"It was a fair, long paradise," Harriet Robinson wrote of her youth in the textile mills under the "Lowell Factory system" when the American textile industry was young. It is doubtful if any girl mill operative, North or South, would say as much to-day. Yet the workers were in the mill from sun-up to sun-down, and their wages were low. Why was Lowell, Massachusetts, in all probability so much happier in 1834 than in 1934?
The answer is to be found partly in the novelty of working together in a factory with power driven machinery instead of on lonely farms where human muscle supplied the energy. It was to be found in the extraordinary quality of the girls who made up the labor force. Says Frances Perkins:
"To go to work in the mills made a kind of social season. Lucy Larcom, the poetess, came down to Lowell to work 'and enjoy refined society.' "
But more than this went into making the Lowell Mills a "fair, long paradise" to the eager daughters of New England farmers. Mrs. Robinson wrote: "Our own account of labor done by the piece was always accepted, and our own estimate of time taken off." Work was often light and intermittent and the workers were encouraged to read. They formed the first women's club in the world and established the Lowell Offering, the first magazine to be issued entirely by women. In accordance with the stern New England tradition of the value of work for children, little girls under ten years of age were taken on to reload the bobbins. Usually they were in the factory the whole fourteen-hour day, but they were only