Lowell - Portuguese mill girls
Thirty miles from Boston, Lowell, Massachusetts was a major site in the US Industrial Revolution and a particularly important site in the history of female labor. Beginning with the opening of the Merrimack factory in 1823, Lowell was transformed from a farming community into an industrial hub of 32 mills employing approximately 8,000 workers. The majority of mill employees were young women between 16 and 35 who often worked only a few years in the mills before marrying.
The original Lowell Mill Girls were American born women from New England farm towns. The hours were long compared to other factories of the era and workers lived in factory owned boarding houses. Educational and organizing opportunities began to develop within the mostly female community. With the help of a local minister, the girls began to publish the Lowell Offering, a monthly compendium of creative writing and journalism written by the Mill Girls. The Lowell Mill Girls went on strike twice during the 1830s in response to wage cuts. Although both strikes were quickly broken, they showed the determination of the Mill Girls. In the 1840s, the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association was formed to petition the Massachusetts state legislature for a 10 hour work day. Although they were again unsuccessful as the legislature did not feel they should interfere with the regulation of private industry, the Lowell Mill Girls were an active force in the labor movement of the early industrial age, forming connections with other labor groups.
Expansions in the Lowell textile industry and difficulty recruiting workers for such a low wage job led to a diversification of the Lowell workforce. From the 1840s through the 1860s, Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine were the largest group of mill workers. As Irish immigrants moved upwards, French-Canadian, Greek, Polish, Jewish, Armenian and Portuguese immigrants took their places at the mill.
Technical improvements in other mills lead to a slow shut down of Lowell mills in the 1920s and 1930s with the last mill closing in the 1950s. Today, the Lowell Mills are part of the National Park system. The student newspaper at UMass- Lowell is named the Lowell Offering in honor of the Lowell Mill Girls.