Labor Conditions in the Slater, Lowell Textile Era

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Social Studies Lesson Plan

Sharon Keena

Labor Conditions in the Slater, Lowell Textile Era


Goal 15 Economics

Understand economic systems, with emphasis on the United States

Standard D

Summarize the problems of workers in factories and analyze the actions workers took to improve working conditions.


  • Students will understand that problems of workers in factories began in the textile mills at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the United States.

  • Students will use documents to identify the problems of workers in the textile industry in New England from 1790 through the 1820’s.

Introduction and Teacher purpose

The development of the textile industry in New England falls at the end of material to be covered in the 5th grade. After doing some research, I realized the workplace problems ultimately leading to labor organization were evident in the Slater and Lowell factories. As a supplement to the social studies text, I will use this lesson and allow students to identify problems reflective of that period. This document includes photos and documents that I have copied from internet and teacher publication sources for the convenience of the user. I have also included documents relating to the Mill Girls strikes that occurred in the 1820’s and 1830’s. The text of Lowell As Was, As It Is, is included in a separate file.

Primary Source Documents:

Primary source documents are included at the end of this text. Following is a list of documents and comments.
Text Documents

Child Labor – Slater stared his mill with children. Text explains why child labor was accepted and comments on conditions.

The Slatersville Mill Village – Text discusses the founding of the community, with everything owned by the company people.

Mill Village Life – Higher lever reading. Text discusses the company domination of the village.

Samuel Slater – Background on Samuel Slater and general information about his part in the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Modern History Sourcebook, Harriet Robinson, Lowell Mill Girls – First person narrative of a mill girl (from 1834 through 1848.) Text includes cultural information, reference to early mill girls, and the strike of 1836.

Factory Rules from the Handbook to Lowell, 1848 – Employees were required to go to church and live in company housing.

Massachusetts Investigation into Labor Conditions – 1845, testimony from a mill girl and hours of operation of the mills.

A Description of Factory Life by an Associationist in 1846 – Labor activist description of the work place and the boarding houses.

Boarding House Rules from the Handbook to Lowell, 1848 – Text outlines responsibility of the residents of the boarding houses.

Lowell Mill Girls and the Rhetoric of Women’s Labor Unrest – The text outlines the causes and action of the mill girls.

The Lowell Mill Girls Go on Strike, 1836 – First person narrative of the strike by Harriet Robinson.

Lowell as it was and as it is, text is in a separate file. I was unable to copy sections of the text. This is a book written from the company perspective. There is an index in the text. See particularly “Hours of Labor,” “Comfort and Health,” and “Moral Police.”

Photo Documents
Making-up Room, Lawrence Hosiery

Weaving Room, Lawrence Mill

Spinning Room, Lawrence Mill

Weaving Room

Spinning Room

Weaving Room

Bailing Cotton

Part of the yearly cotton crop of Texas

Boys by a spinning machine

Boys on a spinning machine

Boys running a spinning machine

Children in garment factory

Large group of children with an overseer in front of spinning machine

Five children in front of a spinning machine

Girl between spinning machines

Girl at spinning machine

Girl at spinning machine (close up)

Two girls at spinning machine (close up)

Resource Sources

In searching for material, I stumbled onto several excellent websites. I’ve listed those in the Bibliography as Resource.

Teaching the Lesson

Lesson Materials:

Copies of photos and documents are located at the end of this Word Document for use with this lesson. Items found on the internet have been copied to this document for your convenience. To review complete text and additional items, visit the websites noted in the Bibliography.

  • Student Text, Chapter 11, Core Lesson 1, pages 376 through 387

  • Chart paper

  • Markers

  • Selected photos

  • Selected documents

  • Studying Documents Worksheet

  • Studying Photographs Worksheet


The primary source items can be selected for differentiated instruction with specific student groups. Choose, print, and copy the documents and/or photos you wish to use. Please note: Items related to the Mill Girls strikes are included

Print and copy appropriate worksheets for students to use

Suggest Procedure

  • Introduce the lesson/activity by having the class brainstorm and write a list of statements describing what they think it would have been like to work in one of the factories (Working in the Factory).

  • From that list, compile and write a list (Problems List)of things that the class would see as possible problems. The list should include items relating to safety, health, and civil rights.

  • Hang the lists in the room for reference later.

  • Divide the students into small groups or pairs, appropriate for the class.

  • Give each group a photo or document to examine and the appropriate worksheet. (Each group or pair should have a different item.)

  • Direct the students to study their photo/document and identify evidence of problems or potential problems in the workplace. They may refer to the Problems List compiled by the class, but they may find additional potential problems. Filling out the worksheets as they work will keep students focused.

  • After a designated time, have the students share their evidence with the class.

  • Highlight or mark items on the Problems List that students can support with evidence. Add any additional problems they can identify.

  • Assess students on their completed worksheets and their presentations to the class.

Extension activities will include:

  • Writing letters to family and friends from the perspective of the owners, overseers, and mill girls.

  • Writing a speech for the workers from the perspective of labor or management.

  • Making posters to attract workers or to announce a labor organizing meeting.

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