We Call on You to Deliver Us from the Tyrant’s Chain”: Lowell Women Workers Campaign for a Ten Hour Workday

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“We Call On You to Deliver Us From the Tyrant’s Chain”: Lowell Women Workers Campaign for a Ten Hour Workday The burgeoning textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, brought increasing competition among the owners and declining conditions for the workers. In the 1830s the women working in the mills turned to economic protests and collective action; their “turn outs” or strikes proved unsuccessful in combating the wage cuts. In the 1840s mill workers turned to political organization as they mounted annual petition campaigns calling on the state legislature to limit the hours of labor within the mills. These campaigns reached their height in 1845 and 1846, when 2,000 and 5,000 operatives respectively signed petitions. to reduce the hours of labor in the mills. Women operatives organized the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association in 1845. An important part of the campaign was their periodical The Voice of Industry. Another publication, Factory Tracts, was part of their effort to expose conditions in the mills and advocate a ten hour day. Male mechanics and other workers in industrial communities joined the Lowell women operatives' campaign.

Factory Tracts. Factory Life as it Is. By an Operative
INTRODUCTION.
PHILANTHROPISTS of the nineteenth century!—shall not the operatives of our country be permitted to speak for themselves? Shall they be compelled to listen in silence to [ ] who speak for gain, and are the mere echo of the will of the corporations? Shall the worthy laborer be awed into silence by wealth and power, and for fear of being deprived of the means of procuring his daily bread? Shall tyranny and cruel oppression be allowed to rived the chains of physical and mental slavery on the millions of our country who are the real producers of all its improvements and wealth, and they fear to speak out in noble self-defence? Shall they fear to appeal to the sympathies of the people, or the justice of this far-famed republican nation? God forbid! Much has been written and spoken in woman’s behalf, especially in America; and yet a large class of females are, and have been, destined to a state of servitude as degrading as unceasing toil can make it. I refer to the female operatives of New England—the free states of our union—the states where no colored slave can breathe the balmy air, and exist as such;—but yet there are those, a host of them, too, who are in fact nothing more nor less than slaves in every sense of the word! Slaves to a system of labor which requires them to toil from five until seven o’clock, with one hour only to attend to the wants of nature, allowed—slaves to the will and requirements of the “powers that be,” however they may infringe on the rights or conflict with the feelings of the operative—slaves to ignorance—and how can it be otherwise? What time has the operative to bestow on moral, religious or intellectual culture? How can our country look for aught but ignorance and vice, under the existing state of things? When the whole system is exhausted by unremitting labor during twelve and thirteen hours per day, can any reasonable being expect that the mind will retain its vigor and energy? Impossible! Common sense will each every one the utter impossibility of improving the mind under these circumstances, however great the desire may be for knowledge. Again, we hear much said on the subject of benevolence among the wealthy and so called, christian part of community. Have we not cause to question the sincerity of those who, while they talk benevolence in the parlor, compel their help to labor for a mean, paltry pittance in the kitchen? And while they manifest great concern for the souls of the heathen in distant lands, care nothing for the bodies and intellects of those within their own precincts? Shall we esteem men honest in their pretensions to piety and benevolence, who compel their help to labor on the Sabbath day or lose their situation? Have they made their regulations hold up to the world a...
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