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Lowell History: Visitor Observations 1827-1913

Observations of Lowell by Robert Everest 1855



"I paid a visit to the factories of Lowell and Lawrence, near Boston. There were twenty-two persons in the railway car with me, and but one of them a dirty, ill-dressed fellow, and he was an Irishman. For my friend, to whom I pointed him out, took the trouble to ascertain the fact from him.

The factories, themselves, are not different from what may be seen in England and elsewhere. The condition of those who labour in them is alone peculiar.

Fronting one side of a factory that I entered at Lawrence was a handsome and clean range of red brick houses, with green venetians to the windows. In one of them that I was shown over, was a room which may serve as a sample of the rest. It was about 14 feet square, and 8 feet high, and in this were three beds, occupied, at night, by six of the factory girls, or young ladies, as I should better term them. The rooms, the beds, and bedding, appeared scrupulously clean. There was, besides, a parlour or saloon, and a dining-room, common to all, on the ground-floor. The landlady informed me that each lady paid for board, lodging, and washing, 1 ¼ dollar (5s. 2 ½d.) per week, to which the company, or owners of the factory, added 18 cents (9d.) more, to insure the good treatment of their work-people. For in this country, public opinion, as a late writer has observed, would revolt at the ill treatment of a brother citizen, or any of his family; a natural consequence of political power lodged in the hands of the people, being, that sympathy is powerfully felt for them. I could not help remembering, that about the same time, the year before, I had travelled through the Highlands of Scotland, and what troops of ragged wretches I then saw issuing from turf-cabins, scarcely better than the wigwams of Indians.

The landlady paid. 140 dollars (29l. 3s. 4d.) per annum rent for her house, and had usually 40 to 50 boarders. The ladies generally spend their evenings in the study of French, music, and other accomplishments. I saw an excellent drawing in pencil by one of them hung up in the dining-room. Any impropriety of conduct is punished by expulsion from their society, and, consequently, from the establishment. They earn from three to five dollars per week beyond the sum (1 ¼ dollar) which they pay for their maintenance, and many were the touching stories I heard of the exemplary manner in which they saved money and remitted it to their families: for they are objects of great attention, and the heroines of many fugitive pieces both in prose and verse. Under the superintendence of a literary lady, who took great interest in them, they published a periodical called the "Lowell Offering," in which, it is said, were several pieces of merit."