Cultural Crossroads a COPLAC Digital Course

A Good Place to Work (if you are a woman).


Homer, Winslow. Bobbin Girl . 1871. Lowell National Historical Park, Lowell, Massachusetts . In Center for Lowell History . Accessed September 27, 2017.

McGaw, Judith A. “”A Good Place to Work.” Industrial Workers and Occupational Choice: The Case of Berkshire Women.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 10, no. 2 (1979):227-48 doi:10.2307/203335.

This secondary source discusses the amount of women who worked in the mills throughout Berkshire County, most being immigrant workers, and the reasons why they worked where they did.  “In 1880, twenty-two woolen mills, twenty one paper mills, eighteen cotton mills, and seven mixed textile mills operated in the county.  All of these industries presented substantial employment opportunities for women, cotton and paper mills generally hiring a preponderance of females” (pg. 230).  “Initially, prejudice also impeded the hiring of ethnic minorities, but, at least for the Irish, the years after the Civil War saw a lessening of that discrimination” (pg. 235).  One of the biggest reasons women chose to work in the first place was need.   Either they came from families who had too many children to feed, so the older boys and girls had to help out, or they came from families where the men where either unemployed or had past away.  Many of the men who died during the construction of the Hoosac Tunnel left behind large families.  In 1880 there were a large number of mills women could work at that were within a ten mile zone of their homes which made finding a job that much easier.  Most of the female mill laborers made the choice to start working where and when they did along with other family members.  “75 percent of the women working in cotton manufacturing in the Berkshires were still living with their parents, three fifths were under the age of 21 and almost a quarter of cotton mill girls were under 16” (pg. 235-36). Many of the immigrants living in the area were so poor that they had to send as many children to work as possible, those who had more daughters working in mills were most likely from families where the fathers were unskilled laborers or unemployed altogether.  Another factor that showed just how poor these settlers were was the fact that the majority of cotton mill workers were extremely young.  Soon hiring young girls and women as workers in cotton mills became the norm and they turned into the easiest places to get a job as a female, especially from coming from a family that was “ignorant, less familiar with American life, and poorer” (pg. 237).  


  1. Alvis Dunn

    It seems that this article provides some more detail as to the lives of the Irish who came to N. Adams, and obviously, in particular, the women. As important here it seems to me is the information about the fates of the male migrants and their work on the Hoosac tunnel.

    I’m immediately drawn to the question of McGraw’s sources — did she use public records, newspapers, local archives? What does a close perusal of her footnotes and bibliography provide?

    Nice source.

  2. L. Turner

    This is important. Immigrant women are often left out of the analysis but were important to the working community and culture as well. What about child labor . . . any evidence?

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