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History of Lowell: The Voice of Industry

Condition of the Operatives

March 26, 1847


In the last No. of the Voice, I notice a letter from you, in it, you desire information in relation to the condition of the operatives, in our factories.  Since I was between seven and eight years old, I have been employed almost without intermission in a factory, which is almost 18 years. During this time I have not attended school more than one year. Probably not that 50 whatever you may think of my composition, you must acknowledge I ought to be a judge of factory life. I should like to give you my whole experience, but this would take too much room. And I beside, you would hardly believe what I should state, although it would be true, so I will confine myself to Lowell, the place where operatives are used as well, I think as any place in New England. I do not wonder at your surprise that the operatives were worked in the summer season, from five in the morning till seven in the evening. Especially when you had been previously informed that we worked but ten hours per day. But ‘tis true, we do all this, and against our wishes too. I know scarcely an operative, who would not have it otherwise if they could. But they do not wish their wages cut down, for they have barely enough to live on now. The time we are required to labor is altogether too long. It is more than our constitutions can bear. If anyone doubts it, let them come into our mills of a summer’s day, at four or five o’clock, in the afternoon, and see the drooping, weary persons moving about, as though their legs were hardly able to support their bodies. If this does not convince them, let them try their hand at it a while, and they will find the thing demonstrated at once. In fact there is nothing more common amongst operatives, than the remark that "their legs ache so, it seems as though they would drop off." Now if they desired to work so long, they would not complain in this way. I have been an overseer myself, and many times have I had girls faint in the morning, in consequence of the air being so impure in the mill. This is quite a common thing. Especially when girls have worked in the factory for considerable length of time. We commence as soon-and work as long as we can see almost the year round, and for nearly half the year we work by lamp light, at both ends of the day lighting up both morning and evening. And besides this, from November till March our time is from twenty minutes to half an hour too slow. So you see instead of getting out of the factory at half past seven o’clock in the evening, it is really eight. And more than this some of the clocks are so fixed as to lose ten minutes during the day and gain ten minutes during the night, thereby getting us into the mill five minutes before five in the morning and working us five minutes after seven at night. As to wages, the proprietors do not calculate the average wages of females, to exceed one dollar fifty cents per week, exclusive of board. Not-withstanding those "stray Yankees," state to the contrary. But I am taking up too much room, perhaps you may hear from me again in time. 

Yours for the right,