The Hours in Lowell

The Manufacturing Establishments of New England

Voice of Industry, June 26, 1845

During the last winter a petition was presented to the Legislature of Massachusetts, by eight hundred and fifty "peaceable, industrious and hardworking men and women," declaring that they are confined from thirteen to fourteen hours per day in unhealthy apartment, and are hastening through pain, disease, privation, down to a premature grave, and praying the State to inquire into their condition and to restrict the number of hours of labor in Factories to ten per day,—

This, and other similar petitions, were signed by two thousand one hundred and thirty-nine persons, chiefly females. The operatives in England are prohibited, by act of Parliament from being employed more than at a rate of eleven and a half hours per day. They work sixty-nine hours per week; 12 hours on the other days, and nine on Saturday. They have six holidays in a year.

The operatives in Lowell work:

In January, 11 hours and 24 min
February, 12 hours
March, 11 hours 52 min.
April, 13 hours and 31 min.
May, 12 hours 55 min.
June, 12 hours 45 min.
July, 12 hours and 45 min.
August, 12 hours and 45 min.
September, 12 hours and 43 min.
October, 12 hours and 16 min.
November, 11 hours 46 min.
December, 11 hours 24 min.

To this must be added in each instance thirty minutes, at least, for going to and from the mill, at morning and evening. They go to and return from breakfast in thirty minutes, to and from dinner in thirty minutes, for about eight months in a year; and the other four month s they are allowed forty-five minutes.

From this it will be seen that in New England the operatives work on an average of the whole year, more than twelve and a half hours per day, exclusive of going to and from their work.

We have placed side by side with the above table, the brief spaces allowed them to go for food, eat it, and return. A woman in a Factory in New England, works one hour and some minutes longer, every day in the year, than a woman in a British Factor —They are allowed four days as holidays; the English are allowed six.

First, it must be apparent that the hours allowed for labor are too many.

Second, that the minutes allowed for them to take their food are too few.

Third, that these causes are sufficient to impair health, induce disease, premature old age, and death.

Fourth, that these causes, conjointly with the bad effect of close and heated air,* acting upon so large a number of females assembled in the manufactories of New England, must in time affect the physical condition of the people of New England. To say nothing of the intellectual degeneracy which must necessarily result from the want of mental recreation and cultivation.

Fifthly, that no reason can be given why these evils should not produce the same terrible effects here, as in England, where their full results are developed.

Sixth, that as the British Parliament, from motives of humanity and public policy have been compelled to interfere in behalf of the operatives, prudence and mercy call upon our legislators to do like wise.

Seventh, that the example of this State would be followed at once throughout New England.

—A Committee of Factory Girls

*In one room, in Lowell, no less than two hundred and ninety-three small lamps and sixty-one large ones are kept burning when evening labor is required.


Losing Minutes

Dear Voice:

I was about to head this article Corporation Sharing, but when I come to reflect that females are not accustomed to that troublesome operation, and that it was their wrongs which I was about to set forth, I at once discovered its inapplicability, and have headed it as above. It is an old maxim that if the cents are looked after the dollars will take care of themselves; this I believe is universally admitted to be true, so much so, that the son who has not been taught this lesson by his father, would be considered ill fitted to set up for himself, amid the ups and downs of life. Now sir, I see not why the same principle may not with propriety be applied to Hours and Minutes, in connexion with "our labor" in our mills.

You are laboring hard to show the injustice of compelling the operatives to labor the unreasonable number of hours which they now do. I rejoice to see it, and bid you God speed; but the thought struck me, that there are Minutes also to be looked after. I know sir, it will be said we are dabbling in "small matters," but when I reflect that many littles make a great whole, and that these littles are daily being wrenched from the operative, particle by particle, I am constrained to speak out, that this ever grasping, tyrannizing spirit may be rebuked and receive the contempt which it so richly deserves. Perhaps those who are accustomed to reflect and mourn over the fact that thousands of hard working females are allowed but thirty minutes to lave themselves, go down three flights of stairs, travel one fourth of a mile to their boarding house, eat their meal and return the same distance to their work; I say perhaps those who are acquainted with these facts are not aware that it is even worse; it is so.

