that time there were no cities around. Thus, one can make a conclusion that their project was really innovative at that time. While speaking about the employees of the factory, it is necessary to point out that there were Yankee women from the countryside who were employed by the capitalists.
Later, in the early forties, some other textile corporations appeared. Thus, textile manufacturing center was expanded. This situation was really ambiguous, as the representatives of other cities and towns started to build the same firms. The pressure of competition appeared. However, it is also necessary to point out that overproduction became the problem of textile manufacturing centers.
The wages were shortened, as the profits of the firms were also declined. Taking into account these changes, it was obvious that young girls who worked in the Lowell Mills could not accept unpleasant conditions without protest. So, it was the growth of industrial capitalism, which influenced the response of the employees.
While speaking about the gender norms of the 19th century, it is necessary to say that at that period most of women expected to raise families. In other words, a woman’s mail role was to carry about husband and children. Unfortunately, most of single women as well as those ones who were poor had to work hard in the textile factories, various domestic services, etc.
Generally, for those women who worked in the Lowell Mills, “liberty rhetoric came to define the nature of their identities within the mills. When women felt that the work was undignified, or feared that people might see them as coarse because they did it, they drew on liberty rhetoric to defend themselves” (“Uses of Liberty Rhetoric Among Lowell Mill Girls,” par. 1).
When speaking about the independence of the employees at the Lowell Mills, one is to keep in mind that the so-called independence was determined by interpersonal relations between the women.
In other words, communication between the employees created favorable conditions for mutual understanding and cooperation. Thereby, one can make a conclusion that strong relations between the women became their weapon. The nature of the employees’ protest was collective, but not individual. The women became the community because of their dependence upon each other.
However, the most interesting issue is that such mutual dependence gives them an opportunity to feel free. According to Dublin, “they were conscious of the existence of community, expressing it very clearly in their writings and in labor protests. Community for them had objective and subjective dimensions and both were important in their experience of women in the mills” (par. 8).
Generally, it should be pointed out that such interpersonal relations were related to the structure of mill work. New employees were dependent upon their colleagues; while experienced workers always needed some support. The women understood their duties and rights as workers and tried to defend themselves. The so-called Lowell’s Industrial Revolution is associated with a new consciousness the women expressed at the Lowell Mills.
An attitude of benevolent paternalism the women decided to turn-out. One is to keep in mind that there were two motives for the strike. For instance, the fact that the wages were shortened gave the women an opportunity to understand the importance as well as the meaning of the sense of dignity. On the other hand, the wage cuts were recognized to be a threat for the so-called economic independence of the employees.
When a wage reduction occurred, women went on strike. Unfortunately, the principal goal was not achieved. However, the women were rather insistent. They founded a Factory Girls’ Association to coordinate their work.
In their organization of a Factory Girl’s Association and in their efforts to shut down the mills, the female operatives revealed that they had been changed by their industrial experience. Increasingly, they acted not simply as “daughters of freemen” offended by the impositions of the textile corporations, but also as industrial workers intent on improving their position within the mills (Dublin par. 52).
When The Voice of Industry appeared, the women started to use it to fight for their rights. The press was used to appeal to other fellow operatives. Generally, the women did their best to succeed. They wanted to reduce the hours of labor and tried to protect themselves.
In my opinion, they were successful in achieving their goals. Finally, the main aim of the employees’ protests was to obtain justice. The women wanted to change various unpleasant conditions they experienced. I suppose that their protests showed their strength and the ability to fight for better life.
Dublin, Thomas. Women, Work, and Protest in the Early Lowell Mills: “The
Oppressing Hand of Avarice Would Enslave Us”, 1975. Web. 03 April 2012.
“Uses of Liberty Rhetoric Among Lowell Mill Girls.” Cuny.edu. Web. 03 April 2012.