Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Primary Sources - Workshop in American History The Lowell Systemhomesitemap
Introduction -Link Before You Watch - link Lectures and Activities Classroom and Applications - Link

Workshop 3: Lectures & Activities

Activity One:
Was Lowell an Opportunity or a Dead End?

After viewing Lecture One, analyze the documents and argue the case that Lowell was an exploitative situation and mostly a dead end for working women. Write down each argument, point by point. Use the questions to guide your analysis. Facillitators Note

Now take the other side of the argument. Make the case that young women were liberated by the opportunity at Lowell. Argue each point on the list you wrote against the Lowell experience.

Note: This activity has two sets of questions: those that relate to specific documents and appear on each document page and more general, "big picture" questions listed below. You may begin with general or specific questions depending upon your preference.

Consider These Questions


For what variety of reasons did women come to Lowell to work?


What does the evidence suggest about their experience at Lowell?


How did outsiders view the Lowell Mills?


What was the nature of paternalism at Lowell?


What were the grievances of the workers against the factories?

Image of Louis Masur

"Now, this experiment in manufacturing on a grand scale, the transition to industrial capitalism in America, did not come without its anxieties, did not come smoothly and easily. It wasn't celebrated by everyone. And it's important to keep that in mind... because it will also help us understand better exactly the nature of Lowell as an experience for these women, with its boardinghouses, with its paternalistic structure."
— Louis Masur

  Primary Sources: Documents

(Click here for information on using primary source documents)


The Lowell Offering:
The following three selections are from the Lowell Offering, a publication which grew out of the Lowell Experiment's women's literary clubs.

image of a generic historical document"A Week in the Mill," Anonymous, Lowell Offering, Volume V, 1845

An anonymous writer describes a mill girl's typical week as neither idyllic nor terrible.

image of a generic historical document"Editorial: Two Suicides," Harriet Farley, Lowell Offering, Volume IV, 1844

This document responds to newspaper reports of two suicides committed by female millworkers.

image of a generic historical document"Letters from Susan," Harriet Farley, Lowell Offering, Volume IV, 1844

These articles describe factory life in the form of fictitious letters from a new mill girl to a friend at home.

image of a generic historical documentMary Paul letter, November 5, 1848

Mary Paul, who works on and off in the Lowell factories, writes this letter to her father upon her return to Lowell after some time away.

image of a generic historical documentHarriet H. Robinson, "Early Factory Labor in New England," 1883

Harriet H. Robinson, a worker in the Lowell factories from age 10 to 23, describes the changes brought about by women's ability to earn a more substantial income and about the strike of 1836, which followed a decrease in wages.

image of a generic historical document"Female Workers of Lowell," The Harbinger, November 14, 1836

A magazine report investigates the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, and Manchester, New Hampshire.

image of a generic historical documentCharles Dickens, "General Appearance of Mill Workers," from American Notes, 1842

In the following selection, Charles Dickens describes his visit to Lowell, which was part of his four-month-long tour of America in 1842.

image of a generic historical documentLucy Larcom, A New England Girlhood, 1889

Lucy Larcom, a millworker and contributor to the Lowell Offering, describes some of her observations about the mills and the mill girls' lives.

  A Biography of America: Video Series (optional)

(Click here for information on using A Biography of America)


image of a starProgram 7: The Rise of Capitalism (26:46)

Individual enterprise merges with technological innovation to launch the Commercial Revolution -- the seedbed of American industry. The program features the ideas of Adam Smith, the efforts of entrepreneurs in New England and Chicago, the Lowell Mills Experiment, and the engineering feats involved in Chicago's early transformation from marsh to metropolis.

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