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Lowell Mills Girls

In The Oppressing Hand of Avarice Would Enslave Us, Thomas Dublin says that the life and sense of community of the women mill operatives was crucial for their ability to protest wage cuts and long work days. This sense of community among the women was nurtured by the structure of mill life. The women lived and worked together in close conditions. They trained newcomers and covered for one another, when necessary. This cohesion amongst them provided the basis and the strength for their protests. It was helped by their sense of freedom as freemen’s daughters.

The community was the most important factor for determining the response to the harsher conditions. The interdependence of the women in Lowell was founded in the mill work itself. In the beginning of their work newcomers were particularly dependent upon the more experienced workers to help them to learn the ways of the factory. At first the new women were assigned as sparehands to an experienced worker. Through watching the experienced worker the new person would learn the intricacies of the job. This made the new women rely on their fellow workers for training and support. Many times work would be shared if it was necessary.

Friends would cover each other so that the one who was absent could continue to make her wages, while taking time off to recover from sickness or to just go on a small vacation. This was another way that dependence developed among the female workers during work hours. The mill work itself rooted the interdependence of the women. The living conditions at the factory also helped to develop a sense of community among the women. Most of the women working at the mills were provided housing in company boardinghouses. The people living in these boardinghouses lived in close quarters.

A common boardinghouse had four to eight women living together in the same room, which left little opportunity for privacy. Also, with the hours of their jobs and the 10:00 P. M. curfew it was hard for the workers to associate with anyone outside of the mill. This created an atmosphere where there was heavy pressure to conform to the group. This pressure to go along with the group also helped to gain support for going on strike. Something that helped the sense of unity was that most women that came to the factory had a friend or relative that already worked there.

This helped the new person get acquainted with the other workers and the way of factory life. The development of the community was also developed by the congruity of the mill. The mill was homogenous in sex, where the workers were from, and how old they were. The life of the mill also helped to bind the women together in a strong community. The strikes were a result of the threatening of the workers independence from the factory. The mill agents undermined the workers sense of dignity and social equality, which was very important to them.

The strike was against enslavement by the wage cuts. The strong bonds in the community helped both the first and second strikes to happen. The turn-out was collective, if it had not been then the strike would have failed miserably. The unity of the women allowed them to stage a strike that was mostly uniform. Even though their demands were not truly met, the fact that they did strike is an accomplishment in itself. The wage cuts were a threat to the workers independence and their unity helped them to counter the threat.

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