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In the s, half a century before the better-known mass movements for workers' rights in the United States, the Lowell mill women organized, went on strike and mobilized in politics when women couldn't even vote—and created the first union of working women in American history.

But for the young women from around Massachhsetts England who made the mills run, they were a living hell. A mill worker named Amelia—we don't know her full name—wrote that mill girls worked an average of nearly 13 hours a day.

It was worse than "the poor peasant of Ireland or the Russian serf who labors from sun to sun. Inwhen their bosses decided to cut their wages, the mill girls had enough: They femake and fought back.

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The mill girls "turned out"—in other words, went Aa female Lowell Massachusetts princes strike—to protest. They marched to several mills to encourage others to join them, gathered at an outdoor rally and signed a petition saying, "We will not go back into the mills to work unless our wages pinces continued. No one had ever seen anything like this. But if the mill girls were exuberant, managers and owners were horrified.

A showdown came and the bosses won. Management had enough power and resources to crush the strike.

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Within a week, the mills were operating nearly at full capacity. A second strike in —also femwle by wage cuts—was better organized and made a bigger dent in the mills' operation.

But in the end, the results were the same. Those were hard defeats, but the mill girls refused to give up.

In the s, they shifted to a different strategy: They organized the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association Aa female Lowell Massachusetts princes press for reducing the workday to 10 hours. Women couldn't vote in Massachusetts or anywhere else in the country, but that didn't stop the mill girls.

They organized huge petition campaigns—2, signers on an petition and Massachhsetts than double that on a petition the following year—asking the Massachusetts state legislature to cap the work day in the mills at 10 hours.

They didn't stop there. They organized chapters in other mill towns in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

They published "Factory Tracts" to expose the wretched conditions in the mills. They testified before a state legislative committee.

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What's more, they campaigned against a state representative who was one of their strongest opponents and handily defeated him. So what did the Lowell mill girls really win?

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In the short term, not much. That's how it often is with the first pioneers in social justice movements.

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Both of their strikes Msasachusetts crushed. And the only victory they won in their hour workday campaign was pretty hollow. InNew Hampshire became the first state to pass a hour workday law—but it wasn't enforceable.

That was in the short term. But in the long term, the Lowell mill girls started something that transformed this country.

No one told them how to do it. But they showed that working women didn't have to put up with injustice in the workplace. They got fed up, joined together, supported each other and fought for what they knew was right.

Lowell Mill Girls - Wikipedia

One of the mill girls put it this way: Today, millions of women in unions who teach our kids, fight our fires, build our homes and nurse us back to health owe a debt to the Lowell mill girls. They taught America Aa female Lowell Massachusetts princes powerful lesson about ordinary women doing extraordinary things.

University of Illinois Press, Prijces Transformation of America, Oxford University Press, Writings by New England Mill Women, Lowell Conference on Industrial History, Sources Foner, Philip S.