The fact that I am going to the Labor Notes conference made me think of this old dinosaur. There are certainly some issues with the writing and citation here, but I think it might be worth taking a glance at. I wrote this in the senior year of my undergrad years. Some of my future interests are evident.
"What we labor for--The abolition of idleness, want and oppression; the prevalence of industry, virtue and intelligence."
--Voice of Industry
The concept of 'moral reform' and its implications has created considerable controversy amongst historians; it was a movement of contradictions traveling from the shadow of the asylum to women's emancipation to the daily drill of the clock. This vast cat's cradle of narratives has been approached from a number of different angles. There has been a continual examination of 'moral reform' from a traditional American perspective. This has spawned a number of different responses. There has been a response that has examined the way that moral reform played in forming institutions. There has also been a labor response. Other historians have examined it from the perspective of women. Perhaps the most interesting work has been the attempt to examine the issue from the cross section of both labor and gender. It looks at the issues as interconnected rather than placing a cause on just one of the issues.
A moment should be spent on explaining what is meant by 'moral reform.' The first thing is that 'moral reform' was a national phenomenon that could be seen in the East, from Maine to Georgia and in the West as well. Its beginnings could be seen in the great religious revivals of the 1810's, although it could be argued that the main impetus came from the American revolution and the notions of the Rights of Man that arise from the French Revolution. From the revivals, it moved in a number of directions from abolitionism to utopian societies and temperance societies. The examination of labor as a matter of reform came into discussion only much later, because of the rise of the factory.
Of the approaches towards understanding moral reform, the more traditional approach tends to accept the reformers at their word. A good example of this is contained Walters' book, American Reformers 1815-1860.2 Walter generally sees reformers within the rubric of progressivism bringing up connection with both the progressive movements of the early 20th century and the New Left movement3. The most interesting information included was the material detailing the beginning of the shift to industrialization, which places the moral reform movement within that context.4
A later book in this tradition is Steven Mintz's Moralists and Modernizers: America's Pre-Civil War Reformers.5 Mintz explicitly discusses issues of institutional control, control over the working class, etc. He acknowledges these concerns, those being of class and gender, but tries to transcend them. Mintz brings up the urban poor explicitly at two points. The first moment is in his attempt to quash the labor historians' criticisms. The second occurs when he benignly assures us that the moral reformers felt a genuine solidarity with the poor. 6 He shows the specter of societal breakup, but he does not tie it to the rising industrialism.7 In effect, both these authors are driven to present a culture of 'moral reform' that transcends its material conditions.
The problems that exist within these more contemporary authors working from the more traditional narratives, the dismissal of the divisions and contradictions within 'moral reform', can be seen in magnified form within some of the earlier perspectives on this subject. There was a propensity to focus on the leadership, rather than social concerns. While this leadership certainly bears some consideration, one cannot truly discuss 'moral reform' without examining the actions of the thousands of men and women who made up the independent organizations that proposed the reforms, distributed the pamphlets, and made up the meetings that made up the ambiguous 'moral reform.' Many of the collections of original sources fall into this spirit of the heroic individual. For example, Henry Steele Commager's The Era of Reform 1830-18607 and Lorman Ratner's Pre-Civil War Reform: The Variety of Principles and Programs8 both provide a collection of documents from various leaders of a number of reform movements.
The institutional model tends to be more cynical in the manner it discusses 'moral reform.' This model deals with only a limited portion of the morass that makes up moral reform for the reason that only certain parts of moral reform touch upon institutions and their creation. A number of examples came out in the 1970's and 1980's. A History of Social Welfare and Social Work in the United States by James Leiby is an early example of this in what Leiby himself calls a frankly 'provisional' book.9 The primary point of interest is the rise of support for institutional reform on the part of certain moral reformers. Leiby's techniques on analyzing the antebellum era are a bit crude; separating discussion of religious, secular, and institutional ideas without examining their coevalence too thoroughly.10 Later books tend to be more thorough and more critical in their examination of the formation of the 'indoor aid' or what would be referred to now as institutional support and the individuals who supported it. This certainly holds true for the second edition of From Poor Law to Welfare State: A History of Social Welfare in America. It examines institutions in a manner that is much more integrative, although there is less time spent on the idea of moral reform and individual moral reformers.11 Michael Katz's In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare also follows largely in the same vein.12 This a side of moral reform that is important to remember in the celebratory messages of independent civic organizations.
The labor historians', specifically New Labor History, work is the most interesting response to the assumptions made by the general historians. Sean Wilentz's Chants Democratic was the greatest influence on the writing of this paper, because he begins to look at the issues of moral reform within a class context.13 He examines the entrepreneurial uses of moral reform and uses of moral reform on the part of radicals.14 Also, he looks at opposition to moral reform, at least to its religious aspects, as well.15 He touches on issues of gender, but doesn't deal with them very well.16 The primary problem with Wilentz's book (other than gender, which is considerable in of itself) is that there seems to be a view of society very crudely built on Marx's so-called Base-Superstructure model, which refuses to see that the superstructural elements are as influential upon the Base as vise versa.17 This fact does not negate the interesting and useful ideas that the school of historians produces, but it does act as a serious flaw to their constructions.
