In the last couple of years, I have found more relatives who have worked in mill towns in New England. That’s why when I saw Polly Fitzgerald’s post “Growing Up in a Massuchsetts Mill Town” on her Pollyblog I was eager to read it.
My Portuguese ancestors lived in a similar situation on Kauai in a sugar plantation community. From Polly’s post, I see that some of their experience was equal: back breaking work, long hours, small communities living near their work. They probably shared a very similar experience as they went from their company built homes, to their company provided jobs, back their company built homes.
Work was very hard in both the mills and the plantations. Work was grueling. Hours were long. Some of the work was dangerous and it was not uncommon to have accidents that resulted in death.
There were two major difference between the plantation experience and the mill town. My Portuguese ancestors were brought to Hawaii under contract that was limited to 2 or 3 years. They only had to fulfill their contract. After that they were free to leave the plantation. Because Hawaii had no common currency, workers were paid in gold, which they saved for the day when they would move on. Many used that money to send their kids to college or to move the family to California where they were able to buy a home right from the start.
From Polly’s article it looks like Mill workers came to their work on their own. In mill towns, mill work was the only option.
I think this quote from the post about her own relative sums it up very well:
“Family stories say that Vernetta was not able to continue her education after graduation from the Emily G. Wetherby School in 1906 at age 14, and was obliged to go directly to work in the woolen mills. If she did, it was only for a short while. And she was very lucky to have survived, given the above-cited statistics!”
That shows how hard life working in the mills must have been!
Polly, thank you for such an insightful post! I was able to learn a little bit about what the experience was like for the Portuguese and Irish relatives who ended up in mill towns.
I encourage everyone to read the post to learn more about mill towns and her Grandmother, Vernetta, who was able to leave the mill work behind her.