H105, American History I

Special Committee report, Massachusetts legislature (March 12, 1845).

The Special Committee to which was referred sundry petitions relating to the hours of labor, have considered the same and submit the following REPORT:

The first petition which was referred to your committee, came from the city of Lowell and was signed by Mr. John Quincy Adams Thayer, and eight hundred and fifty others, “peaceable, industrious, hard working men and women of Lowell.”  The petitioners declare that they are confined to “from thirteen to fourteen hours per day in unhealthy apartments,” and are thereby “hastening through pain, disease and privation, down to a premature grave.”  They therefore ask the Legislature “to pass a law providing that ten hours shall constitute a day’s work,” and that no corporation or private citizen “shall be allowed, except in cases of emergency, to employ one set of hands more than ten hours per day.”

....

The whole number of names on the several petitions is 2,139, of which 1,151 are from Lowell.  A very large proportion of the Lowell petitioners are females....

....

On the 13th of February, the Committee held a session to hear the petitioners from the city of Lowell....

The first petitioner who testified was Eliza R. Hemmingway.  She had worked 2 years and 9 months in the Lowell Factories; 2 years in the Middlesex, and 9 months in the Hamilton Corporations.  Her employment is weaving, — works by the piece.  The Hamilton Mill manufactures cotton fabrics.  The Middlesex, woollen fabrics.  She is now at work in the Middlesex Mills, and attends one loom.  Her wages average from $16 to $23 a month exclusive of board.  She complained of the hours for labor being too many, and the time for meals too limited.  In the summer season, the work is commenced at 5 o’clock, A.M., and continued till 7 o’clock, P.M. with half an hour for breakfast and three quarters of an hour for dinner.  During eight months of the year, but half an hour is allowed for dinner.  The air in the room she considered not to be wholesome.  There were 293 small lamps and 61 large lamps lighted in the room in which she worked, when evening work is required.  These lamps are also lighted sometimes in the morning. — About 130 females, 11 men, and 12 children (between the ages of 11 and 14,) work in the room with her.  She thought the children enjoyed about as good health as children generally do.  The children work but 9 months out of 12.  The other 3 months they must attend school.  Thinks that there is no day when there are less than six of the females out of the mill from sickness....

....

Your Committee have not been able to give the petitions from the other towns in this State a hearing.  We believed that the whole case was covered by the petition from Lowell, and to the consideration of that petition we have given our undivided attention, and we have come to the conclusion unanimously, that legislation is not necessary at the present time....

....

The Committee do not wish to be understood as conveying the impression, that there are no abuses in the present system of labor; we think there are abuses; we think that many improvements may be made, and we believe will be made, by which labor will not be so severely tasked as it now is.  We think that it would be better if the hours for labor were less, — if more time was allowed for meals, if more attention was paid to ventilation and pure air in our manufactories, and work shops, and many other matters.  We acknowledge all this, but we say, the remedy is not with us.  We look for it in the progressive improvement in art and science, in a higher appreciation of manís destiny, in a less love for money, and a more ardent love for social happiness and intellectual superiority.  Your Committee, while they agree with the petitioners in their desire to lessen the burthens imposed upon labor, differ only as is the means by which these burthens are sought to be removed....

Female Labor Reform Association, resolutions (April 1, 1845).

Resolved, That the Female Labor Reform Association deeply deplore the lack of independence, honesty, and humanity in the committee to whom were referred sundry petitions relative to the hours of labor — especially in the chairman of that committee; and as he is merely a corporation machine, or tool, we will use our best endeavors and influence to keep him in the “city of spindles,” where he belongs, and not trouble Boston folks with him.

Resolved, That we are highly indignant at the cringing servility to corporate monopolies manifested by said committee in their report; as in that document the most important facts elicited from witnesses relative to the abuses and evils of the factory system are withheld, truth violated, and the whole shaped to please their aristocratic constituents.  May never again the interests of the oppressed, downtrodden laboring classes be committed to their legislation....

Resolved, further, That the Special Committee are guilty of the grossest dishonesty in withholding from the Legislature all the most important facts in the defence made by our delegates....

Resolved, That if the Representatives of the State of Massachusetts have no higher aim than that of competing with the pauper labor of Europe, and for that reason refuse to grant the prayer of the petitioners, they are unworthy of a seat in the halls of legislation....

Preamble and Constitution of the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association (January 1846).

Whereas we, the Operatives of Lowell, believing that in the present age of improvement nothing can escape the searching glances of reform; and when men begin to inquire why the Laborer does not hold that place in the social, moral and intellectual world, which a bountiful Creator designed him to occupy, the reason is obvious.  He is a slave to a false and debasing state of society.  Our merciful Father in his infinite wisdom surely, has not bestowed all his blessings, both mental and moral on a favored few, on whom also he has showered all of pecuniary gifts.  No! to us all has he given minds capable of eternal progression and improvement!

It now only remains for us to throw off the shackles which are binding us in ignorance and servitude and which prevent us from rising to that scale of being for which God designed us.

But how shall this be done?  How shall the mass become educated?  With the present system of labor it is impossible.  There must be reasonable hours for manual labor, and a just portion of time allowed for the cultivation of the mental and moral faculties and no other way can the great work be accomplished.

We know no employment is respectable only as long as these employed are such, and no farther than they are intelligent and moral, can they merit the companionship and esteem of their fellow-beings.  It is evident, that with the present system of labor, the minds of the mass must remain uncultivated, their morals unimproved, and our country be flooded with vice and misery!

Shall we, Operatives of America, the land where Democracy claims to be the principle by which we live and by which we are governed, see the evil daily increasing which separates more widely and more effectually the favored few and the unfortunate many, without one exertion to stay the progress? — God forbid!  Let the daughters of New England kindle the spark of philanthropy on every heart till its brightness shall fill the whole earth!....