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Lowell History: Visitor Observations 1827-1913

Observations of Lowell by William Hancock, 1860


I cannot, however, better compensate my readers for my own shortcomings on a matter of so much interest, than by transcribing the following extract from the excellent little work of Mr. W. E. Baxter, M.P., entitled "America and the Americans," which I have once before quoted, and than which no late work on the United States contains so much and such varied information in so small a compass, or expresses views more moderate or more consistent with the progressive spirit of the age. "The city of Lowell," he writes, "contained in 1846, 30,000 inhabitants, one-third of whom were operatives employed at the various works; of these, 7,000 were females, and 1,000 males. There were thirty-three mills, besides the print works, with an invested capital of 12,000,000 dollars. They were then making annually 75,868,000 yards of cloth, 1,500,000 dollars being expended in wages. They are not the property of individuals, but of joint-stock companies, each company being managed by a gentleman resident at the works. The partners for the most part live at Boston. The machinery is all driven by water power, and the buildings are of brick, substantial, and well finished. In Lowell there is a very small population permanently engaged in manufactures. The girls seldom remain at the works longer than five years, but at the end of that period return to their rural homes, with a little purse, and send their younger sisters to supply their places. To encourage this system, the different corporations require their workers to board in one of the houses which are attached to each mill. There are five hundred and fifty of these boarding houses, in all of which every attention is paid to the health and comfort of the inmates. Those who behave improperly are summarily dismissed; but out of 6,800,000 girls, mentioned in a late statistical report, only forty-nine had been turned off for this reason. Total abstinence from intoxicating liquors is regarded as a pre-requisite towards obtaining employment; and the moral police system among the operatives themselves is said to be perfect. I was informed, however, last year, that owing chiefly to the great influx of Irish and Germans, of a low grade, the Lowell operatives have recently rather degenerated in point of character. The average wage of the females is about 8s. 6d. per week, besides board, although many earn nearly double that sum. The numerous 'Improvement Circles,' or literary societies, at which so many of the workers spend their leisure time; the clever articles in the 'Lowell Offering,' written by the girls themselves; the well-frequented libraries and crowded lecture rooms, bear ample testimony to the existence of 'mind among the spindles.' Three-eighths of the girls in 1846 were church members, and three-sevenths either teachers or pupils at the Sabbath schools."