There are a number of other examples that merit examining in this field. For example, Herbert George Gutman's book, Work, culture, and society in industrializing America: essays in American working class and social history, is another good example in this tradition.18 Gutman edited another book, which has even more relevance, The New England Working Class and the New Labor History. This book contains a specific essay that deals with the issues of the conditions that the women lived under in the Lowell factory system.19 There is also a collection of primary sources, edited and commented upon by Phillip Foner that includes many pieces written by factory operators, including some included in my primary sources.20
There is also quite a bit of material that discusses the issue of moral reform from a feminist position. There are numerous websites, books, and collections of primary sources discussing this issue from the position of women's empowerment. This material has a tension with the labor historians' tendency to ignore gender and blindly criticize the moral reform movement. They also note the blindness that more traditional scholars show for the special role that women play in the 'moral reform movement. This tends to take the more positive view that the more traditional school takes, while emphasizing the role of women in it.
There has been a more recent movement to look at the issue of moral reform within the rubric of both gender and class. One example is Lori D. Ginzberg's Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Politics, and Class in the Nineteenth Century United States. This is a feminist piece that specifically looks into issues of class, while looking at the role of women in moral reform.21 Probably the example that is most applicable to my work is Teresa Anne Murphy's Ten Hours' Labor: Religion, Reform, and Gender in Early New England. It essentially is the reverse of Ginzberg's work, looking at issues of gender within a primarily labor context. It also attempts the same weaving of class, culture and gender that I am interesting in engaging in while looking at some of the same material.22
It is those three avenues that I am interested in exploring and the way that those three issues interweave with each other. I am interested in the way that the growing working classes engaged in moral reform in its movements, particularly the labor movement, in a different manner than the middle-classes. But I am also interested in showing the way that the culture of moral reform and its various movements from temperance to phrenology were influential to the creation of this new class in the growing industrialization.23 To put it another way, labor historian Phillip Foner writes the following assessment of the literature of the factory women:
Some of their writings contain a strong strain of morality, a concern with respectability, and perhaps a naïve faith in Progress of Man and Woman, and the inevitability of justice for the laboring or producing classes. But the militant factory girls made it clear that justice was due them because they produced the wealth that enabled the corporation owners live in luxury, while the mill women endured unceasing toil, inadequate wages, and stunted lives. They also made it clear that justice would only come through organization and struggle.24
It is this notion that Foner engages in that I want to combat. The notion that there is a way of removing the wheat of class justice from the chafe of moral reform. When one makes such an effort, one misses the nuances and complexities of the given individual situation and is left with the gray monolithic field of the utopian class struggle.
This examination occurs within the confines of New England, and despite the fact that both phenomena are occurring nationally, and to some degree even internationally, their impact and interaction is very distinct within New England. One can see differences between it and the mid-Atlantic region, let alone the dramatic differences between it and the southern and western regions. As Teresa Anne Murphy points out, "Religion and reform structured the discourse of labor activism in antebellum New England and distinguished it from labor movements elsewhere."25 Although this discourse of religion and reform could be seen in New York and Philadelphia, it wasn't inculcated within the movement to the degree that it was in New England. It then probably makes sense to begin looking at the distinct nature that New England society takes on, first in the context of industrialization and then in the context of the various independent 'moral reform' movements occurring within it. After that, the next step will be to examine where the Voice of Industry fits into the scheme of culture and industrialization. It will also show a certain transformation as the editorship changes hands.
When precisely the beginning of industrialization began is a rather vague process, but by the time of the 1820's and 1830's it was well underway, particularly in the Middle Atlantic States and New England.26 This led to a process of urbanization. There were 46 "urban areas" of 2,500 or more in 1810 to 393 in 1860.27 The process of moving towards a more industrial oriented economy would only really begin to take off during the civil war, but the antebellum era began to provide the seeds that would lead to that construction.
The process of industrialization is a particularly significant process within New England and it takes on specific characteristics that make it unique. Teresa Anne Murphy states this difference out simply, "In the lives of New England working people, capitalists were a far more visible and potent presence than they were elsewhere."28 This can be seen rising out of the relative unity of New England elites, as opposed to the differences between mercantile and manufacturing pursuits, which would remain distinct in areas such as the Middle Atlantic States.29 This doesn't mean that all difference had disappeared. There were still differences between rural and urban apparent, as well as issues dealing with religion, but the overall homogeneity of the elite was still strong.30
This translated into the stronger influence over the lives of working people. Unlike in Middle Atlantic states, where master artisans acted as the primary responsibility for transforming the relations of production, New England saw a visible group of merchant capitalists acting as a primary influence on this, either acting on direct control or providing a tone for others. The move of trade had moved their capital from trade into textile mills. There were also many more connections between machine shops and textile mills than in other places.31
The general mood of 'moral reform' can be seen as a tension between the ideals of the society that were formed out of the revolution, and the contradictions that were evident in the society. Moral reform comes out of a certain progressive spirit and optimism around the revolution. The revolution was combined into a sort of progressive millenarianism that believed in an inevitable march forwards. This can be seen in the various movements from temperance onwards, and certainly in the labor movement, which continually insists upon its republican virtues. However, there certainly was not as much agreement to what the reform should be. Not only was there variety concerning this question on the level of utopian societies, etc., but there were different views that came out of class position and class sympathies.
