Loom & Spindle, or Life Among the Early Mill Girls

A first-hand account of life in the early cotton mills by Harriet Hanson Robinson, first published in 1898

As a result of the industrial revolution, the workers were subjected to longer working hours, around fourteen hours a day, six days a week with low wages. In addition, the new factories were often dangerous, dirty and noisy. Harriet J. Hanson was born in 1825 in Boston to a poor carpenter who died when she was 6 years of age. She lived with her mother and three young brothers.

Harriet’s family moved to Lowell, a new factory city just miles north of Boston. By 1835, Lowell had become the center of textile manufacturing in the United States. Harriet’s mother worked as a housekeeper. A few years later Harriet went to work in the mills at the age of eleven. She worked in the mill until she was 23 when she left to marry William Stevens Robinson a poorly paid abolitionist newspaper reporter.

While at the mill, Harriet wrote for the Lowell Offering, a literary magazine managed by the “mill girls.” She wrote poetry, short stories and essays favoring the abolition of slavery and women’s rights. In 1898, she wrote Loom and Spindle, a memoir of her years at the factory. In it she explained why most women took jobs there. She liked the experience at the factory and contributing to the family economy. She believed she was participating in something important, making a major contributing to modernization, economic growth, and expansion of women’s rights.

Source: Loom & Spindle, or Life Among the Early Mill Girls
© 2017 - Windham Textile & History Museum

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