Aspirations and Anxieties: New England Workers and the Mechanized Factory System, 1815-1850

By David A. Zonderman | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 3
Harmony and Antagonism: Workers, Managers, and the Social Relations of Production

Charles and Sarah Metcalf traveled to Lowell, Massachusetts, in the spring of 1841. Soon after their arrival, Charles wrote to their parents in Winthrop, Maine, about their prospects for working and living in the "city of spindles." He also advised them about sending another sibling, Mary, in search of employment.

I should be glad to have her come but I wish her to know what to expect should she come. I wish not to discourage her or you. She would probably find some place to work if not immediately, soon but whether she would like it or not I dont know. In the 1st place she would find theres no place like Home, every one here is wrapped up in self and looks out for No.1. She would find her patience taxed to the utmost. I was going to say she would find few very few to care for her in her troubles except relations and none to sympathize like parents. There can be no I cants here. If she has fortitude, patience, and perseverance . . . and wishes very much to come and you think it best I say come and we will do the best we can for her. She must leave home . . . sometime, and perhaps this is as good as any and the lesson though a hard one will be a good [one]. 1

The Metcalfs, like so many of their fellow operatives, had come from a small rural community. They had probably never seen anything like the sheer mass of humanity that filled a city such as Lowell. Within the factories and on the streets outside, the burgeoning industrial population was indeed a force to be reckoned with. Charles Metcalf's astute observations captured the anomie many operatives felt in their new industrial and urban environments. One of the authors of the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association's "Factory Tracts" painted an even more disturbing picture of the factory labor force.

. . . [T]hrown into company with all sorts and descriptions of mind, dispositions and intellects, without counselor or friend to advise -- far away from a watchful mother's tender care, or father's kind instruction -- surrounded on all sides with the vain ostentation of fashion, vanity and light frivolity -- beset with temptations with out, and the carnal prosperities of nature within, what must, what will be the natural, rational result?

-97-

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