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Dramatic changes came following The Industrial Revolution as described by Elizabeth, a woman who left her England farm to work in Lowell factory in the early 1800. Before the building, of the factory, families lived either in the villages or on the farm where they had worked long and hard, to grow crops and raise animals. Whatever they grew would feed the family. The families were large and, as a girl, I helped in the farm and, I knew what chores awaited me.
On the farm, work took up most of the time. However, we still got time to play. People regarded work as a festive. We would join hands to make barns as well as houses. We told stories while piecing the quilts together. During harvest, families gathered to help each other; sharing food, telling stories, singing and dancing helped to enlighten the workload. However, it was quite difficult to farm on the rocky England land. The families were large, yet the land was minimal, hence not all the sons would inherit the land. Many children moved to the newly established factories on discovering this. In mid 1800s, I too moved to work in the newly established Lowell textile factory.
Having come from a family of ten, I knew how difficult it was to feed such large family. I, therefore, decided to work in the factory since I already knew how to weave. I also wanted to earn something and at least, send part of it to my family back in the England farm to help pay the bills. The staff in the factory mainly recruited girls because they believed that they were fast learners in tending the power looms. Although we did not get a lot of money from working in the factory, it was better than working on the farm where we did not receive even a cent afte the long and hard work.
In Lowell, we worked for six days unlike on the farm where we worked for seven days in a week. I earned $3.25 per week that was enough money, for a beginner Lowell was like paradise to me. The place had a library, museum, several shops, travelling speakers and several churches, most of which were not available on the farm. The atmosphere in Lowell gave me a chance to make friends with other women. In the factory, we lived in large brick buildings called the boardinghouses. A boardinghouse keeper ensured that the girls behaved well and that they fed properly. We would sleep at 10.00 pm every day and, two mill girls would share a bed (Dublin 43).
Work started at 5.35 am and, with every mill girl expected to be in the mill courtyard at that time. If late, one walked through the counting house and, if late repeatedly, she would be fired. As a weaver, I was responsible for keeping threads straight, ensuring that the bobbins were full and ensuring that the machinery ran smoothly. A loom fixer ensured that the machine was in acceptable condition. It was, however, necessary to now some basics on how the machine operated because the loom fixer would at times delay to restart your machine. Money would be paid depending on the quality and amount of cloth produced. Therefore, if your machine were not working, one did not receive any payment.
Work would end at 7:00 in the evening when we would go for supper. After supper, we were free to do what we wanted until 10:00 pm when the boarding house keeper would call us to bed. Usually after supper, we preferred to read, tell stories, and write letters or even to practice sewing. I preferred attending classes in the evening together with some other girls. Others would attend the theatre or attend lectures. Permission would be granted to the girls to stroll the streets, do window shipping or even real shopping (Dublin 28). Wearing fashionable clothes was common in the city.
The working conditions were not perfect. The temperature in the weaving room would go to as high as 115 degrees on a summer day and, as hot as 90 degrees in winter. We never opened the windows since a change in temperature would snap the thread and, poor thread would automatically produce poor cloth. Steam would be pumped, through pipes, to ensure enough moisture in the weaving room. Most women suffered from breathing problems because of the cotton dust that filled the air. In fact, many women died from breathing related complications. An experience cannot be forgotten. Although the working conditions in the Lowell factory were that awful, many women enjoyed working there. However, by 1840, the conditions had become worse. This led to shortage of employees in the factory. Those women who tended two machines could now tend a minimum of three machines (Dublin 49). Working hours also increased from twelve to thirteen hours in a day. The pay was significantly lowered yet the cost of living had increased. Seeing the worsening conditions, my friends and I decided to return to the farm.
Some women decided to get married while others get themselves new jobs with better working conditions. Other workers were patient enough hoping that the working conditions would be improved. The conditions deteriorated and the workers went on strikes but they proved unsuccessful. They later gave up and left the job. The Irish immigrants who were desperate for jobs filled the vacancies.
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