Observations of Lowell

Observations of Lowell by Thomas Hart Benton, 1857



Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858) was a Democratic

for Missouri from 1821-1851 and a staunch advocate of westward expansion of the United States. He visited Lowell while on a political tour of New England.


January 1857 
I have gone through your factories, from top to bottom, and have been astonished at the perfection of your machinery. But there was something which astonished me even more. It was the cleanliness which pervaded every department. It was the ample rooms, well ventilated in summer, and well warmed in winter. It was the neat and comely appearance of the operatives,


male and female. It was that which struck me. It was my business to converse with all. I conversed with the young women, and I found them attractive and comely, modest without being bashful, of easy confidence without assurance, ready in conversation without forwardness, and of great intelligence. I went into their boarding houses, and there my ideas were reversed; for I had before me the picture of the operatives as they are (or were) in the old world, - living in small, narrow, confined, uncomfortable buildings, stinted for food and clothing. On the contrary, I found the operatives as comfortably and as handsomely situated as members of Congress in Washington. They live in large, stately, elegant houses, and you enter in the same manner as you enter a parlor in Washington. You are shown into the parlor, where you see the same kind of furniture as you will find in a Congressman’s boardinghouse in Washington. The tables are covered with better books and more of them, if we except public documents, than are usually found in a Congressman’s parlor. It was near the dinner-hour when I went to one of these houses, and I carried my curiosity so far as to ask the mistress of the house to take me into the cooking department and show me how she cooked. She said she was taken unawares, and was not prepared for it. I said that was exactly the thing I wanted; I wanted to see it as it was every day. Without more ado, she opened the door and led me in, and there was cooking going on in a room so neat that a lady might sit there and carry on her sewing on ornamental work. This was the condition in which I found the houses of the operatives; and to all these comforts they add the leisure to read and cultivate the mind. I was struck with this as a matter peculiarly interesting in those who are about to become wives of one generation and mothers of the next.