The Mill Girls of Lowell, Massachusetts

The Mill Girls of Lowell, Massachusetts
Rachel Jackson: Economics, Discovery and Daily Life

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: Two to three class periods


Standards Compliance
NCSS Strand 2
Time, Continuity, and Change
NCSS Strand 7
Production, Distribution, and Consumption
NCSS Strand 8
Science, Technology, and Society
NCTE Standard 1
Students read fiction, nonfiction, classic, and contemporary works to acquire information for various purposes.
NCTE Standard 3
Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.
NCTE Standard 5
Students use a wide range of strategies and elements to write to communicate with different audiences and for purposes.
NCTE Standard 7
Students conduct research by generating ideas, questions, and problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data.
NCTE Standard 12
Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.
ISTE Standard 5
Technology research tools

Introduction:

Toward the latter part of Rachel Jackson’s life, the cotton mills in Massachusetts became world-renowned as “humane” working places for girls and young women. Whether or not they were humane, they created a considerable amount of debate. The textile industry was one of the first to hire large numbers of female workers. Their lives and working conditions, so unlike Rachel Jackson’s, must have been known to her, and were perhaps, a matter of concern.

Objectives:

The purpose of this lesson is for students to put themselves in the position of young women (early teens) who have been sent to work in the mills in Massachusetts to earn money to help the family farm. Although this lesson may be seen as a “girls’” lesson, the circumstances mirror a pattern frequently seen among immigrants to American, even into the present day. It will be instructive for young men in the class to also assume the persona of a young woman working in the Lowell Mills—class discussion can always be enhanced by male perceptions of female experience!

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; access to print materials.

Procedures:

You are a teenaged girl who has been sent to the factory to earn money to help support your farming family. Your parents are very proud of you and miss you deeply. You are excited about going to work at the mills because not only will you earn your own money, but you will be helping your parents. You have also been promised a good education of reading and writing, and a firm foundation in religion and lady-like manners.

In the 1800s these are all good qualities for attracting a good husband. The Lowell Sun, a local newspaper, wants you to write about life as a "Mill Girl". They want to know if working in the mills is everything you thought it would be. As you research the working conditions of the factories and the living conditions of the boardinghouses try to imagine yourself living in Lowell, Massachusetts during the 1830s. As you learn about your new environment pay careful attention about what it is like to live in Lowell because you will be writing a group editorial to the Lowell Sun answering some questions about the working and living conditions.
Using the websites listed below, research one of the following aspects of life as a “Mill Girl”: 

  • Working conditions
  • Living conditions
  • Recreation
  • General life.
When your research is complete, write a feature story for the Lowell Sun describing your life based on your research. Share your research with the rest of the class.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson may be extended by asking students to compare life and working conditions of the Lowell girls with those of major employers of teens today.

Sources & Resources:

Books:

Denenberg, Barry. So Far From Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, An lrish Mill Girl, Lowell, Massachusetts. Scholastic, 2003.
 
Flanagan, Alice K. The Lowell Mill Girls. Compass Point Books, 2006.

Websites:

Lowell Mill Girls

Mill Life in Lowell: 1820-1880

Tales of Factory Life, No. 1

Women, Work, and Protest in the Early Lowell Mills

Journals Written by Lowell Mill Participants

Writings of Lowell Mill Girls

Credits:

This lesson was adapted from a WebQuest developed at Indio Middle School, Indio, California, by Bette Brooks, Kent State University.