The Petition and the Committee Report

Sign the Petition!

Ten Hours, Ten Hours!! Sign the Petition!

We have forwarded to some of our friends in different towns of Massachusetts, petitions asking the Legislature to prohibit incorporated companies for employing one set of hands more than ten hours per day. We hope our friends will be active in circulating them for signatures and have them all returned to the office of the Voice of Industry.

—Lowell Female Labor Reform Association

Voice of Industry, January 15,1845

Petition to the
Massachusetts Legislature

We the undersigned peaceable, industrious and hardworking men and women of Lowell, in view of our condition—the evils already come upon us, by toiling from 13 to 14 hours per day, confined in unhealthy apartments, exposed to the poisonous contagion of air, vegetable, animal and mineral properties, debarred from proper Physical Exercise, Mental discipline, and Mastication cruelly limited , and thereby hastening us on through pain, disease and privation, down to a premature grave, pray the legislature to institute a ten-hour working day in all of the factories of the state.

—Signed, John Quincy Adams Thayer, Sarah G. Bagley,
James Carle and 2,000 others mostly women

Voice of Industry, January 15,1845


Reply to Petition

Reply to Petition, Boston, February 6, 1845

To J. Q. A. Thayer, S. G. Bagley and others: A petition relative to a reduction of the hours of labor has been referred to the Committee on Manufactures, of which I am Chairman . By a resolution passed by the House, instructing said committee to send for such persons and papers as may be necessary to make an investigation of the claims of said petitioners to an interference in their behalf, I would inform you that as the greater part of the petitioners are females, it will be necessary for them to make the defence, or we shall be under the necessity of laying it aside.

—William Schouler, Chairman

Voice of Industry, February 12, 1845

Reply to Schouler

To Wm. Schouler, Esquire.,
Chairman of the Committee on Manufactures:—

Sir:—We received your note of the 6th inst., and would inform you, that we hold ourselves in readiness to defend the petitions referred to at any time when you will grant us a hearing.

I am very respectfully yours, for the Operatives of Lowell.

—S. G. Bagley,

Documents Printed by Order of the House of Representatives of the Common- wealth of Massachusetts during the Session of the General Court AD. 1845, Number 50 (Boston, 1845), p. 2.


The Committee Report

Commonwealth of Massachusetts Report

House of Representatives, March 12, 1845 The Special Committee to which was referred sundry petitions relating to the hours of labor, have considered the same and submit the following:


The petitioners declare that they are confined to "from thirteen to fourteen hours per day in unhealthy apartments," and are thereby "hastening through pain, disease and privation, down to a premature grave." They therefore ask the Legislature "to pass a law providing that ten hours shall constitute a day's work," and that no corporation or private citizen "shall be allowed, except in cases of emergency, to employ one set of hands more than ten hours per day."

The petitioners ask for the enactment of a law making ten hours a day's work, where no specific agreement is entered into between the parties.

The whole number of names on the several petitions is 2,139, of which 1,151 are from Lowell. A very large proportion of the Lowell petitioners are females. Nearly one half of the Andover petitioners are females. The petition from Fall River is signed exclusively by males.


Your Committee have not been able to give the petitions from the other towns in this State a hearing. We believed that the whole case was covered by the petition from Lowell, and to the consideration of that petition we have given our undivided attention, and we have come to the conclusion unanimously, that legislation is not necessary at the present time, and for the following reasons:—

1st. That a law limiting the hours of labor, if enacted at all, should be of a general nature. That it should apply to individuals or copartnerships as well as to corporations.

Because, if it is wrong to labor more than ten hours in a corporation, it is also wrong when applied to individual employers, and your Committee are not aware that more complaint can justly be made against incorporated companies in regard to the hours of labor, than can be against individuals or copartnerships. But it will be said in reply to this, that corporations are the creatures of the Legislature, and therefore the Legislature can control them in this, as in other matters. This to a certain extent is true, but your Committee go farther than this, and say, that not only are corporations subject to the control of the Legislature but individuals are also, and if it should ever appear that the public morals, the physical condition, or the social wellbeing of society were endangered, from this cause or from any cause, then it would be in the power and would be the duty of the Legislature to interpose its prerogative to avert the evil.

2d. Your Committee believe that the factory system, as it is called, is not more injurious to health than other kinds of indoor labor.

That a law which would compel all of the factories in Massachusetts to run their machinery but ten hours out of the 24, while those in Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and other States in the Union, were not restricted at all, the effect would be to close the gate of every mill in the State. It would be the same as closing our mills one day in every week, and although Massachusetts capital, enterprise, and industry are willing to compete on fair terms with the same of other States, and, if needs be, with European nations, yet it is easy to perceive that we could not compete with our sister States, much less with foreign countries, if a restriction of this nature was put upon our manufactories.

