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Women's Rights

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In the early 1800s the textile mills of Lowell Massachusetts were a celebrated economic and cultural attraction. Visitors always made sure to pass this place when they visited. Surprisingly most of the workers in the mills were women. The first factory recruited Yankee women from the area.

As Lowell expanded becoming the nation's largest textile manufacturing center, the experiences of women operatives changed as well. With the pressure of competition overproduction became a problem, and high profits of the early years declined. Wages were reduced and the pace of work was stepped up. The women did not accept these changes without any protest.

In 1834 and 1836 they went on strike to protest wage cuts. Between 1843 and 1848 they had petition campaigns aimed at reducing the hours of labor in the mills. These women were very close with each other, and they all shared the same values. This made it easy for them to be so strong in their protests. Most of these women working in the Lowell mills were housed in company boarding homes. In 1836 more than seventy-three percent of females employed by the Hamilton Company lived in houses next to the mills.

They lived in close quarters which played a role in the growth of the community. These boarding houses were the center of social life for these women after their long work days. They ate together, talked with one another, read books together, and also wrote letters. The community of women operatives developed in a setting where women worked and lived together twenty four hours a day.

When the women went on strike in 1834 they marched to numerous mills in an effort to induce others to join them. They said they would not go back to work until their demands were met. They wanted the wages they were getting before the reduction, to be received all of them as one, and if they do not have enough money to carry them home they shall be supplied.

The first strike was brief and failed. By the next week the women either went back to work or left town. The first strike was important not because is failed or succeeded but because it took place. This showed the women were starting to have a voice in the workplace even if they were not being listened to yet.

In 1836 the women went on strike again. This time they had double the turn out. This strike also lasted several months not just a couple days. They also showed a much higher degree of organization this time. They attempted to persuade less committed operatives concentrating on those in crucial departments within the mill.

There was a decline in protests by women in the Lowell mills after these strike defeats. During the 1837-1843



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