Work Day Wednesday: Honoring the Factory Girls

“A little spinner in the Globe Cotton Mill. The overseer admitted she was regularly employed there. Augusta, Ga.”

“Rhodes Mfg. Co. Spinner. A moment’s glimpse of the outer world. Said she was 11 years old. Been working over a year. Lincolnton, N.C., 11/11/1908”

Honoring the Factory Girls (and Boys)

When this poem from the American Academy of Poets came across my e-mail the other day, I was immediately moved by it–not only by the factory girls’ stolen childhoods but also by the speaker’s acknowledgment of her own role in the plight of these girls and her kinship with them.

The poem prompted me to wonder how many of us have ancestors who had to help support the family by working in the factories, mines, and fields as young children. This is an area I haven’t thought to explore, but I think I should. I do know that during the Victorian era, my Brown ancestors had moved to Massachusetts, gone into business and done quite well for themselves. Their little girls were the recipients, not the makers, of the fripperies churned out by the factories in Waltham and Lowell. My Gauffreau ancestors, on the other hand, lived in Brooklyn during that time period, and I daresay some of their children contributed to the family income by working in the factories.

So, I leave you with this poem and two wistful photographs in the hope of honoring all of our ancestors who sacrificed their childhoods for the survival of the family. They will not be forgotten.

Images from National Archives:

“Little spinner”: National Archives Identifier: 523149 Local Identifier: 102-LH-490 Creator(s): Department of Commerce and Labor. Children’s Bureau. 1912-1913 (Most Recent) From: Series: National Child Labor Committee Photographs taken by Lewis Hine, ca. 1912 – ca. 1912 Record Group 102: Records of the Children’s Bureau, 1908 – 2003

“Rhodes Mfg. Co. Spinner”: National Archives Identifier:523106Local Identifier:102-LH-249Creator(s): Department of Commerce and Labor. Children’s Bureau. 1912-1913  (Most Recent)From:Series: National Child Labor Committee Photographs taken by Lewis Hine, ca. 1912 – ca. 1912 Record Group 102: Records of the Children’s Bureau, 1908 – 2003


18 thoughts on “Work Day Wednesday: Honoring the Factory Girls

  1. I don’t have manufacturing ancestors but coal mining ancestors who were working in or about the mines as lads. What a hard life for children. Thank you for sharing the sad yet beautifully written poem, Liz.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing! I know that several of my ancestors were coal miners as adults, but I suspect some of their young sons were also working in the mines, although I haven’t found any evidence yet of that. I have long been interested in the factory girls as well. The photos that you share are just so striking. One of my favorite books as a young girl was The Blue Door by Ann Rinaldi, in which the main character works in one of the factories at Lowell. The photos that you shared remind me of that book. Thanks for remembering these forgotten children!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A lovely, though sad, poem. I’ve identified a relative who was working in a worsted woolen mill in 1861 when she was eight years old. I’m sure my Casbon ancestors all worked as children on local farms before they left England. Then there’s the ten-year old boy who was sentenced to seven years transportation for setting fire to a stack of post-harvest plant stems and stalks! (The sentence was commuted to seven years in a boys’ reform school).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The poem is so sad, but I think it was the photo of the girl looking out the window that touched my heart the most. I have not come across any such stories in my own research, but I know it happened more often than we care to admit.

    Thank you for sharing this with all of us! We need to be reminded of these children, and we might not have seen these photos in the National Archive. I, for one, am glad that you brought them to our attention!

    Liked by 1 person

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