Chicopee Factory Girls
- Factory Operatives of Chicopee
- Chicopee Manufacturing Company
- The Olive Leaf
- Research Bibliography
Local history books give credit for the industrial success of Chicopee to the men who established and invested in the various manufacturing companies in the city. Boston financiers were key to the development of Chicopee from an agricultural village into an industrial city with worldwide recognition as a manufacturing Mecca. Yet, the importance of the workers who made up the backbone of the industry’s workforce, especially the role of the female cotton factory workers is often overlooked. This section is meant to draw attention to The Factory Girls of Chicopee, Massachusetts in the early-mid 19th century.
The cotton mills initially hired female workers (operatives) from local communities such as Belchertown, Granby, and West Springfield as
there was not enough local labor to run the mill but eventually recruiters were sent further north and west to find enough labor. They recruited girls from their family farms in the states of New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire to work in the Chicopee mills. It is these first female factory workers and their lives as workers that
are the subject of this display.
The Chicopee factory girls worked 12 ½ hours a day and were paid between $3-$5.40 dollars per week, and were charged approximately $1.25 per week to live in overcrowded boarding houses in rooms with as many as six other girls. These boarding houses were owned by the cotton mills and run by matrons who would strictly reinforce the rules of the house including a 10pm curfew, temperance, and weekly church attendance.
The potential for water power created by the unique location of the Chicopee River and the Chicopee Falls attracted wealthy business investors to the agricultural village community of Chicopee.
Development of additional cotton mills in the area known as Cabotville followed the model of the Chicopee Manufacturing Company and by 1841, the Cabot Manufacturing Company, the Dwight Manufacturing Company, and the Perkins Mills were built. Following the model of the Chicopee Manufacturing Company, these cotton mills also erected schools, churches, and stores that sold produce, clothing, firewood, and other necessities to the workers.
Published between May
and October of 1843 at the cost of one dollar a year.
The prospectus states, The Olive Leaf is a semi-monthly paper, devoted to the interests of the Operatives at Cabotville and Chicopee Falls, and throughout the New England States . . . The matter will be chiefly original, containing articles, Religious, Literary, and Historical. The paper will be free from a party spirit, and nothing will be admitted to its columns with a view to establish any particular opinion. Virtue and Morality will be its leading characteristics, while the chief aim of the Editor shall be to benefit that class, to whose welfare it is devoted, and at the same time endeavor to be interesting to all. The principal(sic)
contributors will be the Operatives, whose communications will be ever gratefully received.