Mary Paul was one of thousands of Lowell mill "girls." She grew up in northern Vermont, one of four children born to Bela and Marry Briggs Paul. She began her working life as a domestic in Bridgewater, Vermont, but in 1845 decided to try her luck in Lowell. She worked in the mills from 1845 through 1848, joining her father in Claremont, New Hampshire soon afterward (where he had relocated to). Two years later she returned to Vermont for a short spell, and then joined former Lowell companions at an agricultural utopian community in Redbank, New Jersey for a year. Following her brief tenure at the collective, she once again returned to New Hampshire. In 1857, she married Issac Guild who took a job at a marble works in Lynn, Massachusetts. Twenty-five of her letters, covering the years 1845 through 1862 have survived. Here are a few of them.
Saturday Sept. 13th 1845 [Sent from Woodstrock, Vermont]
I received your letter this afternoon by Wm Griffith. You wished me to write if I had seen Mr. Angell. I have neither written to him nor seen him nor has he written to me. I began to write but I could not write what I wanted to. I think if I could see him I could convince him of his error if he would let me talk. I am very glad you sent my shoes. They fit very well indeed they [are] large enough.
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. I could earn more to begin with than I can any where about here. I am in need of clothes which I cannot get if I stay about here and for that reason I want to go to Lowell or some other place. We all think if I could go with some steady girl that I might do well. I want you to think of it and make up your mind. Mercy Jane Griffith is going to start in four or five weeks. Aunt Miller and Aunt Sarah think it would be a good chance for me to go if you would consent-which I want you to do if possible. I want to see you and talk with you about it.
Aunt Sarah gains slowly.
Woodstock Nov 8 1845
As you wanted me to let you know when I am going to start for Lowell, I improve this opportunity to write you. Next Thursday the 13th of this month is the day set or the Thursday afternoon. I should like to have you come down. If you come bring Henry if you can for I should like to see him before I go. Julius has got the money for me.
Lowell Nov 20th 1845
An opportunity now presents itself which I improve in writing to you. I started for this place at the time I talked of which was Thursday. I left Whitneys at nine o'clock stopped at Windsor at 12 and staid till 3 and started again. Did not stop again for any length of time till we arrived at Lowell. Went to a boarding house and staid until Monday night. On Saturday after I got here Luthera Griffith went round with me to find a place but we were unsuccessful. On Monday we started again and were more successful, We found a place in a spinning room and the next morning I went to work. I like very well have 50 cts first payment increasing every payment as I get along in work have a first rate overseer and a very good boarding place. I work on the Lawrence Corporation. Mill is No 2 spinning room. l was very sorry that you did not come to see me start. I wanted to see you and Henry but I suppose that you were otherways engaged. I hoped to see Julius but did not much expect to for I sposed he was engaged in other matters. He got six dollars for me which I was very glad of. It cost me $3.25 to come. Stage fare was $3.00 and lodging at Windsor, 25 cts. Had to pay only 25 cts for board for 9 days after I got here before I went into the mill. Had 2.5O left with which I got a bonnet and some other small articles. Tell Harriet Burbank to send me paper. Tell her I shall send her one as soon as possible. You must write as soon as you receive this. Tell Henry I should like to hear from him. If you hear anything from William write for I want to know what he is doing. I shall write to Uncle Millers folks the first opportunity. Aunt Nancy presented me with a new alpacca dress before I came away from there which I was very glad of. I think of staying here a year certain, if not more. I wish that you and Henry would come down here. I think that you might do well. I guess that Henry could get into the mill and I think that Julius might get in too. Tell all friends that I should like to hear from them.
excuse bad writing and mistakes
P.S. Be sure and direct to No. 15 Lawrence Corporation.
Bela Paul. Mary S Paul
Lowell Dec 21st 1845
I received your letter on Thursday the 14th with much pleasure. I am well which is one comfort. 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. She was going in or coming out of the mill and slipped down it being very icy. 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. Last Tuesday we were paid. In all I had six dollars and sixty cents paid $4.68 for board. With the rest I got me a pair of rubbers and a pair of 50.cts shoes. Next payment I am to have a dollar a week beside my board. We have not had much snow the deepest being not more than 4 inches. It has been very warm for winter. Perhaps you would like something about our regulations about going in and coming out of the mill. At 5 o'clock in the morning the bell rings for the folks to get up and get breakfast. At half past six it rings for the girls to get up and at seven they are called into the mill. At half past 12 we have dinner are called back again at one and stay till half past seven.,, I get along very well with my work. I can doff as fast as any girl in our room. I think I shall have frames before long. The usual time allowed for learning is six months but I think I shall have frames before I have been in three as I get along so fast. I think that the factory is the best place for me and if any girl wants employment I advise them to come to Lowell. Tell Harriet that though she does not hear from me she is not forgotten. I have little time to devote to writing that I cannot write all I want to. There are half a dozen letters which I ought to write to day but I have not time. Tell Harriet I send my love to her and all of the girls. Give my love to Mrs. Clement. Tell Henry this will answer for him and you too for this time.This from
Mary S Paul Bela Paul Henry S Paul
Lowell April 12th 1846
I received your letter with much pleasure but was sorry to hear that you had been lame. I had waited for a long time to hear from you but no letter came so last Sunday I thought I would write again which I did and was going to send it to the [post] office Monday but at noon I received a letter from William and so I did not send it at all. Last Friday I received a letter from you. You wanted to know what I am doing. I am at work in a spinning room and tending four sides of warp which is one girls work. The overseer tells me that he never had a girl get along better than I do and that he will do the best he can by me. I stand it well, though they tell me that I am growing very poor. I was paid nine shillings a week last payment and am to have more this one though we have been out considerable for backwater which will take off a good deal. The Agent promises to pay us nearly as much as we should have made but I do not think that he will. The payment was up last night and we are to be paid this week. I have a very good boarding place have enough to eat and that which is good enough. The girls are all kind and obliging. The girls that I room with are all from Vermont and good girls too. Now I will tell you about our rules at the boarding house. We have none in particular except that we have to go to bed about 10. o'clock. At half past 4 in the morning the bell rings for us to get up and at five for us to go into the mill. At seven we are called out to breakfast are allowed half an hour between bells and the same at noon till the first of May when we have three quarters [of an hour] till the first of September. We have dinner at half past 12 and supper at seven. If Julius should go to Boston tell him to come this way and see me. He must come to the Lawrence Counting room and call for me. He can ask some one to show him where the Lawrence is. I hope he will not fail to go. I forgot to tell you that I have not seen a particle of snow for six weeks and it is settled going we have had a very mild winter and but little snow. I saw Ann Hersey last Sunday. I did not know her till she told me who she was. I see the Griffith girls often. I received a letter from a girl in Bridgewater in which she told me that Mrs Angell had heard some way that I could not get work and that she was much pleased and said that I was so bad that no one would have me. I believe I have written all so I will close for I have a letter to write to William this afternoon.
