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Lowell Strikers Sing

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. These young women, far from home, lived in boardinghouses next to the mills. 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. Harriet Hanson Robinson was one of those mill girls; she began work in Lowell when she was ten years old. As an adult, Robinson became a writer and advocate of women’s right to vote. In 1898 she published Loom and Spindle, a memoir of her Lowell experiences, where she included this song that the girls sang during the 1836 strike.

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 am so fond of liberty,

That I cannot be a slave. 

Source | Harriet Hanson Robinson, Loom and Spindle or Life Among the Early Mill Girls (New York, T. Y. Crowell, 1898), 83–86, from History Matters: The U.S. Survey on the Web, http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5714/.
Creator | Unknown
Item Type | Music/Song
Cite This document | Unknown, “Lowell Strikers Sing,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 21, 2017, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1788.

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