On some of the Corporations in this city, two of which I will name, the “Boot and Massachusetts," it is, and has been since 1841, an established rule to hoist the gate twenty-eight minutes from the time it shuts down for meals, and on commencing in the morning it is to be hoisted eight minutes from the time that the Merrimack" bell strikes, which is two minutes earlier at each time of hoisting, than is practiced on that Corporation. Thus you see by tightening the screws in this way, the operatives lose from four to six minutes per day, under the pretence of allowing them thirty minutes for meals. A little calculation will show how it would stand at the end of five years; and it will be recollected that many of the operatives have worked in the same mill more than five years. Four to six minutes per day, say average five minutes—thirty minutes per week, two hours per month, two days of thirteen hours each per year, and ten days for five years. This is the practical effect of this irresponsible, over-working, oppressive system.

Now Mr. Editor is it right? ought these things so to be? I do hope that the former agent of the Boot, and the present agent of the Massachusetts Corporation, will examine this matter candidly and use their official influence to undo the wrong which themselves have (unauthorized) inflicted on hundreds and thousands of the laboring poor of this city, and restore to them that which is just and honest in the sight of God.

—Lowell Operative

Voice of Industry, January 8, 1847


Much Deception

The Hours of Labor in Lowell

We are moved to write this by erroneous reports concerning the hours of work under which we operatives in Lowell labor. The operatives are allowed ten minutes in morning and ten at noon in going from their boarding house to the mills, which deducted from the time the wheels are in operation, leaves twelve hours and ten minutes, the actual amount of time the operatives are required to labor for day's work, the shortest days in December, exclusive of the time required in going to and from their daily task.

Many who board near the mills, commence work as soon as the gates are raised, consequently make out twelve and a half hours of real service during the shortest days in the year. We are informed by those engaged upon the Middlesex, (Woollen) that the mills on that corporation run still longer, and the goods finding a ready market at great profits, every means is resorted to by the manufacturers to produce the largest possible amount. On no corporation in Lowell, do the mills operate less than twelve hours per day, at this season and in the longest days of Summer they run thus:

Commence in the morning 10 minutes before 5, gates shut down for breakfast, at 7 o'clock, commence again 20 minutes past 7. Gates shut down at half past twelve; commence again 5 minutes past I; gates shut down for supper at 7; making thirteen hours and fifteen minutes between the ringing of the bells, thirty minutes of which is allowed the operatives in going to and from their meals, leaving twelve hours and forty-five minutes, of actual service in the mills.

During the month of April, the factories run more hours than in any other month of the year, which is, according to Mr. Miles, thirteen hours and thirty-one minutes. On Saturdays from the 20th of September till about the 20th of March, the operatives are released soon after dark, which will take off upon the average, about one hour per week, during that time.

From the foregoing facts, it will be seen that much deception has been used in reporting the hours of factory labor by self interested men who wish to aggrandize themselves by courting the favor of the manufacturing power of this country. It will be seen, that, at no season of the year, less than twelve hours is considered a regular days work in the Lowell factories and that they range from about twelve hours and ten minutes up to thirteen hours and thirty one minutes, and should the time spent in going to and from the mills be taken into the account, as it ought, the longest days labor, would exceed fourteen and a half hours, and the shortest, never fall below twelve and a half.

—A Committee of Lowell Factory Girls


If Corporations had Souls

A large and spirited meeting of the laborers of Lawrence was held on the Common in that town, some two weeks ago, for the purpose of taking some method of shortening the hours of labor, and otherwise improving their condition. If corporations had souls, some benefit might be hoped to arise from such meetings, but little tyrants like great ones know nothing of the article.

—Essex Transcriuipt


How Operatives Spend Time

How will the operatives employ their time?

The above is a question frequently asked by those who are in doubt as to the “propriety” of reducing the hours of labor. How all of them would occupy their leisure hours, we are not able to say, but that most of them would turn them to good account we have not a doubt, judging from the acquaintance we have of them; some we know are fond of display and make it their chief study to ape the rich both in dress and manners, need we say they succeed but too well; they sometimes outdo them by the uncouth, unseemly and ridiculous shapes into which they contort themselves; there are others who are equally foolish in other respects.

But the majority are, intelligent and could (if they had more time to cultivate their talents) be made something else than drudges. We were very much pleased for a few mornings after the fifteen minutes were added to the usual time allowed them at their meals, thinking they would swallow their food as usual (without mastication,) and wishing to know what they would do with their “extra quarter” – took particular notice. And what horrible things do you suppose they were doing? Most of them were reading books or newspapers, others were chatting with their friends or greeting newcomers, and all seemed to be enjoying themselves rationally and happily. We said all but must take that back, for we did espy a few hungry, antiquated vinegar cruets hurrying to the gates and appearing as eager to obtain admittance as though it were paradise; perhaps it is to them, if so, mammon is the God they worship. But if the manner in which most of them employed this little time is any indication of what they would do, had they more leisure; we think that the community at large would not suffer much, while the operative would be greatly benefited.