Mary S Paul
Mr. Bela PaulP.S. Give my love to all that enquire for me and tell them to write me a long long letter. Tell Harriet I shall send her a paper.
Doubtless you have been looking for a letter from me all the week past. I would have written but wished to find whether I should be able to stand it-to do the work that I am now doing. I was unable to get my old place in the cloth room on the Suffolk or on any other corporation. I next tried the dressrooms on the Lawrence Cor[poration], but did not succefeld in getting a place. I almost concluded to give up and go back to Claremont, but thought I would try once more. So I went to my old overseer on the Tremont Cor. I had no idea that he would want one, but he did, and I went to work last Tuesday warping--the same work I used to do.
It is very hard indeed and sometimes I think I shall not be able to endure it. I never worked so hard in my life but perhaps I shall get used to it. I shall try hard to do so for there is no other work that I can do unless I spin and that I shall not undertake on any account. I presume you have heard before this that the wages are to be reduced on the 20th of this month. It is true and there seems to be a good deal of excitement on the subject but I can not tell what will be the consequence. The companies pretend they are losing immense sums every day and therefore they are obliged to lessen the wages, but this seems perfectly absurd to me for they are constantly making repairs and it seems to me that this would not be if there were really any danger of their being obliged to stop the mills.
It is very difficult for any one to get into the mill on any corporation. All seem to be
very full of help. I expect to be paid about two dollars a week but it will be dearly
earned .24 1 cannot tell how it is but never since I have worked in the mill have I
been so very tired as I have for the last week but it may be owing to the long rest I
have had for the last six months. I have not told you that I do not board on the Lawrence.
The reason of this is because I wish to be nearer the mill and I do not wish to pay
the extra $.i2.-:t/;z per week (I should not be obliged to do it if I boarded at 15) and I
know that they are not able to give it me. Beside this I am so near I can go and see them
as often as I wish. So considering all things I think I have done the best I could. I do not
like here very well and am very sure I never shall as well as at Mother Guilds. I can now
realize how very kind the whole family have ever been to me. It seems like going home
when I go there which is every day. But now I see I have not told you yet
where I do board. It is at No. 5 Tremont Corporation. Please enlighten all who wish for
information. There is one thing which I forgot to bring with me and which I want very
much. That is my rubbers. They hang in the back room at uncle Jerrys.26 If Olive
comes down here I presume you can send them by her, but if you should not have the
opportunity to send them do not trouble yourself about them. There is another thing I
wish to mention-about my fare down here. If you paid it all the way as I understand you
did there is something wrong about it. When we stopped at Concord to take the cars,
I went to the ticket office to get a ticket which I knew I should be obliged to have. When
I called for it I told the man that my fare to Lowell was paid all the way and I wanted a ticket
to Lowell. He told me if this was the case the Stagedriver would get the ticket for me and I
supposed of course he would. But he did not, and when the ticket master called for
my ticket in the cars, I was obliged to give him a dollar. Sometimes I have thought
that the fare might not have been paid beside farther than Concord. If this is the case all is
right. But if it is not, then I have paid a dollar too much and gained the character of trying to
cheat the company out of my fare, for the man thought I was lying to him. I suppose I want
to know how it is and wish it could be settled for I do not like that any one should think me
capable of such a thing, even though that person be an utter stranger. But enough of this.
The Whigs of Lowell had a great time on the night of the 3rd. They had an immense
procession of men on foot bearing torches and bannersgot up for the occasion.
The houses were illuminated (Whigs houses) and by the way I should think the
whole of Lowell were Whigs. I went out to see the illuminations and they did
truly look splendid. The Merrimack house was illuminated from attic to cellar. Every
pane of glass in the house had a half candle to it and there were many others lighted
in the same way. One entire block on the Merrimack Cor[poration] with the exception
of one tenement which doubtless was occupied by a free soiler who would not illuminate
on any account whatever.
P.S. Do not forget to direct to No. 5 Tremont Cor and tell all others to do the same.
Source: Mary Paul Letters, Vermont Historical Society, Montpelier, Vermont