Young Women Ask Permission to Work in Lowell

Starting in the 1820s, a group of business owners built textile mills in New England, where for the first time, people could use machines to weave cotton into cloth. The first factories recruited women from rural New England as their labor force. Most of these young women viewed mill work as a temporary stage in live, a way to escape the limits of farm life and to earn money for themselves and to help support their families.

Sally Rice Writes to Her Parents, 1839 

I am most 19 years old. I must of course have something of my own before many more years have passed. And where is that something coming from if I go home and earn nothing? . . . You may think me unkind, but how can you blame me for wanting to stay here? I have but one life to live and I want to enjoy myself. 

Mary Paul Asks Her Father to Go to Lowell, circa 1830-1860 

I want you 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.

Source | Thomas Dublin, ed., Farm to Factory: Women’s Letters, 1830-1860 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981).
Creator | Various
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Various, “Young Women Ask Permission to Work in Lowell,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed November 21, 2014, http://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1823.