A Visit to the Tsongas Museum

One of the 100 looms on a floor at the Boot Cotton Mill in Lowell, Massachusetts.CHUG POOH! … CHUG POOH! … CHUG POOH! could be heard throughout the mill. It was very loud with only 20 looms running out of 100 on the floor. We couldn’t even imagine the sound, with all 5 floors of machines running, in not just the Boot Cotton Mill, but in all the mills in Lowell, Massachusetts!

Two of the five –  fourth grade classes went on a field trip to the Tsongas Museum, Monday, September 29, 2014. We participated in 4 activities: Immigration, the Boot Cotton Mill, a mock town meeting, and visited a boarding house for the Mill Girls.


γεια σας.!   Dia duit!   ciao!    Hola!   joom reab suor!  Students investigating items in an Irish immigrant's trunk.Were heard as each student immigrant greeted the Immigration officer. Each immigrant was handed a passport which included their name, date of birth, country of origin, date of immigration, how to say “hello” in their language, why they immigrated, who were their relatives and what they did for a profession.

New immigrant groups were given their luggage to unpack and sort the items by their purpose or use. For the Irish, some items were an embroidery hoop with thread to make a tablecloth; for the Italians and Colombians, musical instruments were in their luggage –  an accordion and a guitar; for the Greeks, a Bible for use during religious services; and for the Cambodians, a stacked cooker and chopsticks to use in preparing their meals. After examining the items in their luggage, each group selected interesting contents to share with the other groups.

Mock Town Meeting

4 students role-playing selectmen at an 1831 Town Meeting in Lowell, Massachusetts.In Lowell, in 1831, there was a big controversial issue: the problem was too many Irish children were out on the streets causing trouble and had no school or job to occupy their time. The town selectmen, a judge, 2 shopkeepers, and a priest, called a town meeting to address this concern. They presented a solution of building a school for the Irish children. And the debate began. In 1831, all women and men under 16 were not allowed to speak or vote at the town meeting.  One shopkeeper, who was also a selectman, announced he already paid enough taxes and would not pay for another school. Another shopkeeper said she would love to have an Irish girl, well educated, to work at her shop as bookkeeper. Too many Irish children roaming the streets, claimed a shopkeeper, needed school. Concern for lack of housing and land was expressed by another citizen who didn’t want the land used for a school but for housing.

The moderator stopped the discussion and called for a vote. The moderator asked people who were in favor of the new school to stand and be counted. Those opposed stood next and were counted. The vote passed to build a school. Even though everyone at the Mock Town Meeting could give an opinion and cast a vote, that was not the case in 1831. Girls were asked to take a seat, as well as boys under the age of 16, except if you had a card with a star which meant you were a male, over 16 and owned property. This was to reinforce for us who had the right to vote. Even though the vote was to build a school for the Irish, it was two years before they built the school.

 The Mill Girls

“In 1836, in Lowell Massachusetts, there were 8 large textile mills with 7,500 workers. Most of these were Yankee farm girls who were attracted by the wages and independance available in the city. These ladies, know as the Mill girls lived in company boarding houses.’’ (The Encyclopedia of Massachusetts, 4th edition, 1999.)

The Mill Girl’s lives were regulated by the bells. The tolling of bells woke the girls, called them to meals, called them to work, and sent them home at the end of the day.

Bell tower at the Boot Cotton Mill.BELLS:

5:00 am Woke

5:30 am Went to mill

7:30 am went to boarding house for breakfast

8:00 am went back to mill

1:00 pm went to boarding house for dinner

1:30 pm went back to mill

7:30 pm went back to boarding house for supper; end of the work day

A typical breakfast would include toast with butter, eggs, orange juice, ham, bacon or steak. Dinner (which is their lunch) might be a roast, potatoes, a few vegetables, rolls, tarts, pie or cake. A cold salad, sandwich or some warm soup would have been served for supper.

Typical bedroom in Lowell Mill Girls boarding house.The typical bedroom had two beds and two girls slept in each bed. Four girls shared each bedroom. The housekeeper prepared all the meals for the girls, cleaned, changed and washed the bed linens and made sure the girls were in bed by 10:00 pm each night.

The girls worked 6 days a week and had Sunday off. They were expected to attend church and Sunday afternoons may be spent at lectures, plays, shopping, doing laundry and/or visiting with each other.

The field trip was fun and educational. They taught us about how people lived in the time the immigrants came over to America around 1840.  The activities were interactive and everyone participated. We also attended a town meeting and learned who was allowed to vote.  We even pretended we were immigrants. Some of the things in the immigrants’ luggage were similar to one another even though the items came from different countries. The immigrants, the Mill Girls, and the Irish worked hard and had difficult lives. We were disappointed several times, because we wanted to handle and explore the artifacts being shown to us and we couldn’t touch them. But overall, the whole trip was wonderful.

Reported by: Aidan and Amanda