Friday, January 16, 2015

Imagining Life in the Mills

Because of the great success of our Roanoke Island mystery assignment, I wanted to give the students another authentic experience of sifting through documents and really "doing history." In our study of the early Industrial Revolution, I wanted to focus on the "mill girls" of Lowell, Massachusetts and their experiences in the factory textile mills.

To begin the assignment, I found some examples of modern child labor laws and had students write a journal entry about why they believe these laws exist and whether or not they agreed with them. Given that many of our students are nearing the age of legal employment with work permits in Pennsylvania, many of them came with background knowledge about what was required to enter the workforce.

Like in the Roanoke assignment, I compiled a dossier of documents from the time period including rule sheets for the employees of the mills and the boardinghouses where the girls lived. Students read a government report into health concerns of mill employees, as well as a letter based on the description of the mills in the historical fiction novel for young adults, Lyddie by Katherine Paterson. I was also able to find an authentic rule sheet for both the factory and the boardinghouse that would have been distributed to workers. I retyped it and laminated it for the students to peruse. 

After reading through the dossier, the students compiled a three-column chart of notes. Once they have the initial information, the teacher can really guide this lesson into any assignment or skill-building exercise that the curriculum requires. Because there is so much flexibility in how these documents can be used and indeed I have used them differently throughout the years, I have posted images of my typed versions of the documents for classroom use. For copyright reasons, I will allow teachers to choose their own excerpts from Lyddie.

A complete transcript of this report can also be found on the University of Massachusetts, Lowell's library site here.

More primary source text from the Lowell mills can also be found here.


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