"Letters from Susan," Harriet Farley,
Volume IV (1844)
In these articles, Harriet Farley describes factory life in the form of fictitious letters from a new mill girl to a friend at
Lowell, April ---, ----
Dear Mary: In my last I told you I would write again, and say more of my life here; and this I will now attempt to do.
I went into the mill to work a few days after I wrote to you. It looked very pleasant at first, the rooms were so light, spacious, and clean, the girls so pretty
and neatly dressed, and the machinery so brightly polished or nicely painted. The plants in the windows, or on the overseer's bench or desk, gave a pleasant
aspect to things. You will wish to know what work I am doing. I will tell you of the different kinds of work.
There is, first, the carding-room, where the cotton flies most, and the girls get the dirtiest. But this is easy, and the females are allowed time to go out at
night before the bell rings--on Saturday night at least, if not on all other nights. Then there is the spinning-room, which is very neat and pretty. In this room are
the spinners and doffers. The spinners watch the frames; keep them clean, and the threads mended if they break. The doffers take off the full bobbins, and put
on the empty ones. They have nothing to do in the long intervals when the frames are in motion, and can go out to their boarding-houses, or do any thing else
that they like. In some of the factories the spinners do their own doffing, and when this is the case they work no harder than the weavers. These last have the
hardest time of all--or can have, if they choose to take charge of three or four looms, instead of the one pair which is the allotment. And they are the most
constantly confined. The spinners and dressers have but the weavers to keep supplied, and then their work can stop. The dressers never work before breakfast,
and they stay out a great deal in the afternoons. The drawers-in, or girls who draw the threads through the harnesses, also work in the dressing-room, and they
all have very good wages--better than the weavers who have but the usual work. The dressing-rooms are very neat, and the frames move with a gentle
undulating motion which is really graceful. But these rooms are kept very warm, and are disagreeably scented with the "sizing," or starch, which stiffens the
"beams," or unwoven webs. There are many plants in these rooms, and it is really a good green-house for them. The dressers are generally quite tall girls, and
must have pretty tall minds too, as their work requires much care and attention.
I could have had work in the dressing-room, but chose to be a weaver; and I will tell you why. I disliked the closer air of the dressing-room, though I might
have become accustomed to that. I could not learn to dress so quickly as I could to weave, nor have work of my own so soon, and should have had to stay with
Mrs. C. two or three weeks before I could go in at all, and I did not like to be "lying upon my oars" so long. And, more than this, when I get well learned I can