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A Former Mill Girl Remembers the Lowell Strike of 1836 (with text supports)
Harriet Hanson Robinson began work in Lowell at the age of ten, later becoming an author and advocate of women's suffrage. In 1834 and 1836, the mill owners reduced wages, increased the pace of work, and raised the rent for the boardinghouses. The young female workers went on strike (they called it “turning out” then) to protest the decrease in wages and increase in rent. In 1898 Robinson published a memoir of her Lowell experiences where she describes the strike of 1836.
Cutting down the wages was not their only grievance, nor the only cause of this strike. [Before] the corporations had paid twenty-five cents a week towards the board of each operative, and now it was their purpose to have the girls pay the sum; and this, in addition to the cut in the wages, would make a difference of at least one dollar a week. It was estimated that as many as twelve or fifteen hundred girls turned out, and walked in procession through the streets. They had neither flags nor music, but sang songs, [including]
“Oh! isn’t it a pity, such a pretty girl as I-
Should be sent to the factory to pine away and die?
Oh ! I cannot be a slave,
I will not be a slave,
For I’m so fond of liberty
That I cannot be a slave.”