Industrialization at a price . . .

On a hot summer day, we ventured back in history, on a day-trip to Lowell, Massachusetts.

A small boat took us through part of the 1796 Pawtucket Transportation Canal, with locks so old, their levers are maneuvered above us by National Park volunteers. Green trees reflect in the water marking a beautiful scene. But we’re told that once these waters were polluted thick with textile dyes as industrial capitalists captured hydro-energy from the Merrimack River falls to turn belts and wheels on thousands of textile machines.

In the Boott Cotton Mill Museum, we stand in a long factory room, filled machines, just as they were in the 1830s. Only three of the hundreds are turned on and the noise is deafening. We drip with sweat and imagine women as young as fifteen, standing in long dresses, no electricity for fans, tied to machines fourteen hours a day, six days a week.

sweltering summer
dogs pant laboriously
tethered to leashes

Frank hosts Haibun Monday at dVerse, the virtual pub for poets. Since today is Labor Day in the U.S., a day to celebrate workers, he asks us to write a haibun (2 or 3 paragraphs of prose — cannot be fiction; followed by a traditional haiku with reference to a season) that is somehow about labor. Canada celebrates Labor Day on the first Monday of September and more than 80 countries celebrate International Workers’ Day on May 1.

Photos and video from our recent day trip to Lowell, MA. An amazing step back in time. The Mill Girls, as they came to be known, were some of the first individuals to stage a strike against unfair wages and conditions. They were recruited to this factory city from rural farms in the nearby countryside. Companies required them to stay in the company boarding houses, attend church on Sunday, and live by “the bells” which woke them befroe dawn each morning, signalled meal times, and times to report to the floor. When Mill Girls left their jobs, waves of immigrants came to Lowell, working side-by-side with locals. Lowell did not stay with the times, keeping the hydrology-run factories until they all left for other parts of the country and Lowell fell on hard times. Warehouses were vacant and fell to disrepair. Senator Tsongas, from Lowell, together with Congress, established Lowell as a National Park and the city was “reborn” so to speak, rehabbing and restoring itself as a place to preserve history. An amazing place to visit!

12 thoughts on “Industrialization at a price . . .

  1. Björn Rudberg (brudberg) September 2, 2019 / 3:09 pm

    The way labor has changed is amazing… but I have visited factories in Chine (in my work) and though it’s a lot cleaner, the workers still sleep in dorms next to the factory. They are mostly migrant farm girls coming from the central (and poorer) parts of China. The factories I have visited had decent standards, but there are those that are much worse.

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  2. Grace September 2, 2019 / 3:13 pm

    Those were the days – from this vantage point, they were terrible work conditions. I am glad to see things ease up in some parts of the world. Still I am not in favor of young child labor – they should be studying instead of working. But there are harsh realities -and everyone labors.

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  3. sarahsouthwest September 2, 2019 / 3:13 pm

    The Good Old Days were pretty grim for a lot of people. We are so lucky to have the rights we do. We must support those who don’t.

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  4. kim881 September 2, 2019 / 3:14 pm

    That’s a great bit of history in your photos and video, Lill, and an interesting haibun, too. The working conditions in the mills were shocking.

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  5. Linda Lee Lyberg September 2, 2019 / 3:15 pm

    I love living vicariously through you and your adventures Lillian! Thank you for the wonderful words and photos.

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  6. Misky September 2, 2019 / 3:49 pm

    Thank goodness those good ol’ bad days are behind us.

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  7. Glenn A. Buttkus September 2, 2019 / 4:43 pm

    Nothing like personal experience to fuel a haibun. Thanks for the journey into the dark glum past, and the images; rocking the prompt. Killer haiku as well.

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  8. msjadeli September 2, 2019 / 7:41 pm

    Management hasn’t changed much. They don’t care about the workers. That’s why unions are important. I appreciate learning about this piece of history, and I’m glad things worked out where this piece of history was able to be preserved.

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  9. rothpoetry September 2, 2019 / 9:13 pm

    What an interesting and educational Haibun. The oppressed have always sacrificed themselves to seek a better life!

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  10. lynn__ September 3, 2019 / 10:36 am

    Fascinating peek into the hard life of “The Mill Girls”…thanks for the history lesson with pictures!

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  11. Pratibha September 3, 2019 / 8:08 pm

    Thank you for this trip down history and making us reflect and pray for all those who still struggle for equal rights and fair treatment in the industries.

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