Another important aspect of the moral reform movement is that it is a movement that is highly gendered feminine. Women were both the primary actors within the movement and the ideal placed before it.32 This placed women within an ambiguous position within the labor movement, because simultaneously put them in a suspect position as representatives of a movement that was often coded as middle-class and it also was the primary vehicle that they could get involved in the labor movement.33 By the time of the Voice of Industry however, this position was somewhat less ambiguous and women were playing an increasing role in the working class movement at least within the context of New England.
The culture of moral reform also played a unique role within New England society. While the movement was certainly national, and one could see an impact on the society that ranged from Michigan to Alabama, the largest and most intense impact could be seen within the states that made up New England. This had a number of reasons behind it. A number of those can be seen because of the composition of the society, also the role that it played in the revolution, and lastly the role that industrialization played.
New England had a relatively homogenous society. It had some immigration, but the level of immigration was significantly lower than the nearby Middle Atlantic area. The Lowell area, for example, had an Irish population of 20%, as opposed to much higher percentage in New York and the other Middle Atlantic States. Despite the tensions between the new immigrant population, particularly the flood of pauperized Irish immigrants after the potato blight and the older English immigrants, New England didn't have the same level of violence that were seen in Philadelphia and New York at the same time. There was no equivalent to the Kensington riots of 1844.34 This created less competition for moral reform with movements such as Nativism that tended to flourish in the more heavily immigrant-oriented Middle Atlantic States.
The trends of industrialization and urbanization proved a great challenge to this narrative of inevitable progress. A great deal of concern can be seen of the disturbances and crime that these trends were creating. This terror of disorder isn't something that is limited to certain sections of the population, even within the Voice of Industry one can see the specter of this threat is raised frequently. Whether seen as a formation of the unstable proletariat or the rising of a class of aristocratic factory owners that oppress that group, this trend is seen as the primary challenge to the institutions of republicanism.
The Voice of Industry rises out of the nexus of these issues. One can see a serious discussion of many of the issues brought up above, and this paper will eventually examine these issues and the way that the paper represents the positionality of class within this debate and the way that the culture of reform impacts the creation of this emerging class. But first, there needs to be an examination of the paper itself.
The Voice of Industry originated in Fitzburgh, Massachusetts in May 29, 1845. William F. Young initially published the paper. The following November, it war combined with two other labor papers and moved to Lowell under a publishing committee of Young, Sarah G. Bagley (president of the Female Labor Reform Association), and Joel Hatch.35 Eventually, Young gave up the paper because of ill health and Bagley took up the operations and Female Labor Reform Association purchased the paper, although it was published under the guise of the New England Labor Reform League.36 The editorship and publishing returned to him at another point, where he work alongside Mehitabel Eastman after Sarah Bagley left the paper.37 There were a couple other formations of editorship as well. It failed soon after the collapse of the 10-Hour workday struggle and the collapse of the unions.
The paper covered a variety of issues and came from a great number of sources. One could find articles discussing issues ranging from the obvious attacks on capital, and labor meetings, to things such as temperance, slavery, and phrenology. There are many small articles excerpted from other papers of the region, as well as speeches by important 'moral reformers' such as Robert Owen and Horace Greeley. The paper makes an interesting shift in its contents beginning with its transference to Lowell. The paper openly called for contributions of female mill operators and put Sarah Bagley in charge of the newly opened 'female department.' The factory girls' articles filled an even more prominent role when the Female Labor Reform Association bought up the paper and the vast majority of the content was made up of commentary and literature by mill operators.
There was a literary tradition on the part of the factory operators long before the formation of the FLRA and their contributions to the Voice of Industry. The structure of the Lowell system (originally the Waltham system) was in itself a sort of reform on the excesses of the English factory system. One of the ways that this image was produced was through the narrative of the 'genteel factory girl.' A great deal of emphasis was placed on the cultural improvements the girls were engaged in, from pianos to hymns to lyceums. Literature played an important role in this and the Lowell Offering acted as a conduit for the women's work. The publication contained some interesting implicit criticisms of the factory system early on. However, this disappeared as the factory owners invested in the publication, even though its editor Harriet Farley was a former factory operator, and articles and poetry critical of the environment at the factory were not published in its later stages. This led to a public debate within the papers of the day between the editor of the paper, and Sarah Bagley, a militant reformer within the textile mills. The fallout would eventually lead to the collapse of the paper. Before the move to the Voice of Industry, the factory workers were also involved in the publication of papers ranging from the Factory Girl's Garland, Factory Girl's Album, etc. Even when the Voice of Industry moved to Lowell, women continued to contribute articles and commentary to more liberal newspapers such as the Manchester Democrat. Still the Voice of Industry became the primary voice for these concerns and after the move to Lowell, the only one that gave any autonomy to the women's voices.38
In discussing these issues of moral reform and class, the Voice of Industry can be split into a number of different topics. At the same time, those topics should be examined in terms of the chronological order of the paper in order to look at the differences that the paper takes under different ownership and editorship. To begin with, it would be interested to examine the ways that the Voice of Industry takes up some of the traditional issues of moral reform such as disorder in the city, temperance, slavery and religion and look at the way that they simultaneously took up these reforms and framed them in a decidedly different manner than many of the mainstream middle-class organizations. The issue of gender will be discussed next, and then the construction of class in the terms of moral reform.
