Tsongas Historic Museum sits along the Merrimack River in Lowell, Massachusetts. Here you can learn and experience what it was like to work in the mills, learn about different immigrant groups that settled in Lowell, and experience what the immigrants felt. You can participate in a town meeting and tour a boarding house for mill girls.
BANG! SCRATCH! BANG! SCRATCH! that was the rhythm of the weaving machines. The noise was deafening and we only heard 12 out of the one hundred machines on one floor of the mill. It must have been hot and humid in the mill because they pumped steam into the room so the cotton fibers wouldn’t dry up and the machines generated a lot of heat. It must have been very hard for the workers to work 12-15 hour days in the hot, noisy mills.
We roll-played immigrants “Coming to America”. As we entered the processing center, we greeted the officer in our native language and handed him our passport to be stamped. He told us we are good to go and we traveled to our ethnic neighborhood in the city of Lowell. We unpacked our baggage and we sorted it to determine what was important to our immigrant family. Then the immigrant families showed what they brought with them. Most immigrant groups brought a musical instrument, such as cymbals or an accordion. Being an immigrant in a new country must have been scary especially if you didn’t speak the native language.
We attended a town meeting to address the issue of misbehaving Irish youth who were vandalizing local businesses and buildings in Lowell. Each student was assigned a role, for example, farmers, merchants, or mill workers. Women may have attended but could not talk or vote. Four students were selected as selectmen and one as moderator. Several farmers proposed that sending Irish immigrant children to school may help stop all of the vandalizing and stealing. Merchants were frustrated from all of the graffiti and egging of their businesses. A vote was taken to establish schools for Irish children so they may attend while their parents worked in the canals and mills. Historically the vote was in favor of establishing a school for these children. Depending on which fourth grade class town meeting you attended, the vote may have been different than what actually happened in Lowell.
Would you like to sleep in a bed with an absolute stranger? That is what the mill workers did! A bell rang at 4 in the morning so they could report to the mill by 5 am. They worked until 7 am, went back to the boarding house had a large breakfast of eggs, porridge, bread, bacon, ham and much more. They needed to eat all this in 30 minutes and get right back to the mill. A bell rang at dinner time (noon) and the process was repeated again when the the bell rang at 7 pm and the girls returned for supper and bed. What a day!!
The life of an immigrant was very hard and difficult. To experience what it was like to be an immigrant back in the late 19th and 20th centuries make a visit to the Tsongas Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts, U.S.A. It’s a great experience!
reported by: Coleman, Adam, Will G., and Matty
*** Photo of map, displayed above, from the brochure titled “Lowell” produced by Lowell National Historical Park, Massachusetts and National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2000.