The Lowell System was a two-part manufacturing method developed in the 1840s and 1850s by the Boston Associates
. It was centered around the town of Lowell, Massachusetts
(named in honor of the company's founder, Francis Lowell
) within which was built one of the first fully mechanized cotton
mills in the United States. The speed of production was stepped up significantly by full mechanization, the limiting factor no longer dependant on skill but instead on the plentitude of labor.
This is where the second bit of the Lowell System came in. The Boston Associates decided to employ enterprising young women from the local farms in the surrounding area to 'man' their mills. This was a highly unusual, but in fact an extremely profitable decision. The girls could be paid less because of their gender, had prior experience in sewing and knitting with the work that would be required of them, and they proved extremely diligent, docile workers. The women were provided with boardinghouses within which they were supervised by strict matrons who watched over their moral integrity and made sure they all remained perfect ladies (tee hee). The women were escorted regularly to church, and beyond that had little time for experience outside the factory. In the absence of such, they formed their own lively, entusiastic communities, even at one point producing a literary magazine.
The daily schedule for the girls began the day at five o'clock. They would breakfast at seven for a half hour before returning to work until twelve-thirty. They had another half hour break for lunch, then completed work for the day at seven and had the rest of the evening off. Compared to hours at other factories in the future, this schedule was postively leisurely.
The Lowell System eventually fell apart with an economic downturn as factory supervisors tried to speed up production and the women, banned from forming unions, responded simply by returning to their farms across New England. The Boston Associates turned their attentions to employing cheaper and far more easily abused Irish immigrants, and the Lowell System came to an end.