This issue of disorder in the city is a considerable one amongst moral reformers. This can be seen in the original religious revivals that acted as an impetus to the movement. The same fear can be seen within the pages of the Voice of Reason as well. This fear is abound in morbidity. Perhaps the best example of that is the series of narratives and suicides that occur in various short articles in the newspaper. Then there is a related topic that can be construed, the degradation that occurs to the individual in more abstract terms.
The specter of suicide, inspired by poverty or alcohol, and the act of murder for those same reasons, can be found throughout the pages of the Voice of Reason. There's a certain morbidity, an obsession with death that can be seen throughout the paper, the unearthing of mysterious bodies being a favorite topic, but the narrative of dissolution is an important one. Here are a couple examples. There are an influx of titles such as "Robbery of Pepperell and arrest of the robber," "Distressing suicide of a female," and "The murder at East Kingston."39 There's the tale of the man who strangled himself, mistaking his own throat for another's and the tale of the woman who committed suicide after her savings was stolen.40
However, there is something going on beneath these stories that is different than the middle class narrative focused on the same issues. There's a certain level of sympathy and understanding. The stories point to issues such as poverty for the acts that are committed. Even the man who nearly killed his children in some act of madness is presented with some sympathy. These are individuals that are seen to be trapped in a system more than they are malevolent. As the Voice puts it in a description of a murder, "And yet there is no need of improvement in this murderous state of society."41 Implicitly tying the murder to the unreformed nature of society.
One can see the same narrative play out in more abstract terms in some of the moral writing. The view is presented that the current system encourages the lack of industry and honest work because it disdains those qualities for the idleness that is shown by the rich. The sons and daughters of hardworking workers and farmers then take up these undesirable traits. They try to live by the example of the rich, looking for anyway to make their living without the use of 'honest industry.' When they discover that this isn't possible, they sink into the worst kind of debauchery possible. This is in a way the narrative underlying all the particulars that are discussed above. It is the thread that connects murder with suicide and suicide with madness. This narrative is ingeniously constructed in the first issue:
"…on productive industry she [public opinion] has placed a stigma which induces him to leave it. When his plans, schemes, and speculations for a livelihood without useful labor, prove abortive, and he becomes discouraged, looses his self respect, falls into dissipation and crime, (of which she alone is the generator) she stands ready with her grab-hooks of law, officers of justice, prisons, and gallows to punish him, to which the various departments of society even to the church respond Amen! And all this for the public good and safety."42
The narrative acts ingeniously. It turns the traditional narrative of the dissolute youth on its head. Instead of falling into sin because they don't behavior as their social betters do, it is precisely the emulation of the upper classes that leads the callow youth to his or her predicament. But at the same time a common concern is embraced. The terror of the factory owners, priests and schoolteachers can also be seen in the emerging working class and its representatives. The youth that enters the gilded palace of sin that is the city, while seen as an object of pity, is still something that is a great potential danger. The city and industrialism act as the primary threats to the young republic. They threaten to spill the city into the conditions that could be seen in the cities of Europe. Those conditions are brought up fairly commonly within the pages of the Voice of Industry.
This danger is something that gets discussed throughout the paper's course. However there is a distinct reduction in this content when the paper moves to Lowell. There are a few reasons for that. The first is that simply by taking on the load of two other papers there isn't as much space that is available for this sort of material. There are other changes that occur because of this, for an example, the feature fictional story section is also truncated and at times completely cut. But there also seems to be a conscious effort to cut down on the sheer level of morbidity that is emblematic of the Fitzburgh period.
The issue of temperance is one that gets brought up again and again within the paper. The individual who causes the dissolution of society discussed above is frequently an imbiber of alcohol. He (and it is almost inevitably a he) is capable of truly spectacular deeds. He has strangled himself to death mistaking his neck for another's, he has nearly butchered his children in an orgy of fury, and his path inevitably leads to death.43 This wildman, this pathological alcoholic is common to the vast majority of temperance discourse. But there needs to be some distinctions drawn between the view of temperance held within the pages of the Voice of Industry and those by more middle-class reformers. The first is in the way that the Voice identifies heavily with the Washingtonian movement. This heavily ties into the notion of moral suasion as opposed to the notion of legal suasion. The last issue is the criticisms that the Voice frequently levels against other individuals involved with the temperance movement.
By the time of the publication, the Washingtonian movement was by in large finished. However, clearly its legacy had left an impact. The organization was formed in 1840 and lasted well into the 1840's although its most important stage ended in 1843. The primary difference that the movement reflected was in the fact that it was made up of working class and lower-middle class women. That led to a significantly different way of approaching drinkers and also a different way of looking at them. This consisted of actively approaching individuals with alcohol problems and attempting to minister to their problems. They also were more sympathetic to the plight of drinkers, realizing that the circumstances of their lives frequently led to their problems. They were also much less critical of members who fell off the wagon temporarily.44
These points allude to the position that Voice took on supporting 'moral suasion', that is using the techniques that were employed by the Washingtonians as opposed to the position of 'legal suasion' that was beginning to become popular with other segments of the temperance movement. These sections were interested in temperance more as a means of control while the Washingtonians and the Voice were more interested in using the movement to empower themselves and take greater control of their lives.
