Lowell System

Who: Francis Cabot Lowell


Lowell was born on April 7, 1775 in Newburyport, Massachusetts. His father was John Lowell, who worked as a jurist and delegate to the Continental Congress. Once Lowell graduated from Harvard in 1793, he went to work in his uncle's mercantile firm. Lowell became a successful Boston merchant. In 1810, he traveled to examine textile machinery in England. He took a close look at the hand looms in these textile factories. Lowell concluded that their must be an easier way for workers to be able to thread yarn than these hand looms. He investigated the inner workings of Lancashire power looms.

Hand Loom VS. Power Loom


When Lowell returned to the United States, he collaborated with master mechanic Paul Moody to construct a better power loom to replace hand looms. He wanted the machine to create the task of spinning and weaving to be more efficient and less time-consuming. Lowell eventually developed a power loom that was by far, much better than England's counterpart.

Paul Moody

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In 1814, Lowell organized the Boston Manufacturing Company in Waltham, Massachusetts on the Charles River. This was the first mill in America to carry the processes of spinning and weaving under one single rood, due to the development of Lowell and Moody's new power loom. Unfortunately, Lowell died shortly after on August 10 of 1817. Nine years after his death, the Boston Manufacturing Company was newly located on a massive complex. This new location used to be a small farming village known as East Chelmsford, however, it became renamed Lowell, Massachusetts. Because the town bore Lowell's name, his plant was relocated here.

Francis Cabot Lowell's Grave Stone VS. Lowell, Massachusetts

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England Working Conditions:

In England, the conditions of women workers were indescribably horrible. Women workers in coal mines were sometimes forced to crawl on their hands and knees, naked and covered in grime, through cramped, narrow tunnels. They had to endure the heavy labor of pulling heavy coal carts through these tunnels behind them.

The Lowell System:

Francis Cabot Lowell's company was an important step in revolutionizing the American manufacturing and in shaping the character of the early industrial workforce. In America, this workforce consisted exclusively of young unmarried women. However, compared to England working standards, the Lowell mills was a female paradise. The Lowell System was a plan to meet all the needs of the female workers, whether former farm workers or eventually immigrant women, that were employed in the plant. The company owned and operated not only the factory, but also the dormitories, shops, and churches in the near vicinity. Behavior was carefully regulated, there was a lot of supervision and high wages were initially provided. The Lowell workers were able to live in clean boardinghouses and dormitories, which were maintained by the factory owners. The workers were always guaranteed to be well fed and supervised.

In New England, the employment of women was still looked upon as immoral, therefore, the factory tried to maintain a proper living environment for its female workers. Owners placed great emphasis on making sure the women followed strict curfews and attended church frequently. Any immoral conduct would lead to dismissal. Wages for the Lowell women employees were low, however, they were considered high for the time and considerably so since they were women. The women, with their carefully planned schedules, found enough time to write and publish a monthly magazine called the Lowell Offering. The Lowell worker community increased from several dozen to over 8,000 female workers in a span of 15 years.

Decline of the Lowell System:

The paternalistic factory system did not last long. In the 1830's t 1840's, the textile industry became increasingly competitive. The American economy suffered greatly. Manufacturers found it difficult to maintain the high living standards and attractive working conditions that they had first established. In order to keep afloat with the enormous amount of competition and decline of the economy, owners were forced to lower wages lengthen hours, and spend less time on the up keep of the boarding houses. These dormitory buildings became overcrowded and decayed.

Factory Girls Association:

In 1834, former female workers from a variety of mills in Lowell, Massachusetts formed a union called the Factory Girls Association. This group participated in strikes that protested wage cuts and rent increases of boarding houses. A recession in 1837 destroyed the organization.

Female Labor Reform Association:

In 1845, Sarah Bagley organized a union of other Lowell women to form the Female Labor Reform Association. These women advocated for 10-hour work days and better working conditions in the mills. The organization truly made more efforts and progress than its successor. They not only complained to mill owners and management, but also to the stage government. However, factory workforce began a new era once again. Mill girls eventually moved on to other occupations such as teaching, domestic services, and marriage. The textile industry workforce shifted to immigrant labor.

Interesting Fact:

In the 1840's, Fitzhugh Lane painted Th MiddleSex Company Woolen Mills. This was a famous painting that illustrated Lowell, Massachusetts and the Boston Manufacturing Company. Lowell's plant was depicted as one of the most famous manufacturing centers in America and as a magnet for visitors all over the world.