Lowell’s history is inextricably linked to the industrialization of textile manufacture that began in England as a jealously guarded secret. Francis Cabot Lowell managed to absorb enough information concerning the construction of the English power loom when on a visit in 1810 that he could reconstruct the technology in his plant in Waltham, Massachusetts. The firm soon relocated to the junction of the Merrimack and Concord Rivers and Pawtucket Canal, and the city was renamed Lowell, after the founder of the American technology. In order to avoid creation of an exploited working class as had happened in England’s industrial areas, the Lowell Corporations hired as their "operatives" single women, most recruited from the surrounding farms of Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The 75 per cent female work force was temporary, the average stay being about four years. Housing was in chaperoned rooming houses, organized, and at first, subsidized, by the companies.
All images, except if otherwise noted, are courtesy of the Merrimack Valley Textile Museum.
1. View of Lowell, Massachusetts, engraving for folder of textile samples, 1848.
2. Boarding Houses, Dutton Street ca. 1825 after Coolidge, Mill and Mansion
3. Plans of three floors of Dutton St. Boarding House, after Coolidge, Mill and Mansion
4. Cloth Label for Hamilton Manufacturing Company, Lowell, Massachusetts, 1860.
5. Woman drawing in warp ends, ca. 18455, from A History of Wonderful Inventions
6. "New England Factory Life - Bell Time" (wood engraving after drawing by Winslow Homer) from Harper’s Weekly vol. 12 (July 25, 1868)
7. Two Women Weavers, ca. 1865-70.
8. Woman at the Loom, late 1840-early 1850s, Courtesy Keith de Lellis.
Coolidge, John, Mill and Mansion A Study of Architecture and Society in Lowell 1820-1865 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942, second ed. 1993)
Eisler, Benita, ed., The Lowell Offering: Writings by New England Mill Women 1840-1845 (Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott, 1977)
Robinson, Harriet Jane Hanson, Loom and Spindle: or, Life Among the Early Mill Girls (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1989)