Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Those Horrible 19th Century Factories

An 1840 description of the young women working in the Lowell, Mass. textile mills:
I happened to arrive at the first factory just as the dinner hour was over, and the girls were returning to their work; indeed the stairs of the mill were thronged with them as I ascended. They were all well dressed, but not to my thinking above their condition : for I like to see the humbler classes of society careful of their dress and appearance, and even, if they please, decorated with such little trinkets as come within the compass of their means. Supposing it confined within reasonable limits, I would always encourage this kind or pride, a worthy element or self-respect, in any person I employed ; and should no more be deterred from doing so, because some ' wretched female referred her fall to a love of dress, than I would allow my construction of the real intent and meaning of the Sabbath to be influenced by any warning to the well­-disposed, founded on his back-slidings ou that particular day, which might emanate from the rather doubtful authority of a murderer in Newgate.
These girls, as I have said, were all well dressed, and that phrase necessarily includes extreme cleanliness. They had serviceable bonnets, good warm cloaks, and shawls; and were not above clogs and pattens. Moreover, there were places in the mill in which they could deposit tbete things wilboot in­jury ; and there were conveniences for washing. They were healthy in appearance, many of them remarkably so, and had the manners and deportment or young women : not of degraded brutes of burden,...
The rooms in which they worked, were as well ordered as themselves. In the windows of some, there were green plants, which were trained to shade the glass; in all, there was as much fresh air, cleanliness, and comfort, as the nature of the occupation would possibly admit of. Out of so large a number of females, many of whom were only then just verging upon womanhood, it may be reasonably supposed that some were delicate and fragile in appearance: no doubt there were. But I solemnly declare, that from all the crowd I saw in the different factories that day, I cannot recall or separate one young face that gave me a painful impression; not one young girl whom, assuming it to be matter of necessity that she should gain her daily bread by the labour of her hands, I would have removed from those works if I had had the power.
They reside in various boarding-houses near at hand. The owners of the mills are particularly careful to allow no persons to enter upon the possession of these houses, whose characters have not undergone the most searching and thorough inquiry. Any complaint that is made against them, by the boarders, or by any one else, is fully investigated ; and if good ground of complaint be shown to exist against them, they arc removed, and their occupation is handed over to some more deserving person. There are a few children employed in these factories, but no many. The laws of the State forbid their working more than nine months in the year, and require that they be educated during the other three. For this purpose there are schools in Lowell; and there are churches and chapels of various persua­sions, in which the young women may observe that form of Worship in which they have been educated.
So, what ferocious capitalist apologist wrote this?  Charles Dickens, American Notes for General Circulation, (Paris: A. and W. Galignani & Co., 1842), 1:80.  

2 comments:

Dry Creek Historical Society Dchs said...

But but but...that doesn't comport with the narrative!

LCB said...

I'm sure there were good and bad factory owners. Steel workers used to die by the hundreds because they worked out doors by the blast furnaces. The doors would be opened to feed the material, then closed to let it "cook". The men would get hot and sweaty...then suddenly the temperature would be 20 degrees or worse. Pneumonia was a huge killer. The owners didn't care because for every man that died two more were outside begging for work. Mines were the same way...deadly dangerous. But still, there were probably mine owners that tried to take care of their men...mill owners too.