The critiques that the Voice of Industry places on other individuals in the temperance movement are frequently focused on this issue of 'moral suasion', that is temperance through voluntary means, vs. 'legal suasion', that is temperance through some form of prohibition. The paper carries on a fierce battle with a rival The Sentinel in the early part of its publication in Fitzburgh on just this question. 'Legal suasion' is referred to as a "small and illiberal means to support a particular bias."45 It also accuses 'legal suasion' activists of "asking no favors of moral suasion or the better feelings which belong to humanity."46 This clearly again repeats the notion of the Washingtonians' desire for uplift as opposed to social control by the 'legal suasion' advocates. The paper clearly shows some class awareness by its continual reference to their opponent as 'the professor' along with the more innocuous 'the bachelor'47
This class element can be seen in some of the other critiques placed on the temperance movement. One good example can be seen in the fact that the paper criticized a prominent temperance speaker for charging too much money to hear his speech. The paper stated "to our surprise at the very portals of the sanctuary professedly dedicated to god and humanity stood the "golden calf" in the shape of "12 1-2 cents admittance… a virtual prohibition on the poor inebriate…."48 Another way that this is used on these lines can be seen in an article on temperance, which ties the notion of that:
"Our present tedious system of half paid labor, is a generator of intemperance, men who exhaust too large a portion of their physical powers require a stimulus, and many of them will have it; others being deprived of suitable associates shut out the whole long day from congenial companions will seek some source of gratification, though it be the haunts of dissipation. And avarice; intemperance's twin sister, is ever ready to furnish such gratification, and steal away their hard earned pittance."49
The issues around temperance are consistent throughout the publication. This places it in a different position than many other workingmen's organizations in New York and Philadelphia. This does not mean to imply that temperance didn't have an impact on these other locations. One certainly cannot dismiss the enormity of the Washingtonian movement. However, there existed considerably more ambiguity even on official levels, for example, veteran union organizers in New York saw nothing wrong with having meetings in taverns and many workers saw being able to drink at work as a part of controlling their labor.50
The issue of slavery is certainly an interesting one, particularly the way that a correlation between the chattel slavery of the south is tied to the notion of 'white slavery' that occurs within the mills and manufactories. There is a clear stance take against the institution of slavery at a number of locations in the paper, and one cannot see a significant change in this policy through its publication. A good example of this rhetoric can be seen in a letter sent to the editor by one "A Factory Girl.":
"Compare and contrast the condition of the slave with that of your own; while you enjoy the liberty of conscience, and possess all of the natural and endearing relations of human existence, the slave who is made in the image of the God who "made of one blood all the nations of the earth," is denied the rights, aye the name of human beings--are bought and sold like cattle--families scattered, and hearths made desolate--infants torn from the found embrace of a mother and sold by the pound!"51
However, one can detect notes of ambiguity within this. There is the joke "A certain poet sings of "dark eyed maidens of the south." We grant him that the farther down south he gets the more numerous the dark-IES become."52 and at one point the argument for abolition is made on the premise that then the former slaves would stay in the south.53
The totality of the issue of 'white slavery' is not one that can be delved into the level that it requires in this paper. But what does need to be discussed about this topic is the way the New England labor movement both embraces and appropriates the language of abolitionism. The Voice of Industry inevitably takes the abolition view on topic ranging from the war with Mexico to slave catchers and runaway slave laws, however they also ask why is that abolitionists who are so concerned with the atrocities committed in the south against slave, but refuse to look at the horrifying conditions that workers are faced with in their own backyard.54 Out of this comes the notion of the white slave, which takes up the language abolitionism to deal with the issues of the new working class. One manifesto in favor of the 10-hour workday includes the statement; "Tell them we will be no longer slaves!"55
The topic of religion also comes up frequently in the paper. It takes the view that most reformers take on this issue, one that religion should be judged on deeds rather than obscure doctrines. The paper frequently spends time attacking various religious sects. The statement, "Intolerance--Being irreligious for the sake of religion, and hateing our fellow creatures out of a pretend love of the creator"56 is quite indicative of these feelings.
However, the critique went beyond this into issues of class. The Voice of Industry actively criticized much of the clergy for being hand in hand with the ruling classes. They showed how this church behaved in an elitist manner in an article titled 'Aristocracy in Church." "Trinity Church people are exercising their ingenuity to keep the common herd at a respectable distance." After explaining the church's policies, the paper makes sure to drive the class message home, " The church is dedicated to God but the inside is private property. This is a new pattern of reform, but with a fortune of thirty millions in Hand, Trinity can afford to have original ways of her own."57 This construction of religion also plays a significant role within class construction, which will be discussed later on.
The issue of gender, that is in this case the thin veil for discussing the role that women play in a space that is so often clearly demarcated within masculine terms, needs to finally be elucidated. Perhaps it would be best to begin by discussing masculinity, its mirror image, within the labor milieu and more specifically within the paper. Then the whole tangle of femininity will be unraveled within the context of the paper, examining notions of that play into the idea of the cult of femininity that dominates the 'moral reform' ideology and the way that allows for women's access into the public sphere of labor organizing and the way that it restricts it.
