Reflect on History

Tomorrow is the new year! I’m looking forward to new opportunities in 2015. I’m ready to set new goals and seek more rewarding experiences. I’ll do my normal reflecting and planning in the next few weeks, but until then I want to share the rest of my story about Lowell, Mass.

Two weeks ago I made an unexpected visit to Massachusetts. I’m told that when I was 3 I visited this area, but I can’t remember that trip. While I was there, I had a few hours of extra time on my hands and decided to explore the area a little. I love exploring new places, so following an Internet search I discovered Lowell, Mass.

Boott Mill, Lowell, MassOur initial plan was to see the New England Quilt Museum. On the drive in we realized there were several other textile-based points-of-interest all within a short distance. When my sister and I finished looking at the quilts, we found we had a little extra time to kill. What should we do? The American Textile Museum or Boott Mill Museum? We decided on Boott Mill and I’m so glad we did. I enjoyed this museum more than I can explain.

We were quite fortunate that in the middle of December very few people visit Boott Mill. There was a small school group there, but they had just left for lunch when we arrived. The park ranger at the desk seemed delighted to have our attention, because she spend a good 45 minutes providing us with details to the history of the textile industry of Lowell. (I wish I could remember her name, she clearly loved her job.)

Lowell is known as the cradle of the Industrial Revolution. Pre-1820’s the area now known as Lowell consisted of farm land. By the 1840’s, Lowell was a booming industrial city powered by the Merrimack River rapids. Young women (average age 17) would leave their rural farm communities to work in the textile factories. They would work 14 hour shifts and live in factory-owned, female-only boarding houses. It was their responsibility to send money back home to help their families.

The ranger showed us how the looms worked and explained the responsibilities of the female workers. Just with the 20 or so refurbished machines running at the museum, the place was loud. I can’t imagine how loud it was with 100’s of machines running in a building or the 1000’s of machines running in the town (click on the video above to see the machines in action). The women would breathe cotton dust that was constantly in the air. I can’t imagine their hardships. These days we are so much more aware of how these types of things affect our health.

Boott Mill, Lowell, MassThe town built up to support the needs of the factories. The women had money to spend and there was plenty of things to buy and enjoy. In pre-civil war Lowell, women were a major component to the Industrial Revolution. I had no idea.

Over time, more factories were built resulting in greater competition. In order to survive, the companies made cut backs. These cut backs hit the female workers the hardest. They were required to work harder and accept pay reduction. The women didn’t take these changes lightly and held strikes. In their steadfast for maintaining working standards, the “Mill Girls” formed the first women’s union in 1845 known as Lowell Female Labor Reform Association.

I’m not sure why I was so impressed with Boott Mill. I’m sure it was many factors. I appreciate textiles and understand the weaving process. I’m fascinated by old technology and its simplicity to do such complex tasks. I was also taken by the stories of the women. You don’t often hear stories of women who worked the factories in that era. I believe these woman laid the groundwork for me and my social equality. They were an early milestone to the women’s movement. The textiles, machinery, and women all played a historic role in the development of the profession I work in. My visit to Lowell was a great opportunity to reflect on history.