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Primary Source Analysis #2
Harriet Robinson, “Early Factory Labor in New England”
In 1883, Harriet Robinson described her work in the textile mills between 1832 and 1845. A portion of her memoir was assigned for this week’s readings and excerpts from this document can be found below (following all of the questions). Write an analysis of her memoir based on these excerpts that responds to the following questions:
Part II: Discussion Question – please add this below your essay (not as part of it). You can put it on the same page as your essay, but in a separate section.
Responses will be graded according to the following criteria:
Excerpts from document:
…I shall confine myself to a description of factory life in Lowell, Massachusetts, from 1832 to 1845 …
In 1832, …Help was in great demand and stories were told all over the country of the new factory place, and the high wages that were offered [and] gave new life to lonely and dependent women in distant towns and farmhouses…Troops of young girls came from different parts of New England and from Canada…The early mill girls were of different ages. Some were not over ten years of age; a few were in middle life, but the majority were between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five.
The working hours … extended from five o’clock in the morning until seven in the evening, with one half hour each, for breakfast and dinner…Those of the mill girls who had homes generally worked from eight to ten months in the year; the rest of time was spent with parents or friends. A few taught school during the summer months. Their life in the factory was made pleasant to them. In those days there was no need of advocating the proper relationship between employer and employed. Help was too valuable to be ill-treated.
…To make a gentleman of a brother or a son, to give him a college education, was the dominant thought…I have known more than one to give every cent of her wages… to her brother, that he might get the education necessary to enter some profession. I have known a mother to work years in this way for her boy…There are many men now living who were helped to an education by the wages of the early mill girls…
… As late as 1840, there were only seven vocations outside the home into which the women of New England had entered. At this time, women had no property rights. A widow could be left without her share of her husband’s (or the family) property…A father could make his will without a reference to his daughter’s share of the inheritance…A woman was not supposed to be capable of spending her own, or of using other people’s money.
…One of the first strikes that ever took place in this country was in Lowell in 1836. When it was announced that the wages were to be cut…The mills were shut down and the girls went… and listened to incendiary speeches from some early labor reformers. One of the girls stood on a pump…declaring that it was their duty to resist all attempts at cutting down the wages. This was the first time a woman had spoken in public in Lowell, and the event caused surprise and consternation among her audience…
…the strike did no good. The corporations would not come to terms. The girls were soon tired of holding out, and they went back to their work at the reduced rate of wages.
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