A Field Trip to the Tsongas Museum

A picture of Wes, our guide at the Tsongas Museum.On our field trip to Tsongas Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts, we had a guide named Wes. He was a very nice person.  The day was rainy and cold, but everyone was excited to be in Lowell.

The first location at the Museum was where  the Mill Girls lived. They slept in the same bed and they had a housekeeper and one of the keeper’s names was Mrs. Matthews. In the Mill Girls' Boarding House - an example of a typical dining room.A display of all the food prepared for each of their 3 meals was displayed on a wall. The Mill Girls woke each morning, very early, to bells from the mill and returned home at the end of a very long day, 14 hours or more. The girls own room had one fireplace, some windows, and some candles. It was very dark in there.

Next we walked, in the rain, to the place where they worked; it was very loud! They used mill machines that were every old looking. The Mill Girls worked fourteen hours+ a day, on one of five floors, with one hundred machines per floor. That’s a lot of noise! Did you know that the machines were so loud that over time the mill workers would often experience severe hearing loss?  Also, you could hear all the mills’ machines from up to five miles away.

Picture of 4 student selectmen at our mock town meeting regarding schooling for the Irish immigrant children.Our third experience was to participate in a Town Meeting. Should the Irish children have a school, was the focus of our town meeting. We dressed up as citizens of Lowell and we were all provided a name and a job of a real person from 1841.  We had a choice of either to provide Irish children with a school or to continue the practice of not providing education to them.  There were four selectmen.  Half of the class voted for the Irish children have their own school and the other half of the class said the Irish children shouldn’t have there own school. But then we figured out that girls/women could not vote, so that changed the whole subject and the new vote was to not provide a school for the Irish children. Although in, 1841, the Lowell citizens did vote to provide a school for the Irish youth.

Our last experience, was to be ‘immigrants’. We dressed up as immigrants from different countries.  Articles, a Greek immigrant may brought with them when immigrating to the United States.We had to get tickets from our teacher, who was also dressed up as the person who tells you where to go for processing, and we sat in a line on the floor by country. We waited for our guide to show us what to do next. There were bags full of things that immigrants and their family would bring with them like dolls, pots and pans, crosses, bibles, and clothes, based upon their country of origin. We talked together, within our group to decide why it was brought and how each item was used. We displayed the items, for other students, to see the types of objects people would bring from different countries.

Below is our brief interview with Mrs. Atkinson and Mrs. Shammas about bringing students on field trips, specifically to the Tsongas Museum.


Reported by: Schuyler, Thanos and Vanya

Destination Immigration

Can you imagine the mills, in Lowell Massachusetts, being so loud you can hear them from 5 miles away? These mills ran along the Merrimack River. Making thread and cloth was the purpose of most of the mills. This is the third year the fourth graders have visited the Tsongas Museum in Lowell which is located in the Boot Cotton Mill building.

The looms on one floor of the Boot Cotton Mill. Klunk Ka-Klunk Ka-Klunk Ka-Klunk. Imagine the noise of of hundreds of machines in just one mill, while we heard only 20 looms, which was very loud in the Boot Cotton Mill. One of the many activities was listening to a story about a mill girl who slid off the banister and fell four stories.  Her name was Lizzie Ryan. Nobody really knows the outcome of that terrible accident, but we can infer that if she survived, she was very, very, badly hurt.

Lowell, Massachusetts, was and still is a destination of many immigrants. We were told to pretend we were immigrants at Ellis Island and to make two lines: one boys and one girls. We received passports, which contained our immigrant’s name, date of birth, date we arrived, Immigration activity for students to experience being interviewed as an immigrant at Ellis Island.country we were coming from, and reason we emigrated. The immigrant officer, asked us how we said “hello”, our name, where we were coming from and when we came. Following our interview we saw 5 signs which read: “War,” “Family,” “Education,” “Jobs,” and “Famine.” The officer asked the immigrants to gather around the signs that best represented the reason for emigrating. This is how we said ‘Hello’ in our six different languages:

Greece – γεια σας, Ireland – Dia duit, Canada – Quebec  bonjour,

Cambodia – Su os dyey, Colombia – Hola, and Portugal – o’la.

