1834 Lowell Mill Girls "Turnout" to Protest Wage Cuts
Lowell, Massachusetts was once a bustling city center in the midst of an Industrial Revolution. Textile mills were set up on major rivers in the city, and produced goods at a rate unprecedented in human history. The workers in these mills were generally young women who came from rural areas where the demand for young farmhands was decreasing due to improved agricultural technology. The mills were dangerous with looms and machinery which could injure a young girl if she made a mistake. The mill girls’ hours were long and the pay was not great, but there was a sense of unity among the young women. As Harriet Robinson recalled, “workers ‘stood by one another in the mills; when one wanted to be absent half a day, two or three others would tend an extra loom or frame apiece, so that the absent one might not lose her pay.’”
In 1834, the market hit a bit of a lull. Mill owners decided to pass on their declining profits to their mill workers by imposing a 15-20% wage slash. The mill women banded together claiming “Union is Power” . The mill owners retaliated by firing the women who held meetings to organize protests. After the firings, the mill girls took to the streets in protest and held a strike against the mill owners. Unfortunately, because of the overproduction of textiles which had caused the slow down the in market, the mill owners were not affected by the strike and could afford to do without the workers who decided to strike. Although this strike did not turn out in favor of the striking mill girls, it laid the foundations and precedent for further actions against mill owners. The mill girls also took a great step for women’s rights as they took matters into their own hands and struck against injustice imposed by the mill owners.