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Life in a Lowell Cotton Mill


The looms where Sarah Bagley labored
What's the shirt or sweater you're wearing made out of? Chances are it's made of all cotton, or has cotton in it. If this was the early 1900s, your shirt or sweater might have come from cotton spun at great big mills along the Merrimack River in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Water from the river made the machines inside the mills run, but women like 21-year-old Sarah Bagely worked from before sunrise to after sunset to make the famous cotton that was sent around the world.

What was life like for Sarah and all the other women? It was hard!!!

Toot, toooot! A whistle sounds at 4 a.m. and Sarah rolls out of her woolen sheets and blanket to put her tired feet on a cold, bare wooden floor. Before the rooster even crows she's at the breakfast table -- ready to eat a giant meal of fried cod fish, fried hash, fried potato balls, pumpkin mush with cream, buttered toast, apple pie coffee with brown sugar, and milk. She has to eat a lot -- she's got at least 15 hours of work ahead of her!

Kevin lends a helping hand
Her fingers are tired and her bones ache, but her boss is standing right there as she walks into the weave room. And he won't go away -- he's going to walk around all day, standing over his workers, watching their every move, showing them all their mistakes. Oh, what a long day ahead!

But here in Lowell, along the river, Sarah is a lot better off than she would be if she lived in England. Her life is ruled by the bell and whistle, but at least she gets enough food and isn't beaten like some of the workers in England, where Francis Cabot Lowell got the idea to put mills in Lowell.

And Sarah and women like her get to live life in a big city, where thousands of people came to be a part of the Industrial Revolution -- when machines brought thousands of people off the farms and into the factory. It was quite a big change for women like Sarah who grew up on small farms in New Hampshire and other places.

But the work was hard and the pay was small. Sarah earned only $3.50 a week, and $1.50 of that was taken out for her housing! So she made just $2.00 a week and worked from 4 a.m. to after 9 p.m!

But Sarah was a smart woman, and worked hard to get a 10-hour workday. It won't happen overnight for Sarah and her fellow mill workers, but people in mills today don't work from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m., do they! Yay, Sarah!


Please email me at: kevin1@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Daphne - Know-Nothings without a clue
Teddy - A 19th century Robin Hood saves the day