Worker Living Conditions

Worker Living Conditions

The 1912 Lawrence Survey described the city “as an appendage to the textile industries…” The hundreds of families crowded together in “the beehives at the center of the city” make a condition that “must increasingly come to be viewed as abnormal, unnatural, a social disease rightly called huddle fever.”

In Bread and Roses Bruce Watson notes, “By 1912, Lawrence was no puritanical politician’s dream; it was a powder keg, an explosive mix of eighty-six thousand people, tamped into just seven square miles. … there were women and children whose daily grind gave them a visceral understanding of economics and power. ”

The Lawrence Survey (1912) and the U.S. Bureau of Labor’s Report on the Strike (1912), found that rent per week varied from $1 to $6, but the amount most commonly paid was $2 to $3 for a 4-room apartment and $3 to $3.50 for a 5-room apartment. Wages could not be stretched far enough to cover wages, food, medicine when needed, and save something for a rainy day.

Again, from The Lawrence Survey: “The houses are so close in these half-blocks that it is said to have been the practice of one agent to collect rents at the third and fourth stories by reaching out into the apartments on the same floors of the next house. The two half-blocks on the east end of Common Street adjoin each other on the south side of the street… All the houses but three are wooden. This is the greatest concentration of population living in wooden houses in any 3 acres in the state of Massachusetts. The efficiency of workers is constantly being reduced by the impaired vision and permanent injury to their eyesight that is one of the results of their living in darkened houses.”

As for diet, many families survived on bread, molasses, and beans. According to a worker who testified at the March 1912 Congressional investigation of the Lawrence strike, “When we eat meat it seems like a holiday, especially for the children.”