In the late half of the 18th century, the United States started seeing some changes, especially in the North. The New England states slowly started industrializing and agriculture slowly started disappearing. Large industries were being built, especially textile ones. The most famous factory system at that time was the Lowell system. This system was a very real attempt to prevent the spread of the evils associated with the factory system. As magnificent as this change was, there was another startling change that was taking place, women going to work in those factories.
As the Lowell system was expanding in New England, new job opportunities were being created for women in the US, especially the young women of New England. The Lowell system acknowledged the need for a new type of working class, women, and realized that it wouldn’t be an easy task recruiting such workers due to the general ideology during that period of time. Thus that system tried to make the working conditions in its factories as respectable and attracting to young women as possible.
As the system started to grow and more women were starting to work at the factories, opposition to the new type of work increased. One of the biggest opposers to the system was Orestes A. Brownson. During an interview with him, he dealt severe blows to the new system and referred to it as being another type of slave labor. Brownson was not the only opponent of the Lowell system, many people viewed the system as degrading to women, and to their “cult of womanhood” as historian Barbara Welter called it. The Lowell system, according to many people at that time, robbed every “true” woman from her four virtues: piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity. A true woman, commented author Grace Greenwood, should be like a “perpetual child” who is always “timid, doubtful, and clingingly dependent”.
During my visit to the Lowell factories I discovered quite the opposite of all those claims. Reverend Henry A. Mills, author of the book Lowell, As It Was, and As It Is, described the boardinghouse to me during my interview with him. from his description I came to the conclusion that the mills and the working conditions weren’t as bad as people thought. In fact, some women lived a better life in the boarding houses of the mills that at their homes. The boarding houses were well kept, clean and under strict rules. Above all that the rent was relatively cheap, when compared to other mills. Another advantage that the Lowell system presented was the relatively high pay. Women made good money over there, money that enabled them to buy luxuries that they never dreamed of owning when they were sitting at home.
When I bought a copy of the Lowell Offering, the mills’s paper set up by the working girls themselves, I found it quite amazing. Most the girls, as it seemed in the paper, were happy in the mills. They enjoyed depending on themselves and making good money. Though they were disappointed with the fact that many people opposed what they were doing, to a point where the girls returning to their hometown from the factory were viewed as corrupted for life and stripped of their innocence and womanhood.
Though I noticed some flaws in the Lowell system, which the girls didn’t really like. The major one of those was the working hours. The girls wanted to cut back the 11 hour work day to 10.
Danger was present in the mills, though most of the girls didn’t mind, as seen in Mary Paul’s letter to her father.
In Conclusion, though a lot of people might disagree with my opinion, the Lowell system was a good contribution the American industry. It gave the opportunity to women to be equal to men and work in fields they never before worked in due to the ideological factors. Though the opposition to the system was stiff, the working girls of Lowell overcame those barriers and excelled in that field. Women have now started to rely on themselves.