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Overseers in Lowell's Textile Mills

Lowell Labor History

Ida E. Brown (1854-1934)

Merrimack Mill Workers 1920

 Lowell Mass, Merrimack Mills, 1920, Lowell Historical Society, Photograph Collection, Center for Lowell History, UMass Lowell Libraries.

Ida E. Brown was among the few female overseers in Lowell in the late 19th century. Born in the rural village of Lowell, Vermont, in 1854, she was the daughter of William and Martha Brown. Her father ran a small store the village. After his death in the 1860s, Ida’s mother married Edward Stevenson, an English immigrant who operated one of the area’s more prosperous farms. It is not clear why she left the family farm, but in the 1870s, in her early 20s, Ida Brown moved to Lowell, Massachusetts, and obtained a job in the Merrimack Mills. She resided in one of the Merrimack Corporation’s “front row” boardinghouses on Dutton Street. Little is known about her life in Lowell other than she was socially active and a talented whist card player. It appears she was a spinner and worked her entire career in the Merrimack Mills. By the late 1890s she had become a “forewoman” (overseer) very likely in the cotton spinning department. Of the six forewomen listed in Lowell’s city directory for 1900, Brown was the only one employed in a factory of the city’s large cotton corporations. She continued to reside in a corporation boardinghouse, living on Worthen Street, and remaining there even after the Merrimack Corporation sold all of its boardinghouse properties. After a career of more than 50 years with the company, Ida Brown retired in the early 1930s and died in 1934 while rooming in a house on Lane Street in the city’s Highlands neighborhood.1

Obituary of Ida E. Brown, Lowell Sun, February 14, 1934.