Working Conditions

Working Conditions

Life in Lawrence was hard for mill workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor’s Report on the Strike (1912), in 1910 Lawrence had the:

  • Eighth highest death rate per 1000 in the country (Lowell the worst).
  • Seventh highest death rate for infants in the country.
  • Fifth highest death rate in the country for children under 5.

The Massachusetts Labor Commission determined that in 1910 “the lowest total wages for human living conditions for an individual…was $8.28 a week.” A third of Lawrence families earned less than $7.00!

“It is obvious,” the Massachusetts State Bureau of Labor Statistics concluded in 1911, that in Lawrence “the full-time earnings of a large number of adult employees are entirely inadequate for a family.”

In January 1912:

  • Almost 3/5s of woolen/worsted mill workers earned less than 15 cents per hour.
  • 26% earned less than 12 cents an hour.
  • 23% of the workforce earned 20 cents and over an hour.
  • Twice as large a proportion of females than males earned under 12 cents an hour.
  • Average wage an hour of males 18 and over was 18 cents; for females, 14.5 cents.
  • Average wage an hour for males under 18 was 11.2 cents; for females,10.8 cents.

“A considerable number of the boys and girls die within the first two or three years after beginning work,” wrote Dr. Elizabeth Shapleigh, a Lawrence physician. “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.” ...

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, and half of these would never reach the age of 25.