Repercussions

Machines roar their voracious appetite.
Mill girls risk hands and limbs,
work fourteen-hour days.
River powers turbine belts,
transforms cotton bales to cloth.
Spindle City’s deleterious result,
more slaves on auction blocks.
Black hands blister in cotton fields.
Industrial revolution’s progress
paves misery’s trail.

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Written for Monday’s Quadrille at dVerse, the virtual pub for poets.  De is tending the pub and asks us to include the word “roar” in our Quadrille, a poem of exactly 44 words sans title. Photos from this past summer’s visit to Lowell, Massachusetts and the Bott Cotton Mills Museum. Lowell, once known as Spindle City, is recognized as the Cradle of the American Industrial Revolution. The first textile mill was built there in 1826. By 1850 it was America’s largest industrial center with many large textile mills and factories. By 1840 there were 8,000 workers in the mills, mostly women between the ages of fifteen and thirty. Within one year, the mills could transform raw bales of cotton into 50,000 miles of cotton cloth. The North’s increased appetite for cotton textiles led to an expansion of slavery. One side note: Some of the Southern cotton was made into ‘negro cloth’ at the Lowell mills and sold to plantation owners for their slaves.

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!