Observations of Lowell

Observations of Lowell by Fredrika Bremer, 1850

FEBRUARY 15, 1850

One day I visited the celebrated manufactories of Lowell. I would willingly have declined the
journey, because it was so cold, but they had invited strangers to meet me, got up an entertainment, and therefore I was obliged to go. And I did not regret it. I had a glorious view from the top of Dewcroft Hill, in that cold, starlight winter evening, of the manufactories of Lowell, lying below in a half-circle, glittering with a thousand lights like a magic castle on the snow-covered ground. And then to think and to know that these lights were not ignes fatui, not merely pomp and show, but that they were actually symbols of a healthful and hopeful life in the persons whose labor they lighted; to know that within every heart in this palace of labor burned a bright little light, illumining a future of comfort and prosperity which every day and every turn of the wheel only brought the nearer. In truth there was a deep purpose in these brilliant lights, and I beheld this illumination with a joy that made the winter's night feel warm to me.

The following morning I visited the manufactories and saw the young ladies at their work and at dinner; saw their boarding-houses, sleeping-rooms, etc. All was nice and comfortable, as we had heard it described. Only I noticed that some of the "young ladies" were about fifty, and some of them not so very well clad, while others again were too fine. I was struck by the relationship between the human being and the machinery. Thus, for example, I saw the girls standing, each one between four busily-working spinning-jennies: they walked among them, looked at them, watched over and guarded them much as a mother would watch over and tend her children. Machines are becoming more and more obedient under the maternal eye of intelligence. The procession of the operatives, two and two, in shawls, bonnets, and green veils, as they went to their dinner, produced a respectable, imposing effect. And the dinners which I saw at a couple of tables (they take their meals at small tables, five or six together) appeared to be good and bountiful also. I observed that, besides meat and potatoes, there were fruit tarts.

The industrious and skillful can earn from six to eight dollars per week, never less than three, and so much is requisite for their board each week, as I was told. The greater number lay by money, and in a few years are able to leave the manufactory and undertake less laborious work.