The early working-class movement was definitely a masculine movement and the use of the term 'workingmen' was not coincidental. The New England labor movement certainly didn't escape this ideology. Men were the subjects of discussion within the pages of its publications, the words of its speeches, etc. Women were able to place a word in edgewise more often because of the connections to moral reform that existed but even in the late 1840's women labor activists still had to battle individuals such as "the Spectator", who still insisted upon a view of femininity based on weakness and childishness.58
The view that men frequently took of women workers could be termed 'dependent workers.'59 The men in organizations in the thirties saw women as being to weak to be able to negotiate fair contracts with capitalists. Like child labor, their labor was best protected through legislative means. Teresa Anne Murphy puts this best, "An assumption that guided the petitioning efforts60 of male workingmen in 1832 was that women and children were the same category of workers: dependents, who were unable to organize themselves to combat their employers. This perception would continue, even as the activities of female industrial workers in 1834 challenged these assumptions."61 This bias can also be seen in the early pages of the Voice of Industry, despite its efforts to look at the interests of women. A good example of this can be seen in a discussion of women as boarding house keepers. This discusses how companies want to hire "widow women and defenseless women, as keepers of Corporation boarding house keepers" because their "circumstances would require them to submit to many burdens" and the women were forced to submit "without a murmur or protest."62 Still another example of the ambiguous position that women are held in can be seen the repeating of this joke.63
This left women in a tenuous position within the labor movement. As it was said before, the idea of moral reform, the way for women to become involved in the public sphere and remain safely in the folds of the 'cult of domesticity' was coded middle class and was viewed with considerable suspicion even among New England workingmen. Still it was a place to work from for women and was thus taken advantage of.
The notion of the cult of domesticity is a fascinating one, although one usually looked at within middle-class terms. This occurs because it was coded in that manner by the middle-class reformers who took the idea up. However, it can also be seen in the ideas of the factory girls as well. A good example can be seen in an article entitled "The Rights of Women." After a great deal of time is spent establishing women's equality this important qualifier is placed upon it, "And, in doing this, we shall encroach on no domestic duty or privilege founded on sexuality, reason and common sense. Let her as she has to be, remain the woman; and let her appropriate and specified duties be domestic, or engage in any line of action in any calling which shall not interfere with their discharge."64 (italics added) This can be seen at another point, where Sarah Bagley is speaking to the New England Workingmen's Association on behalf of the Female Labor Reform Association:
"We do not expect to enter the field as soldiers in this great warfare; but we would like the heroines of the Revolution, be permitted to furnish the soldiers with a blanket or replenish their knapsacks from our pantries."65
Coded within this speech, Bagley is making assurances to the workingmen that the women involved in the Association will not step outside their gendered roles.
It would be easy to continue in this vein, to show the continued collusion that the FLRA and many of the factory girls have with traditional gender roles, but in that repetition, something else would be missed. One thing that would be left out for instance would be the class elements taken up in the use of domesticity. While middle-class women claim to be superior wives because of their culture, the factory girls claim the same because of their industry in the workplace. example66 It is at this point where the ideas of the women writing for the Voice of Industry are in fullest agreement with the ideas in Lowell Offering. The Offering also looks to defend the virtue of the factory girls against the charges of, "the population of Lowell is made up of 'scraps' and refugees--the cast off 'non-essentials of refined society."67
Also the murmurs of resistance to the men's assumptions would also be missed. The missives against the women's would be allies are naturally more hidden and muffled, but it still can be seen. The statement made by operatives, "The operatives can unite and they will yet give evidence to their employers that "Union is strength""68 may be a comment directed primarily towards the employers, but it also can be seen to be directed towards their male counterparts who see the women as 'dependent workers.'
It is also of some value to return to the statements that Sarah Bagly made to the Workingmen's association made before. While creating a domestic role for the women, she also insisted, "We claim no exalted place in your deliberations, nor do we expect to be instrumental of any great revolutions, yet we would not sit idly down and fold our hands and refuse to do the little that we may and ought to…."69 There other examples that one can see. Another strong example can be found of in the Factory Girls’ Album:
“Away with the mean prejudice and jealousy which sneer at women for trying to get an honest living. Girls deprive journeymen of employment, and the latter cry aloud in consequence. As well might the Mississippi boatmen protest against steamboats. Say, that this or that is not a woman’s place or a woman’s business? Has poor woman no fit place but the kitchen or factory? Can her hand wield no implement but the needle and the dishcloth”70
It also should be stated that there are further traces of dissatisfaction on the current state of things. Ellen Munroe wrote a piece criticizing the way that girls are raised, pointing while boys are allowed to grow strong, “almost everything that can be, is done, to enervate and weaken girls, both mentally and bodily.”71 Also, they respond that much of their weakness is created by having to work the excessive hours at the factory. In effect, they criticize both the factory owners and the paternalism of their fellow workers.
At this point there needs to be a change of pace, before this section the emphasis has been on the impact that being a factory operative or artisan had on the ideas of moral reform, but the reverse needs to be done. There already is a start of this in the section before looking at the dual role of gender and labor. Now there needs to be an investigation into how, the culture of 'moral reform' impacted the creation of the rising working class of New England. The primary document that will be looked at is a speech by the Labor Reform League of New England delivered to an audience in Nashua, New Hampshire, but other documents will be discussed to back this point up.
