Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Revolutionary Of The Week

The Lowell Mill Girls

Lowell, Massachusetts was named after the wealthy Lowell family. They owned numerous textile mills in the 1800's, which attracted the unmarried daughters of New England farmers.

These young girls worked in the mills & lived in supervised dorms. On average, a Lowell Mill girl worked for 3 years before leaving to marry. Living & working together often forged a camaraderie that would later find quite an outlet.

The mill owner's exploited what had the potential to be a relatively agreeable system for all involved, all for their own gain.

The young workers worked under poor conditions for long hours, only to return to the dorms that enforced strict dress codes, shitty food, & were ruled by matrons with an iron fist.

In response to this treatment, the Lowell Mill workers, some as young as just 11 years old, did something revolutionary, especially for that time: The tight-knit group of girls & women organized a union. They demonstrated & marched against a 15% cut in their wages, as well as for better working & living conditions. This included the demand for a 10 hour workday.

The women started newspapers, & proclaimed, "Union is power!" They decided to go on strike. The movement spread through other Massachusetts mill towns, & around 500 workers united to form the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association (LFLRA) in 1844. This was the first organization of American working women to bargain collectively for better conditions & higher pay.

Sarah Bagley was named the LFLRA's first president & she led a petition-drive that forced the Massachusetts legislature to investigate the conditions at the mills. Bagley not only fought to improve the physical conditions, but she argued that the female workers "lacked sufficient time to improve their minds", something she considered "essential for laborers in a republic."

As with many revolutionary actions, the LFLRA met with alot of opposition in their efforts. Despite their inability to fully secure the specific changes that they demanded, the Lowell Mill girls laid a foundation for female involvement & leadership in the soon to explode America labor movement, & they continue to inspire those who stand against injustice today.