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Lowell System: Definition & Significance

Instructor: Brianna Whiting
In this lesson, we'll take a look at the Lowell system. We'll begin with a brief history followed by a discussion of the significance of the system. The lesson will then conclude with a summary and a short quiz.

A First Look

Imagine being a young girl in the early 19th century. Each day you and your sisters would watch as your father and brothers would venture off to work. Some worked hard on the farm, while others were hard at work in the up and coming industrial industry. Be it the farm or industrial work one thing was the same, when the workweek ended, each would bring home their earnings. But, what if you wanted to go to work? What if you wanted to earn some money that you could call your own? Well, thanks to the Lowell system many girls got exactly that, a place where they could work and become a part of the working class.

Background Information

Let's start from the beginning to better understand the Lowell system. In the early 19th century, the textile trade was beginning to boom. Since the textile industry had begun to use helpful machines, such as the spinning mule, production was increasing. It was at that time that Francis Cabot Lowell started a new business in Waltham, Massachusetts. This was not just any business, however, it was the first in the nation to offer the entire textile production process at one company, known as the Boston Manufacturing Company.

Employees & Their Significance

Like all companies, the Boston Manufacturing Company needed laborers to turn the cotton into cloth. So, the company decided to recruit young farm girls from the area. These girls would later be known as 'mill girls.' Part of becoming a 'mill girl' meant also having a place to live. You see, the Boston Manufacturing Company offered boarding houses where the young girls lived and adhered to a routine that consisted of almost 80-hour workweeks. This recruiting process and housing setup became known as the Lowell system.

Why Was the Lowell System Important?

Before the Lowell system, child labor was very popular. In order to change the current labor force, Mr. Lowell developed a labor system where young women who were not married and did not have children could work. These women could now work, while also having somewhere to live. However, that was not all! These women were given educational opportunities, as well. The chance for women to safely work, have suitable living conditions, and a positive atmosphere, inspired subsequent changes in labor practices.

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