Around 70 young female operatives who worked in the Lowell mills published a journal called The Lowell Offering. The extent to which the owners of the mills controlled the content of the journal is uncertain, though they probably had some censorship power over it. The following selection was originally printed in the Lowell Offering in 1844.
Miss S: I am very happy to see you this evening, Miss Bartlett, for I have something particular to say to you. Now do tell me if you still persist in your resolution to return to your factory employment?
Miss B: I do. I have no objection, neither have I heard any sufficiently strong to deter me.
Miss S: The idea that it is degrading, in the opinion of many, would be objection enough for me without taking into account its real tendency to promote ignorance and vice.
Miss B: By whom is factory labor considered degrading? It is by those who believe all labor degrading--by those who contemptuously speak of the farmer, the mechanic, the printer, the seamstress, and all who are obliged to toil as belonging to the lower orders--by those who seem to think the condition of labor excludes all the capacities of the mind and the virtues of humanity. They forget that circumstances, over which they have little or no control, place them above the necessity of labor; and that circumstances may yet compel them to engage in that at which they now scoff and spurn.
Miss S: There are objections to factory labor, which serve to render it degrading--objections which cannot be urged against any other kind of female employment. For instance, to be called and to be dismissed by the ringing of a bell savors of compulsion and slavery, and cannot cease to produce mortification without having been destructive to self-respect.
Miss B: In almost all kinds of employment it is necessary to keep regular established hours: more particularly so where there are so many connected as in the factories. Because we are reminded of those hours by the ringing of a bell, it is no argument against our employment, any more than it would be against going to church or to school. Our engagements are voluntarily entered into with our employers, with the understanding that they may be dissolved at our pleasure. However derogatory to our dignity and liberty you may consider factory labor, there is not a tinge of slavery existing in it, unless there be in every kind of labor that is urged upon us by the force of circumstances.
Miss S: Objections have been brought up against the boardinghouses, and, I think, with much plausibility. The large number of females who are there thrown together are, unavoidably, intimately connected with each other. It cannot be denied that some, guilty of immoralities, find their way into the factories and boardinghouses. The example and influence of such must be pernicious, and terminate in the increase of vice.
Miss B: It is true that the example and influence of immorality, wherever it exists, cannot be otherwise than evil. We know, also, that some exceptionable characters occasionally find a place among those employed in factories. We know it from the fact that dismissals do, now and then, occur as the consequence. But, my dear Miss S, did you ever know or hear of a class of people who could boast of perfection? among whom wrong of any description was never known?
Miss S: O, no! And, as I am no perfectionist, I never expect to know one.
Miss B: Then, if in one case the guilt of a few has not corrupted the whole, why should it in the other? Living in a factory boardinghouse, and working in a factory, changes not "human nature": it is susceptible of good, and also of evil, there, as it is elsewhere.
Miss S: I agree with you in thinking that among all classes, and in every condition in life, evil influences are at work. But in some situations in life is not the exposure to these influences much more extensive, and, therefore, more dangerous, especially to the young?
Miss B: I believe there are many kinds of female employment offered in our large towns and cities far more dangerous in this respect than factory employment, although they may be considered more desirable and respectable. . . .
Miss S: You will not acknowledge that factory labor is degrading, or that it is productive of vice, but you must own that it fosters ignorance. When there are so many hours out of each day devoted to labor, there can be no time for study and improvement.
Miss B: It is true that too large a portion of our time is confined to labor. But, first, let me remark that this is an objection which cannot be said to exist only in factory labor. . . . We have abundant proof that unremitted toil is not always derogatory to improvement. A factory girl's work is neither hard nor complicated. She can go on with perfect regularity in her duties while her mind may be actively employed on any other subject. There can be no better place for reflection, when there must be toil, than the factory. The patronage which newspapers and periodicals find in our city, our well-worn libraries, evening schools, crowded churches and sabbath schools, prove that factory operatives find leisure to use the means of improvement both in mind and heart.
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Source: The Lowell Offering (Month?, Day?, 1844)
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