Resource

Mill Girls

An advertisement for the new jobs available to women in textile factories.

“75 Young Women 15 to 35 Years of Age, Wanted to Work in the Cotton Mills!”

“75 Young Women 15 to 35 Years of Age, Wanted to Work in the Cotton Mills!” broadside ca. 1870. Vertical File Collection, HBS Archives Baker Library, Harvard Business School.

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Summary

75 Young Women
From 15-35 Years of Age,
Wanted to work in the
Cotton Mills!
In Lowell and Chicopee, Mass.
I am authorized by the Agents of said Mills to make the following proposition to persons suitable for their work, viz: I’ve been hired by the mills in Lowell and Chicopee, Massachusetts, to find workers on the following terms:
—They will be paid $1.00 per week, and board, for the first month. It is presumed they will then be able to go to work at job prices. They will be considered as engaged for one year, cases of sickness excepted. I will pay the expenses of those who have not the means to pay for themselves, and the girls will pay it to the Company by their first labor. All that remain in the employ of the Company eighteen months will have the amount of their expenses to the Mills refunded to them. Workers will be paid $1 a week for the first month. They will also be given food and a place to live. After the first month, they will be paid according to standard rates. Workers are contracted to work for one year unless they get too sick to work. I will pay for any girl who can’t afford to travel to the mills. Any girls whose tickets are paid for will have to work off the debt at the mills. Anyone who works for 18 months will have their travel expenses reimbursed.
They will be properly cared for in sickness. It is hoped that none will go except those whose circumstances will admit of their staying at least one year. None but active and healthy girls will be engaged for this work as it would not be advisable for either the girls or the Company. Workers will be cared for if they get sick. Only girls who can commit to one-year contacts should apply. Only active and healthy girls will be accepted.
I shall be at the Howard Hotel, Burlington, on Monday, July 25th; at Farnham’s, St Albans, Tuesday forenoon, 26th, at Keyse’s, Swanton, in the afternoon; at the Massachusetts’ House, Rouses Point, on Wednesday, the 27th, to engage girls,—such as would like a place in the Mills would do well to improve the present opportunity, as new hands will not be wanted late in the season. I shall start with my Company, for the Mills, on Friday morning, the 29th inst., from Rouses Point, at 6 o’clock. Such as do not have an opportunity to see me at the above places, can take the cars and go with me the same as though I had engaged them.
I will be responsible for the safety of all baggage that is marked in care of I.M. Boynton, and delivered to my charge.
If you are interested in applying, you can find me at local hotels for the next few days. Anyone interested should come now because we will not be hiring again for a while. I will be leaving for the mills with those that I hire on Friday, July 29th. If you can’t make it to a hotel, then meet me on the train. I will be responsible for the safety of all baggage that is placed in my care.
I.M. Boynton,
Agent for Procuring Help for the Mills.
Posted by I.M. Boynton, Agent for Hiring at the Mills.

“75 Young Women 15 to 35 Years of Age, Wanted to Work in the Cotton Mills!” broadside ca. 1870. Vertical File Collection, HBS Archives Baker Library, Harvard Business School.

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Background

While U.S. politicians established the country’s new government, U.S. entrepreneurs revolutionized the economy. In the 1790s, a few enterprising men returned from England with plans for new steam-powered machinery. By the 1820s, steam-powered textile mills were popping up all over New England. The U.S. Industrial Revolution was born.

The Industrial Revolution would forever change the nature of work for women in the United States. Before the arrival of steam-powered machines, most women of the lower classes worked in their homes under the control of their fathers or husbands. Many women took in work spinning thread or weaving cloth. Any money made by women at home was the lawful property of their male guardian, and it was often used to support their family.

The steam-powered machinery used in textile mills was much faster than individual women spinning and weaving in their homes. The machinery was also very expensive and could not be run efficiently by a single family. For the first time, women were encouraged to leave their homes and work in factory settings. Some lived away from home in dormitories with other women workers. The money they made was their own. These “mill girls,” as they came to be called, were examples that women could function outside of the protective bubble of home and family.

Life in the textile mills was not easy, however. The work was difficult and dangerous. Women were expected to work up to 14 hours a day for a fraction of the pay male workers received. Although they were free from the oversight of male family members, the companies that employed mill girls tried to control every moment of their lives to maximize production. But for the first time in U.S. history, women gathered together to share their dissatisfaction and organize themselves to demand better living and working conditions. Their experiences formed the foundation of the labor movement in the United States.

About the Image

This broadside is a recruitment poster seeking women to work at mills in Lowell and Chicopee, Massachusetts. Lowell was one of the most successful and famous planned textile mill cities in the early United States. This broadside provides valuable information about the expectations companies had for mill girls and how the workers were recruited.

Vocabulary

  • broadside: A piece of paper with printing on one side; often used as a flyer or poster.
  • entrepreneur: A person who starts and runs their own business.
  • Industrial Revolution: The term historians use to describe the time in U.S. history when work shifted from hand-crafted to machine made.
  • mill: A factory.
  • mill girl: The name for girls who worked in mills in the early United States.
  • textile: Cloth or woven fabric.

Discussion Questions

  • What does the broadside reveal about the lives of mill girls in the early United States?
  • Why might a young woman consider working for a mill?
  • Does this poster indicate any problems with working in mills?
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Themes

WORK, LABOR, AND ECONOMY; SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND MEDICINE

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