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Struggle for Equal Work

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Struggle for Equal Work

The development of the Lowell Mills in the 1820s provided American women with their first opportunity to work outside the home with reasonable wages and relatively safe work. About ten years later however, working in the mills wasn’t the same. Working conditions became more vigorous, the mills were unsafe and the pay received didn’t match the amount of work done.

The Lowell family’s textile mills were set up to attract the unmarried daughters of farm families, hoping that they would work a few years before getting married. These young women were called “Lowell Mill Girls.” A typical working day in the mills started with a factory bell ringing at about four in the morning to wake up employees. After this, employees had to be at the mills in an hour and work until late in the evening. This would sometimes lead to 12-14 hour days. Often times, women were expected to tend about three or four machines at the same. It was a lot of work, but at the time the pay offered was the highest wage available. In the 1830s, wages ranged from $.44 to $1.58 per day, depending on the speed and skill of the worker. This was about half the amount paid to the male mill worker.

The air in the mills was not circulated causing it to become very hot in the summer and extremely cold in the winter. Company supervisors believed that opening any windows would cause threads to break more often so they chose to leave windows shut tight at all times. This is an example of how productivity was placed before the well being of workers. Workers were either sweating or shivering by their machines and many of them got sick with tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases.

Conditions in the mills during the 1830s were terrible. Lighting was a problem in the mills causing the workers to strain their eyes to see what they were doing. This was to make sure they were working productively and to avoid injuries from tools or machinery. Comfort wasn’t something women were used to while working in the mills, especially in the boarding houses where they stayed.

Unmarried women who worked in the Lowell mills lived in boarding houses within the area. A widow was usually the supervisor in these places and was responsible for the moral and physical well being of the girls. The women were required to pay about a dollar a week

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