First Strike by Women in US – 427 Central Ave
After ousting the mills’ benevolent founder, John Williams, the new Boston owners of the Cochecho Manufacturing Company put a different agent in charge. James Curtis was a harsh taskmaster, caring only about profit and having little concern for the working conditions in his factories.
The company opened a factory store on Franklin Square and mill girls were paid, not in cash, but in company “scrip” which could be redeemed for goods at the company store. Prices there were set higher than in regular stores, accounts were often falsified, and wage payments were sometimes delayed.
Hourly pay rates were lowered from 58 cents a day to 53 cents, while quotas for each worker were raised and loom speeds were increased. Any talking was forbidden, a 12 ½ cent lateness fee was imposed, and joining a “combination” or union was cause for dismissal.
On December 30, 1828 more than half of the 800 Cochecho mill girls walked out of the factory in a “turn-out”. They paraded around the mill quadrangle with banners, signs, martial music, artillery, and speeches protesting their cruel working conditions. The Dover Enquirer called the turn-out “one of the most disgusting scenes ever witnessed” and claimed the girls walked out over “some imaginary grievance.”
The next day, the Boston owners ran an ad in The Dover Enquirer advertising for “the services of 2 to 300 Females.” Within three days, most of the mill girls, except those who were “blacklisted” by the Company, returned to work, their protests against reduced wages, longer hours and unsafe working conditions having fallen on deaf ears. This was the first strike by women in the United States and while their job action was considered largely unsuccessful at the time, its significance cannot be overlooked as it set in motion the revolution for workers’ rights throughout industrial America.
The mills that stand before you are not only a testament to the grandeur of America’s industrial past, but also a tribute to those first Dover mill girls who, with their spirit, perseverance, and dreams, initiated a movement that would gather momentum and eventually benefit future generations of workers.
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