The first and most important point is that the whole notion of workers' rights is constructed heavily within republicanism. The rhetoric of the Voice of Industry frequently comments on the superior patriotism of the workingman, and his superior position as citizen despite his depravations. In fact, the whole labor struggle is colored in these terms within the speech, "in the present contest for the realization those acknowledged 'inalienable rights, s'set forth in the Declaration of American Independence and among which are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."72
This can be moved into a broader spirit within the discourse. The body of the speech reflects this:
"The object then of the present movement, among the producing classes of this country and Europe, is to enquire into the cause of these great evils which are scattering desolation over the Race, and blighting the fairest fruits of human excellence, and when once discovered, to use such means as the wisdom of the age shall develop to bring about a peaceful, philosophical and radical Reformation."73
This paragraph perfectly captures the relationship between the culture of moral reform and working class identity. It ties this new class of producers into the narrative of progress, and gives them a privileged position as the ones who will unlock the secrets to find and destroy the great evils that stalked the society such as disorder and dissipation. It holds with the reformers' beliefs that rational thought can eventually solve all problems and the millenarian beliefs of a dramatic change soon to come.
The best example of the value placed on contemplation is best seen in the rhetoric of the ten-hour movement. The logic for the movement is well presented here, "This is proposed as a means rather than an end; its object being to give the operatives time to cultivate their moral, mental, and physical powers, therefore of primary importance, as forming the basis of true prosperity and without no people can enjoy the blessings of rational liberty."74 This ties into the ideas above. Workers, who are the way to the future, need to have the time to create the abilities to fulfill their destiny.
There are definite religious overtones within this as well. At one time the paper refers to the class struggle as, “the combat between unholy oppression and equal rights for all.”75 The elite classes are not only failing as republicans in their duties but as Christians as well. This is well phrased by an operative’s letter from Manchester:
“Shall we ever remain subjected to the tyrannical will of a corporated body of men who, although they bear the title of christians, have ho more christian feeling and sympathy for those in their employ than Heathen.”76
The paper even quotes the Bible in this venue. “The laborer is worthy of his hire—Bible.”77 The need for a movement comes from the need to receive the rights granted workers by God that have been taken away from them by supposed Christians who do not live up to their duties, instead to sit in luxury.
There is something utopic in the image of the world that the movement wants to create. It is a world where, “Industry is not only a duty binding upon all men, but it is one of the most fruitful sources of real enjoyment and peace.”78 This world can only be created by “cultivating a love of industry, whether physical or mental” and once this world is created, “neither despair nor vice can penetrate” this virtuous world of labor.79 This may be a world wear “the last shall be first and the first shall be last”, but is definitely a world that bears a definite resemblance to the ideals of the Protestant work ethic that is so often associated with the middle class. There is conflict, but it occurs within the bounds of a common culture.
This antebellum world was soon to disappear, engulfed by immigration and the civil war. New formations of class and culture were soon to rise up in the preceding years. The beginnings of the economic revolution that were begun in the antebellum period were to explode during the civil war and any hopes of turning from this new form of economy were to be dashed. It also cut deeply into the optimistic ideals of the culture of 'moral reform'. Immigration similarly added problems to this. Many immigrants simply had no interest in living up to the ideals set up by others.
The specter of the factory and the idyll of the artisan's shop played important roles in the formation of 'moral reform.' It was the fear of the chaos, isolation, dissipation, etc. that was created in the new cities that the factory produced, which drove the morbid imaginings of reformers whether middle-class or working class. But at the same time, the ideas of 'moral reform' were deeply involved in the formation of both the factories themselves and the workers' organizations as well. In effect, the field of events coalesced together rather than one element acting as the causation for the others.
There is a need to look at class as a localized phenomenon. What it means to be a worker, a capitalist, or middle-class is woven together with the other complex elements of a society, and becomes meaningless when one tries to remove the strand from the other elements that compose it. This is not to say that a formation of discreetly separated geographic regions should replace class or any other phenomenon as the universal. What is New England during the antebellum era is the coming together of a number of different elements, which changed quickly when those elements changed.
There will always be attempts to compare events of different times, regions, cultures, etc. and there is real value in that. However, as soon as one attempts to create a universal essential notion of class out of these phenomena, the ideas will fail to understand the complexities of the individual circumstances in which class is located. In that case, the universal notion of class will only be a pale shadow of the different individual manifestations.
 Voice of Industry
2 Ronald G Waters, American Reformers 1815-1860, ed. Eric Foner (New York: Hill and Wong, 1978.)
3 Ibid., ix-xiv.
4 Ibid., 3-6.
5 Steven Mintz, Moralists and Modernizers: America's Pre Civil War Reformers (Baltimore, Maryland: John Hopkins University Press, 1995).
7 Commager, Henry Steele, The Era of Reform: 1830-1860 (Malabar, Florida: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1982; reprint, Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand, 1960.)
8 Ratner, Lorman, Pre-Civil War Reform: The Variety of Principles and Programs (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1967.)
9 James Leiby, A History of Social Welfare and Social Work in the United States (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978.)
10 Mr. Leiby separates his chapters on Social Welfare between, 1: American Society, 1815: The Rural Democracy; 2: Religious Ideas About Social Welfare; 3: 1815-1845, Secular Ideas About Social Welfare, 1815-1845; 4: The Poor Law, 1815-1845. As these chapters imply, there is a far to discreet separation of these various ideas into autonomous parts. Ibid., vii, 6-47.