3d. It would be impossible to legislate to restrict the hours of labor, without affecting very materially the question of wages; and that is a matter which experience has taught us can be much better regulated by the parties themselves than by the Legislature. Labor in Massachusetts is a very different commodity from what it is in foreign countries.

Here labor is on an equality with capital, and indeed controls it, and so it ever will be while free education and free constitutions exist. And although we may find fault, and say, that labor works too many hours, and labor is too severely tasked, yet if we attempt by legislation to enter within its orbit and interfere with its plans, we will be told to keep clear and to mind our own business. Labor is intelligent enough to make its own bargains, and look out for its own interests without any interference from us; and your Committee want no better proof to convince them that Massachusetts men and Massachusetts women, are equal to this, and will take care of themselves better than we can take care of them, than we had from the intelligent and virtuous men and women who appeared in support of this petition, before the Committee.

4th. The Committee do not wish to be understood as conveying the impression, that there are no abuses in the present system of labor; we think there are abuses; we think that many improvements may be made, and we believe will be made, by which labor will not be so severely tasked as it now is. We think that it would be better if the hours for labor were less,—if more time was allowed for meals, if more attention was paid to ventilation and pure air in our manufactories, and work shops, and many other matters. We acknowledge all this, but we say, the remedy is not with us. We look for it in the progressive improvement in art and science, in a higher appreciation of man's destiny, in a less love for money, and a more ardent love for social happiness and intellectual superiority. Your Committee, therefore, while they agree with the petitioners in their desire to lessen the burthens imposed upon labor, differ only as is the means by which these burthens are sought to be removed.

It would be an interesting inquiry were we permitted to enter upon it, to give a brief history of the rise and progress of the factory system in Massachusetts, to speak of its small beginnings, and show its magnificent results. Labor has made it what it is, and labor will continue to improve upon it.

Your Committee, in conclusion, respectfully ask to be discharged from the further consideration of the matters referred to them, and that the petitions be referred to the next General Court.

For the Committee,
—Wm. Schuouler, Chairman
Massachusetts General Court, House of Representatives,
House Documents, No. 50, 1845, pp. 1-6, 15-17


Reply from LFLRA

Resolutions Denouncing Report of Committee
by the Female Labor Reform Association

To the Editor of the New England Mechanic:

At the meeting of the "Female Labor Reform Association," this evening, April 1st, the following resolutions in reference to the report of the Committee "to whom were referred sundry petitions relative to the hours of labor," were unanimously adopted:

The two following were offered by Miss E. K. Hemingway:—

Resolved , That the Female Labor Reform Association deeply deplore the lack of independence, honesty, and humanity in the committee to whom were referred sundry petitions relative to the hours of labor—especially in the chairman of that committee; and as he is merely a corporation machine, or tool, we will use our best endeavors and influence to keep him in the "city of spindles," where he belongs, and not trouble Boston folks with him.

Resolved , That we are highly indignant at the cringing servility to corporate monopolies manifested by said committee in their report; as in that document the most important facts elicited from witnesses relative to the abuses andoverd evils of the factory system are with held , truth violated, and the whole shaped to please their aristocratic constituents. May never again the interests of the oppressed, downtrodden laboring classes be committed to their legislation.

The following by Miss S. G. Bagley:—

Resolved , That this Association, in their next petition to the Legislature, ask them to extend to the operatives the same protection they have given to animals, and our condition will be greatly improved.

Resolved , further, That the Special Committee are guilty of the grossest dishonesty in withholding from the Legislature all the most important facts in the defence made by our delegates; and that we re g a rd them as mere corporate machines, and if there are any honorable exceptions they are entitled only to the same sympathy extended to "poor Tray," who was chastised for being found in bad company.

One by Miss A. Skinner:—

Resolved, That if the Representatives of the State of Massachusetts have no higher aim than that of competing with the pauper labor of Europe, and for that reason refuse to grant the prayer of the petitioners, they are unworthy of a seat in the halls of legislation.

Resolved , That "intelligent" and shrewd as the Committee have styled the laborers of Lowell, it would illy become us to overlook so prominent a feature in the character of the report as the false coloring and sad perversion of truth which they have so indelibly stamped on its pages as to merit our united disapproval.

Resolved , That the Committee who made out the report acted unfairly and ungentlemanly, leaving out those points which bear with force on the subject, and supplying their own compositions, so as to involve the witnesses who appeared before them in un- avoidable falsehood, asserting what they never said and never could have thought of saying.


