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Morals of the Manufacturers (1837) by Harriet Martineau - European Visitor to America

The Composition of the Female Factory Population

Morals of the Manufacturers (1837) by Harriet Martineau, a European visitor to America

The morals of the female factory population may be expected to be good when it is considered of what class it is composed. Many of the girls are in the factories because they have too muchpride for domestic service. Girls who are too proud for domestic service as it is in America, can hardly be low enough for any gross immorality: or to need watching; or not to be trusted to avoidthe contagion of evil example. To a stranger, their pride seems to take a mistaken direction, and they appear to deprive themselves of a respectable home and station, and many benefits, by their dislike of service: but this is altogether their own affair. They must choose for themselves their way of life. But the reasons of their choice indicate a state of mind superior to the grossest dangers of their position.

I saw a bill fixed up in the Waltham mill which bore a warning that no young lady who attended dancing-school that winter should be employed: and that the corporation had given directions to the overseer to dismiss anyone who should be found to dance at the school. I asked the meaning of this; and the overseer's answer was, “Why, we had some trouble last winter about the dancing-school. It must, of course, be held in the evening, as the young folks are in the mill all day. They are very young, many of them; and they forget the time, and everything but the amusement, and dance away till two or three in the morning. Then they are unfit for their work the next day; or, if they get properly through their work, it is at the expense of their health. So, we have forbidden the dancing-school; but, to make up for it, I have promised them that, as soon as the great new room at the hotel is finished, we will have a dance once a fortnight. We shall meet and break up early; and my wife and I will dance; and we will all dance together.”

I was sorry to see one bad and very unnecessary arrangement, in all the manufacturing establishments. In England, the best friends of the poor are accustomed to think it the crowning hardship of their condition that solitude is wholly forbidden to them. It is impossible that any human being should pass his life as well as he might do who is never alone…The silence, freedom and collectedness of solitude are absolutely essential to the health of the mind…In the dwellings of the English poor, parents and children are crowded into one room, for want of space and of furniture. All wise parents above the rank of poor, make it a primary consideration so to arrange their families as that each member may, at some hour, have some place where he may enter in, and shut his door, and feel himself alone. If possible, the sleeping places are so ordered. In America, where space is of far less consequence, where the houses are large, where the factory girls can build churches, and buy libraries, and educate brothers for learned professions, these same girls have no private apartments, and sometimes sleep six or eight in a room, and even three in a bed.

Now are the days when these gregarious habits should be broken through. New houses are being daily built: more parents are bringing their children to the factories. If the practice be now adopted, by the corporations, or by the parents who preside over separate establishments, of partitioning off the large sleeping apartments into small ones which shall hold each one occupant, the expense of partitions and windows and trouble will not be worth a moment's consideration in comparison with the improvement in intelligence, morals, and manners, which will be found to result from such an arrangement. If the change be not soon made, the American factory population, with all its advantages of education and of pecuniary sufficiency, will befound, as its numbers increase, to have been irreparably injured by its subjection to a grievance which is considered the very heaviest to which poverty exposes artisans in old countries.

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