Sir:— Your request to ascertain the exact number of female operatives, who are stockholders in the mills of Lowell, has been attended to and the result was as I had anticipated. You are probably aware that all the stockholders' names are returned to the assessor's office, on or before the first of May, on account of taxation. I have examined the books, and find that there is not a female's name upon the book that is or ever was an operative. The truth is that those who would bolster up a system of labor that is destructive to health, and fatal to mental and moral cultivation, would make such unfounded assertions, that the female operatives own the mills in Lowell or at least that they have large investments here, is not very strange. Even in our own city, with the facts staring them in the face, that the operatives are poor with few exceptions, they are prepared to publish stories as untrue as the one to which you allude.
One story which went the rounds of the papers, all over New England, was, that there was an operative here in Lowell, who had worked nineteen years here and had been married and had a family in the time, and had saved besides supporting herself and children, or child, two thousand dollars, invested in a farm, and eleven hundred and fifty had been given to poor relation.
Strange as it may appear to you, I was somewhat sceptical on the subject; and as I had worked in the same room and knew something of her history, I thought I had a perfect right to satisfy my own curiosity—The facts as I gathered them from her were as follows:
It had been something more than eighteen years since she first went into the mill; but she had been absent six years in the time, on long visits; besides being absent a number of times for two or three months at a time.
So much for the years; and next the sum she had made:
She paid $950, for the two thousand dollar farm, and had been very kind to her poor relatives; but not to the extent of the sum of $1,150. Nor is this all; you may have some curiosity to know why her husband has not supported her, and her children. One of the best reasons that can be given is, that she has not yet been married.
Another fact, in this remarkable woman is, that she has not been a subscriber to a newspaper, nor a patron to any library, or had a seat at church, or a dress suitable to appear at church, in all the nineteen years; and yet she is sent out through the press as a sample of factory girls. Now, bad as the state of mental and moral cultivation is, she is not a fair representative of the female operatives of Lowell, or any other place. Most of the operatives dress well, and a large proportion of them read in their leisure time, which is very limited.
The question you proposed, on wages being raised, the past year, is that the companies do not pay more for the same amount of work; but the operatives do more work than formerly. A few years ago, no girl was required to tend more than two looms. Now they tend four, and some five; and because they make a few cents more than they did on two, it is trumpeted all over the country, that their wages have been raised. This is a true statement of the case, as it exists in our midst; and, yet, men here have the audacity to send out statements, as false as they are, to the interest of the operative;— and Heaven knows that is false indeed.
Your inquiry on the state of morality and religion shall be attended to next week.
You will pardon me for answering inquiry through the press when I assure you that these questions are put so often that to answer them through the "Voice" would save the trouble of answer- ing them many times by letter.
I am yours very respectfully,
Lowell, April 22
Voice of Industry, April 24, 1846
SIR: In compliance with your request, I will continue the subject of factory life; and in this letter give you some of the facts you desired to obtain. You enquire "what is the state of morals among the factory operatives?" I can assure you it is just what any reflective mind would expect of seven thousand females thrown together under a great diversity of circumstances and with all kinds and no kind of cultivation.
There are many female operatives here, who have been educated by their parents or under their direction who are now orphans, and are an ornament to the society in which they live. There are a much larger class, who are the children of intemperate parents, who have had no advantages of education, and who have had little means for improvement.
Many of them have been put out to service as soon as they were old enough to scrub or take care of children, and have had no kind sympathy to warm and expand the affections or make them kind and courteous to others. This, to my mind, is more a misfortune than a fault. That they attend church as much—nay more than could be expected, under all the circumstances. If they should not go to church at all, they would be quite excusable, and if at the day of retribution the operatives of our country should be found guilty of a want of religious devotion, how much more will the teachers of religion have need of repentance and forgiveness for their sanction of the system which disqualifies them to attend church and cultivate the spirit of the gospel.
It will be said, that we are infidel to offer an apology for a neglect to attend church? We are aware that the operatives are rapidly verging to infidelity to the religion that lays heavy burdens upon their shoulders, that it will not remove with one of its fingers.
Is it strange that the operatives should stay away from the churches where they see the men filling the "chief seats," who are taking every means to grind them into the very dust, and have no sympathy with them, and look upon them only as inanimate machines, made to subserve their interests?
These things are felt by the more intelligent and reflective, and it has its legitimate effect upon them. We do not allude to this state of feeling, but with painful emotions. We deeply regret that in our democratic country, the rights of all, both civil and religious, should not be respected. We are sad to see the interests of the employer and the employed so far removed from each other. The examples of the employers, are not of the most moral kind; you will see the superintendent in the factory yards and shops on each Sabbath, giving orders to the men employed by them to work on their machinery, or lay foundations for new mills, and as soon as the church bell rings, hasten to the house of worship, while the workmen are left to fulfill their orders.
Sir: Is there any power in example? Is there any one, not well trained at home, that would not in some degree be affected by such examples? I leave you to draw your own conclusions, and close by saying that there are many of our number, who under all such influences and such disadvantageous circumstances adhere to the right, the good and the true, and are in all respects an ornament to the society in which they live. May Heaven grant that the number may increase, is the prayer of
Lowell, April 28th
You enquire, what is the physical condition of the operatives? There can be but one opinion on this subject, although there may seem to be many.
There is not a man in community who would not blush to say in view of the physical organization of the female operative, that the laws of health are necessarily and unavoidably violated by them every day, in various ways. The long hours of labor, the short time allowed for meals, and the large number who occupy the sleeping and sitting apartments, all go to prove that physical inability must be the result. There is no time or accommodation for bathing in their sleeping apartments, a practice that has been deemed as necessary to health, as food or sleep, by the physiologists of our day.
With but the few moments of time allowed to take their food, which is swallowed without being half masticated, and the pores of the skin being encrusted, or nearly so with cotton dust, it is not strange that so many of their number fall a prey to consumption, and find an early grave.
The social condition of the operative is a subject that should not be overlooked.
It is presumed by the observer, that these free spirits, who come here from the hills of the "Old Granite State," and the mountains of Vermont, who have had free and innocent access to every department of society, and have never seen a division into grades, according to wealth or circumstance, it is quite natural for these, to seek for social intercourse, and what, you enquire, is the result?
Do they find admittance into the families of the rich? Certainly not! They are "factory girls." No matter how virtuous or intelligent, or how useful an operative may be. She may be a member of the same church with her employer and the teacher of his children in the Sabbath School, or the tract distributor of the ward in which he lives, she may gain admittance to the sitting room to enquire after her pupil, or leave a tract; but if a Party is to be given and the aristocracy of the city is to be present, she cannot gain admission; her occupation,—nay her usefulness excludes her.
Such is the state of society; such its arbitrary rules; and I would return the question proposed by you,—what is the result? These children of toil have no home, which they may cluster around and find sympathy and affection; no watchful eye of maternal love to give direction to their steps; no consoling voice of a sister or brother to lighten their burden of sadness or soothe them in the trials of their weary pilgrimage. This is the life of an operative, and this their social condition.
Those who are most sensitive are most affected and those who are the most susceptible feel most the want of a place, where the highest and most beneficent gifts of our nation may find gratification, and their wants supplied. I have endeavored to answer your enquiries as briefly as possible, and if there are any points overlooked, if you will inform me I will give them all the attention in my power. Accept my gratitude for your kind indulgence and believe me ever the friend of human progress.