Mill Girl Culture

Two Young Women

Used with permission from the Center for Lowell History, University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

Mill girls were expected to dedicate almost all of their time to their labors. They ate, slept, and worked at the factory every day among hundreds of other women. The hours were long, and time in the mill could feel impersonal and unvaried. They lived by the ringing of the bell.

However, from these conditions a spark of inspiration arose and a mill culture of fashion, song, and literature was born. Perhaps most famously, the Lowell Offering (1840-45) was written and produced almost exclusively by mill workers. Though the mill girls worked and lived together, they often came to the mill for a variety of reasons, which created diversity in mill life, rendered here in a variety of texts.

Many mill girls took great pleasure in reading and writing, as well as using their earnings to keep up with the fashion trends of the day. Their culture and “leisure” were sometimes a source of criticism, too, as they stood at odds with their status as working-class women. Though some writers’ creative works focused on life in the mill, others dreamt up dramatic fantasies and whimsical tales to escape the daily grind. The mill was not everyone’s ideal home, but many of the women who worked there created a comfortable lifestyle and a lasting sisterly bond that is showcased here.

Mill Girl Culture