11 Walter I. Trattner, From Poor Law to Welfare State: A History of Social Welfare in America, Second Edition (New York: The Free Press, 1979.)
12 Michael Katz, In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare (New York: Basic Books, 1986.)
13 Sean Wilentz, Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-1850 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.)
14 ibid., 145-153,157-168.
15 ibid., 153-157. Wilentz lies out a discourse of anti-evangelicalism from workingmen that sprouts from the ideas of Thomas Paine and finds itself in Thomas Skidmore's ideas as well.
16 For an interesting critique of Wilentz's views on women, see Ruth M. Alexander, ""We are Engaged as a Band of Sisters": Class and Domesticity in the Washingtonian Temperance Movement, 1840-1850"
17 "The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life--and, next to production, the exchange of things produced--is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in human society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is divided into classes or orders is depended what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view the final causes of all social changes are to be sought not in men's brains, not in man's better insight into truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. Friedrich Engels, Socialism: Utopian or Scientific
18 Herbert George Gutman, Work, culture, and society in industrializing America: essays in American working class and social history (
19 Jonathan Prude, "The Social System of Early New England Textile Mills: A Case Study, 1812-1840", Ed. Herbert G. Gutman and Donald H. Bell, The New England Working Class and the New Labor History (Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1987.)
20 Phillip Foner ed., The Factory Girls (Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1977.)
21 Lori D. Ginzberg, Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Politics, and Class in the Nineteenth Century United States (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.)
22 Teresa Anne Murphy, Ten Hours' Labor: Religion, Reform, and Gender in Early New England (Ithica, New York: Cornell University Press, 1992.)
23 Ibid., 2-3.
24 Phillip Foner, The Factory Girls, xxv.
25 Teresa Anne Murphy, Ten Hours' Labor,
26 Ronald G. Walters, American Reformers, 4-5. More specific discussion can be found in Teresa Anne Murphy, Ten Hours' Labor, and even Sean Wilentz, Chants Democratic.
27 Ibid., 5.
28 Teresa Anne Murphy, Ten Hours' Labor, 20.
30 Ibid., 30
31 Ibid., 16-20.
32 Lori D. Ginzberg, Women and the Work of Benevolence, 1, 11-14.
33 Teresa Anne Murphy, Ten Hours' Labor,
34 Ibid., 23.
35 Phillip Foner, The Factory Girls, 75.
36 Ibid., 99-100
37 Ibid., 194.
38 Phillip Foner, The Factory Girls, 74-75.
39 Voice of Industry, June 12, 1845, Voice of Industry, August 7, 1845
40 Voice of Industry, July 3, 1845
41 Voice of Industry, June 12, 1845
42 Voice of Industry, May 29, 1845
43 Voice of Industry, #25
44 Ruth M. Alexander, ""We are Engaged as a Band of Sisters": Class and Domesticity in the Washingtonian Temperance Movement, 1840-1850" also Teresa Anne Murphy, Ten Hours' Labor, 100-130.
45 Voice of Industry, July 24, 1845
46 Voice of Industry, July 24, 1845
47 There are a number of references to this including Voice of Industry, September 11, 1845, Voice of Industry, September 25, 1845.
48 Voice of Industry, May 29, 1845
49 Voice of Industry, June 5, 1845
50 Sean Wilentz, Chants Democratic, 255.
51 Voice of Industry, September 25, 1845.
52 Voice of Industry, August 14, 1845
53 Voice of Industry
54 A good example of this rhetoric is the following from The Mechanic, October 5, 1844. “I, for one, have been greatly disappointed in men who have heretofore advocated the cause of humanity, but whose acts of late do not agree with their professions—men who would stand up and dole out pity for the souther[n] slave, but would crush with an iron hand the white laborer of the north. A TEN HOUR WOMAN.” Philip Foner, The Factory Girls, 276.
55 Voice of Industry, January 22, 1847
56 Voice of Industry, May 29, 1845
57 Voice of Industry, November 6, 1846
58 For this debate see Voice of Industry, January 22, 1847, March 5, 1847, April 16, 1847
59 Teresa Anne Murphy, Ten Hours' Labor,
60 this pertains to the ten hour work legislation that was being petitioned for.
61 Teresa Anne Murphy, Ten Hours' Labor, 50.
62 Voice of Industry, September 25, 1845
63 Voice of Industry
64 Voice of Industry, May 8, 1846
65 Voice of Industry, June 5, 1845
66 Voice of Industry
67 Operatives' Magazine, December 1841, Phillip Foner, The Factory Girls, 46.
68 Voice of Industry, May 15, 1846
69 Voice of Industry, June 5, 1845
70 Factory Girls’ Album, Exeter, N.H., April 25,1846, Philip Foner, The Factory Girls, 299.
71 Boston Bee, reprinted in Voice of Industry, March 13, 1845
72 Voice of Industry, October 9, 1846
73 Voice of Industry, October 9, 1846
74 Voice of Industry, October 9, 1845
75 Voice of Industry, September 25, 1845
76 Voice of Industry, December 4, 1846
77 Voice of Industry, September 25, 1845.
78 Voice of Industry, December 11, 1846