One Step, Towards the Great End

Report of the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association

Since our last meeting in Lowell, particularly within the last six weeks; a deeper and more thrilling interest has been manifested in our “Association," than at any time heretofore. We have had some talk about a “Declaration of Independence," providing all the measures now under consideration should fail; and many have expressed a willingness, provided the minds of the operatives shall be pre- pared; “to take the work into their own hands, and declare their Independence, on the fourth of July next." Another pleasing symptom in our Association, is a great increase of liberal feeling.

They do not regard this measure, (the reduction of the hours of labor) as an end, but only as one step, towards the great end to be attained. They deeply feel, that their work will never be accomplished, until slavery and oppression, mental, physical and religious, shall have been done away, and Christianity in its original simplicity, and pristine beauty, shall be re-established and practiced among men. “Onward" is their watchword, and “WE'LL TRY AGAIN;" their motto; and they are resolved to “try again" and again, and yet again, until the work shall be accomplished or their work on earth shall cease.

—Hannah Tarlton, Vice Pres’t; M. Emerson, Sec. pro. tem.

Voice of Industry, January 23, 1846


Standing at the Gate

Lowell Girls—Standing at the Gate

It came to pass in the month of April 1847, that there went forth a new decree from the Cotton Lords of Lowell, that there living machinery should have forty-five minutes in which to leave their work, partake of their meals, and return back again. Now this decree was well pleasing to the friends of Humanity who had been striving for a long time to obtain a reduction in the hours of toil in the pestilential air of the cotton mills. For they understood well how for many years the girls had been shut up thirteen hours per day to the destruction of health and life, while the Cotton Lords had been waxing fat upon their blood and sinews! It came to pass in those days that when this decree took effect the great gates were all shut until the ringing of the second bell, (which took place just thirty-five minutes from the time they were closed, instead of forty- five as was decreed,) that many foolish girls were seen standing at the gates waiting for admittance.

Now this being rumored abroad the query arose in the minds of some, why is this! Have they common sense, or any minds at all? If so, why are they seen wasting their precious moments, standing by hundreds before the gates? Have they been so long accustomed to watching machinery that they have actually become dwarfs in intellect—and lost to all sense of their own God-like powers of mind—yea, more, have they any minds more than the beasts that perisheth? If so, why are they not in their rooms storing their minds with useful practical knowledge which shall fit them high and noble stations in the moral and intellectual world?

Why, instead of being seen waiting at the gates for the bell to strike, the gates should wait for them after the bell gives the summons! Ten minutes twice a day in one week gives two whole hours per week, eight per month and 104 hours per year or eight days and two thirds of a day, twelve hours long! Think of this ye that waste your time thus foolishly and blush unto repentance not to be repented of! Is life so long, or of so little worth that it should be thus squandered?

What, has a beneficent Creator bestowed upon us faculties and powers of mind which are capable of being improved and cultivated ad infinitum, and which if trained aright assimilate us to God and to Angels, and shall we suffer them to wither and perish for lack of proper time and attention on our part? Forbid it righteous God! Let it not be said of us here in this land of boasted liberty and equal rights, that thousands are bound down in ignorance and worshiping at the altar of the god of mammon! Awake! daughters of America to a realization of the evils which follow in the train of ignorance and selfishness!

Awake and arise from the low grovelling charms of dollars and cents, to a knowledge of your own high and holy duties and destinies! Awake and resolve from this time forth to live, not merely to gain a bare subsistence, but to live for nobler, worthier objects. Live, not to wear out and exhaust your physical energies in obtaining a few more paltry shillings, but to adorn and beautify the minds and intellects which a kind Father hath conferred upon you. Whosoever hath ears to hear, let him hear, what saith the ‘first chronicle?'


Lowell, May 4.

Voice of Industry, May 7, 1847


Things Lost Forever

Lost wealth may be restored by industry: the wreck of health regained by temperance: forgotten knowledge restored by study: alienated friendship soothed into forgetfulness: even forfeited reputation on by penitence and virtue. But who ever again looked upon his vanished hours - recalled his slighted years - stamped them with wisdom, or effaced from Heaven’s record the fearful blot of wasted life?


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