Our strategy to find our fellow emigrants was nice and simple. We said ‘Hello” in our unique language, and together met up at our station with our trunks. The officer gave us instructions to open our trunks; to carefully lift our artifacts out of the trunk; and display them for everyone to see. Each group had very different artifacts. We each had an instrument and some had books. The irish had a doctor’s book and the Cambodians had Cambodian-English dictionary. It was very interesting to see what immigrants had brought to America.

This is a mock 1831 Town Meeting discussing the need of a school for Irish children.In April 1831, Lowell, Massachusetts, was experiencing challenges with the Irish immigrants’ children. A special town meeting was held to address the following proposal:

“That the Irish children should have a school in their own neighborhood and the school should receive money from the town.”

The selectmen were comprised of a priest, 2 shopkeepers, and a mill owner. A lively debate followed among the citizens of Lowell. A school teacher shared, “One day a fight broke out between a Yankee and an Irish child. I think we need a separate school for the Irish.” “I don’t want to lose my workers,” said a mill owner, “a lot would leave to go to school.” Another mill owner expressed, “I would like smarter workers” and was in favor of a new school. Everybody got a chance to stand up and express their opinion. But later we were informed that we had to be eighteen, male, and a US citizen to vote. After we found that out, we took off the votes of the people that weren’t allowed to vote, and the majority ruled that we should build the school. But, in 1831, they didn’t actually build the school immediately.

After the role-play, we took a walk over to the boarding house. The boarding house is where the Mill Girls lived when they worked. We did a scavenger hunt. Everybody had to choose one or two partners and we traveled around the boarding house trying to find rooms or items and describe them with two adjectives.

The different rooms had artifacts, such as tools and dishes in the kitchen. The kitchen had displays of meals (breakfast, dinner and supper) Typical boarding house dining room setup for supper with china and silverware for the Yankee Mill Girls.prepared for the Mill Girls, by the housekeeper, who had a small room off the kitchen. The Mill Girl’s breakfast might include fried codfish, fried hash, fried potato balls, pumpkin mush, toast and butter, apple pie and coffee with brown sugar. Dinner (served at lunch time) was the large meal of the day. They may have eaten, soup with croutons, boiled dinner of corned beef, potatoes, turnips and parsnips with horseradish sauce, pickles, homemade bread, bread pudding, coffee with milk and brown sugar and water. A light meal at supper could be baked beans and pork, homemade rye bread with bacon and cheese, fried potatoes, flap jacks with applesauce, baked indian pudding with cream, plain cake, tea with milk and brown sugar, and water. With only 30 minutes to eat breakfast and dinner, they managed to eat a awful lot of food.

The Mill Girls lives were regulated by bells. The mill bell tower tolled Picture of the bell tower at the Boot Cotton Mill in Lowell, Massachusetts that regulated the Mill Girls lives.to tell the girls when to work, when to eat and when to go home. The bells rang at:

4:30 am - wake up
5:00 am - begin work at mill
7:00 am - return to boarding house for breakfast
7:30 am - return to mill
12:00 pm - return to boarding house for dinner
12:30 pm - return to mill
7:30 pm - end of work day

Display of a typical Mill Girl with shopping bags.The Mill Girls returned to the boarding house for supper and had to be in bed at 10:00 pm. They did this 6 days a week and on Sunday’s after attending church, they were free to shop, attend lectures or do whatever they wanted.

A law was past that the Mill Girls could only work 10-hours a day instead of fourteen. On top of that, imagine living in a cramped boarding house, working in a room with hundreds of machines, and working ten-hours a day for years. The Mill Girls were hard working, proud, and educated.

We enjoyed this trip to Lowell. The immigration Image of the park just outside the Tsongas Museum.activity seemed to be especially popular. It was interesting to unpack luggage from other countries. We enjoyed taking pictures in the immigration room of timelines and contents of the bags. We liked the town meeting role play as well; it was fun to pretend and dress-up as citizens of Lowell in 1831 and to discuss a controversial  issue. We also enjoyed exploring the large boarding house. It was interesting to see sample meals from back then and see the Mill Girls’ bedrooms. The fourth graders this year seemed to like the field trip, and maybe you will, too!

Reported by: Paige, Will, Alexis, and Maiya

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