Before Mary Paul left home to go work in Lowell, she wrote that,
"I want you to consent to let me go to Lowell if you can. I think it would be much better for me than to stay about here."
She was expecting a place where she could earn her own money, buy her own things, and still send home some money to help support her family. At first she was pleased with her conditions,
"We found a place in a spinning room and the next morning I went to work. I like very well"
She was befriending many of the other girls, who were there for much the same reason that she was, and she seemed satisfied with her new working conditions. However, as the months drag on, her tone in the letters changes. Her pay is not amounting to what she wishes it would be. She is forced to spend much of it on board, and the rest on necessities. However, during this time she is still working hard and learning the value of hard work and independence. Throughout the final months of her living in the mills, she falls ill often and is unable to work very well. In her final letter she writes,
"I have not been able to do much, although I have worked very hard."
This shows her determination to make good out of what she has been given. Mary, along with many other mill girls, departs from the mills a strong, independent and determined young woman. Many of these mill girls were so deeply effected by their experiences at the mills; some of which were good, while some were bad, that they became activists for women's rights in their adulthood. The overall impact on the girls in the mills is that, while they may not have felt successful at the mills, their lessons learned from hard work at the mills helped them to succeed in life.
The owners of the Lowell mills became very rich men, at the expense of a cheap labor force. The product that the mills put out was easier to make, so more could be sold, and at a lower price. This meant that more people were buying the goods from American factories, and less goods from other countries. This in turn led to a boosted economy which was good for everyone, but especially the mill owners. Because they hired almost exclusively young women, which were the cheapest section of the work force, the owners were able to keep much more money for themselves. The massive profits came at the cost of living and working conditions for the young women.
The living conditions, although far better than those in mills in Britain, are still deplorable. The girls were forced to live multiple people for a small room, and the work hours were unbearably long. At first Mary was pleased with her living and working conditions, she writes,
"I get along in work have a first rate overseer and a very good boarding place."
She is doing well in work and likes where she is living. However, as time goes on, she begins to realize that things are more treacherous than they initially seemed. In a later letter she writes,
"My life and health are spared while others are cut off. Last Thursday one girl fell down and broke her neck which caused instant death... The same day a man was killed by the [railroad] cars. Another had nearly all of his ribs broken. Another was nearly killed by falling down and having a bale of cotton fall on him." This shows her fear of injury, and the real presence of danger in everyday life at the mills. For the owners of the mills, it was cheaper to have mills where accidents occurred 'infrequently' than to spend money to make sure that people were always safe.
The Lowell experiment was both a success and a failure. For America as a whole, the factories in Lowell helped to advance our country industrially, economically, and to inspire some women to take active roles in women's and worker's rights. However, for the poor girls who were forced to work in these mills, many of them had no other option and were trapped in this system that gave them little to no pay.
|The Lowell Mills - 1858|
A place of constant motion and production