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

Workshop 3
Classroom Applications

Reflect on how you teach the Lowell system in your classroom. How would you teach it differently with primary sources?

Now consider these lesson ideas contributed by Primary Sources teachers:

Image of Larry David

Debate the Lowell Experience
Contributed by Larry David

This lesson is similar to the Primary Sources workshop debate about the positive and negative aspects of the Lowell experience on young women. It was conducted over two days and augmented with a trip to the Lowell Mills.

The students first examined several readings for homework, including:

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"The Spirit of Discontent"

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Selection from A New England Girlhood

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"A Week in the Mill"

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"Editorial: Two Suicides"

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Selections from the Lowell Offering

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Selections from Dorothy Read

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"Letters from Susan"

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Other selected letters

I divided the students into two groups, each one with a different position. One group represented the viewpoint that Lowell was beneficial to the young women who worked there. The other group represented the viewpoint that Lowell was a paternalistic, limiting experience for young women.

Each group spent a half hour writing their opening speech. A speaker selected from each group then presented the speech to the whole class. After the first speeches, the students went back into their original groups and wrote a rebuttal to the other group's first statement. Both groups then had a speaker present their rebuttals. The groups then reconvened for the final time and wrote their final statements. A representative from each group presented their conclusions to the whole class.

At the end of the debate, students who were not selected to be speakers had to give their opinions. Rather than following the viewpoint assigned to their group, they considered the following questions:

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What was your opinion at the beginning of class?

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How has your opinion changed?

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Were there any arguments that you thought of that you did not hear during the debate? If so, what were they?


Image of Sandra Stuppard

Discuss the Lowell Union Movement
Contributed by Sandra Stuppard

This lesson focuses on the different perspectives of the women working in Lowell and how these perspectives changed over time.

First, I wanted the students to see how the mills in Lowell were initially very liberating for the women who worked in them. The students discussed the gender gap between men and women of this time period and how the financial independence of working at the mills affected the women. The discussion dealt with how the women used the income, how the money affected their families, and how this work affected the women's public image.

The next discussion revolved around the more negative aspects of the mills in Lowell and explored the union movement. Students looked at why the women organized; i.e., the conditions under which they worked, the amount of time they worked, and the compensation they received. They took the perspective of both the mill owners (those trying to make money) as well as the women who worked the mills in an attempt to understand each side and the complex power struggle that ensued.

During the class discussion about the formation of unions in Lowell, I found that most of my students had a negative view of unions, taking the side that unions allowed people to do less work for the money they were paid. I took this opportunity to compare the formation of unions in Lowell to current union issues, illustrating how unions worked to support the workers in Lowell and how they can do the same thing today.


Image of Andrew Sullivan

"When [you] teach history, especially a survey course in U.S., and you're trying to cover a lot of material, you tend to look at everything as a piece in history. You know, this happened, and Lowell led to the women's movement. And you see the 100-year, 200-year span.... What happened for me this morning is [realizing] that women who were involved in [Lowell] weren't thinking of the historical span; they were thinking of their lives."
— Andrew Sullivan

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