Defeat of Schouler

On the Defeat of William Schouler

November 28, 1845

We are requested to publish the following Resolution, unanimously adopted by the "Female Labor Reform Association," at their last meeting, as a token of respect and esteem, for the services of Mr. Schouler, in behalf of the operatives of this city.

Resolved, That the members of this Association, tender their grateful acknowledgements to the voters of Lowell, for consigning Wm. Schouler, to the obscurity he so justly deserves, so unjustly and ungentlemanly, the defence made by the delegates for treating of this Association; before the special committee of the Legislature, to whom was referred petitions for the reduction of the hours of labor, of which he was Chairman.


Concealing Deformities

What Was Omitted in the Report

Mr. Cluer—Sin—I received your note of January 2nd, requesting me to give you some of the evidence of the operatives not given in the report of the committee to whom the petition was referred, relative to the abridgement of the hours of labor, of which William Schouler, Esq. of this city, was Chairman.

Sir—you say in your note, “not given in the report," as though much or at least a part of it had been given verbatim—which I would say is not the case. I am not prepared to state that there is not one original sentence given by those who appeared before the committee . But I am prepared to say that whatever was given, was so changed in its connection or removed from its original position that it was made to say what we never said, or thought of saying. It will be impossible for me to do justice to your request with in the limits of a letter—but I will give you a few incidents in the investigation at this time, and if there are any other enquiries you wish to make, I will answer them to the best of my ability.

The Chairman of the Committee manifested a great desire to bring out everything that would look bright and beautiful upon the side of manufactories. Now to this I do not object—but I do object to his wish to conceal the deformities of which we had a right to complain, as he most assuredly did make strong efforts.

For example, a gentleman by the name of Herman Abbot, who worked on the Lawrence Corporation, appeared as a witness. After he was notified, he went to the Counting Room and told Mr. Aiken that he had been notified, and asked him what he (Mr. Abbot) must do about going down. “You must go" said Mr. Aiken, “but you must say as little as possible." We learned this fact while Mr. Abbot was being examined—and as leave had been given a number of times to the witness to ask questions, leave was obtained to put a question to him, when the following question was proposed: “Mr. Abbot, did you have an interview with Mr. Aiken, after you were notified to come here as a witness?" The Chairman looked daggers at the enquiry, and told the witness that he should not answer such enquiries, it was a wish to implicate his testimony. The enquirer assured him that he had no such motives—but he was strenuously refused , until the Committee ruled that the question be put—and Mr. Abbot answered affirmatively. Also giving the instructions as above mentioned. Now to my judgment, Mr. Aiken ought to have had not only a hearing before the Committee, but before the House through the report.

The report says that I was out of the mills last year a third of the time; but does not say why; but the testimony that I gave them, said being unable to work from ill health, the only thing worthy of mention in that part of the testimony. The report says that I had taught evening school four winters and it had injured my health. I said in reply to a question put by the Chairman, “would the operatives spend the time, if it should be given them, in the cultivation of their minds?" I stated that I believed most of them would . A reason was called for—to which the reason assigned was—. that I had very often written letters for those who could not write, and had taken some few girls to my own sleeping apartment and instructed them in the simplest branches of education, and learn them very imperfectly how to write, without any compensation except that of improving that unfortunate class of which I was a member. This was termed teaching school four years—and if that be a true definition, I have not yet had a vacation, nor do I hope for one, until I can do nothing to improve the condition of those with whom my lot is cast.

There are many other things that I would like to mention, but my sheet is nearly full. You ask me if all the ladies who appeared as witnesses were present at the time the resolutions relative to the report were adopted: I answer they were; all with one exception presented a resolution; a copy of which published in the “Boston Mechanic you have received. The lady who did not present a resolution voted for the adoption of those presented, and expressed her entire approbation of them.

You will excuse the length of this letter, with the assurance that I have strong reasons to believe that our petition referred to the next Legislature, (or the one about to commence its session,) will have a candid hearing from the fact, that all the “Corporation Machinery" has been labelled and directed to Lowell.

—Sarah G. Bagley

Lowell, January 7th, 1846


March Boldly On

Sisters, let us be encouraged to labor yet more abundantly! Let the thought that we are engaged in a good work nerve us on to duty. The battle is not to the strong, alone, nor the race to the swift—but to the righteousness of the cause. In the strength of Elijah's God, the God of Right, let us march boldly on to the conquest. Let us take no rest until the shout shall rend the earth and heavens— "Goliath is fallen!"


Voice of Industry, June 12, 1846


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