On this day in history…

November 7, 1845: The Voice of Industry, a pro-labor newspaper in Lowell, Mass., publishes a letter to female factory workers, inviting them to publish their complaints about their working conditions. The paper received essays from the “Lowell Mill Girls,” female textile workers, documenting their unfair and unsafe labor conditions. The Lowell Mill Girls fought for labor reform through petitions, forming labor organizations, and engaging in strikes.

From Wikipedia:

The Lowell girls’ organizing efforts were notable not only for the “unfeminine” participation of women, but also for the political framework used to appeal to the public. Framing their struggle for shorter work days and better pay as a matter of rights and personal dignity, they sought to place themselves in the larger context of the American Revolution. During the 1834 “turn-out” or strike – they warned that “the oppressing hand of avarice would enslave us,” the women included a poem which read:

Let oppression shrug her shoulders,
And a haughty tyrant frown,
And little upstart Ignorance,
In mockery look down.
Yet I value not the feeble threats
Of Tories in disguise,
While the flag of Independence
O’er our noble nation flies.

In the 1836 strike, this theme returned in a protest song:

Oh! isn’t it a pity, such a pretty girl as I

Should be sent to the factory to pine away and die?
Oh! I cannot be a slave, I will not be a slave,
For I’m so fond of liberty,

That I cannot be a slave.

The most striking example of this political overtone can be found in a series of tracts published by the Female Labor Reform Association entitled Factory Tracts. In the first of these, subtitled “Factory Life As It Is”, the author proclaims “that our rights cannot be trampled upon with impunity; that we WILL not longer submit to that arbitrary power which has for the last ten years been so abundantly exercised over us.

The Lowell Girls meant srs bznz. Workers of America have them to thank in part for our current labor conditions.

Read more at the Wikipedia entry for the Lowell Mill Girls.

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