At the start of the 20th century:
Lawrence produced nearly 25% of all the woolen cloth in the U.S.
65% of manufacturing output, 67% of all the capital invested, and 66% of expenditures for material were from woolen mills.
52% of the city’s wages came from the woolen mills.
“…there are two very desirable luxuries in the city of Lawrence, Mass., among the mill operatives, that is, molasses on their bread and water.”
— Lawrence city official testifying at the March 1912 Congressional hearings on the strike
At the time of the strike half of the workers in the four Lawrence mills of the American Woolen Company were girls between 14 and 18.
Spinners worked in extremely damp and humid rooms and were vulnerable to tuberculosis and pneumonia. In the years before the 1912 strike, one third of Lawrence’s spinners would die before they had worked ten years. According to Dr. Elizabeth Shapleigh, a Lawrence physician at the time of the strike, “A considerable number of the boys and girls die within the first two or three years after beginning work.” Thirty-six of every 100 of all men and women who work in the mills die before or by the time they are 25 years of age.
From the U. S. Immigration Commission (1912): “Thus while probably not over half of the present population is foreign born, only 1/7 of the population is American; that is either not of foreign birth or immediate foreign parentage. The result of this changed situation, due to sixty years of continuous immigration, is both favorable and unfavorable to the assimilation of the immigrant population… The presence of a large semi-Americanized foreign population makes it less and less certain that the newly arrived stranger will be brought into direct contact with American influences and traditions…”
In 1910, 65% of mill workers, most of whom eventually struck, lived in the United States less than 10 years; 47% less than five years. The New England Magazine crudely referred to recent immigrants as “the off-scourings of Southern Europe” who “will not be assimilated and have no sympathy with our institutions.”