The Factory Girl

Girls made up an important part of the factory workforce. They could be found changing bobbins on spinning frames, working in silk factories, and painting watch faces.

Lewis Hine Photos of Child Labor, 1900-1910s

Lewis Hine Photos of Child Labor, 1900-1910s

Courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ncic-01451

Girls as Textile Workers

Young girls often worked as spinners or bobbin girls. Spinners ran machines that twisted fiber into yarn. Bobbin girls replaced full bobbins of yarn with empty ones.

 

Young girls in mills worked with large machines to spin thread and to weave cloth.

Addie Card, 12 Years Old, Spinner, 1910

Addie Card, 12 Years Old, Spinner, 1910

Courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ncic-01830n

Merrimack Manufacturing Company Throstle Twister, around 1840

Gift of Merrimack Manufacturing Co.

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Imagine a 12- to 14-hour workday tending this machine, surrounded by the sound of dozens of spinning frames on a factory floor, loose fibers in the air, and the smell of oil.

Lewis Hine Photo of Child Labor, 1900–1910s

Lewis Hine Photo of Child Labor, 1900–1910s

Courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ncic-01476

I can see myself now, racing down the alley between the spinning frames, carrying in front of me a bobbin-box bigger than I was.

—Harriet Robinson, 1898

Sign on Factory Entrance, New York, 1916

Sign on Factory Entrance, New York, 1916

Courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ncic-04996

Tiny Apron, 1900–1920

Transfer from American Textile History Museum

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See Girlhood in 3D! Explore a model of the apron.

 

A lot of people think it was a disgrace to work in the mills.

—Helen Robinson, 1970s

Early on, young spinners often sang songs while they worked:

The day is o'er, no longer we toil and spin;

For ev'ning's hush withdraws from the daily din.

And now we sing with gladsome hearts/The theme of the spinner's song,

That labor to leisure a zest imparts/Unknown to the idle throng.

Song of the Spinners, 1841

Song of the Spinners, 1841

Courtesy of American Antiquarian Society

Textile Tools, 1910s

Transfer from American Textile History Museum

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Factory Girl's Song, 1840s