Song of the Factory Girls

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Song of the Factory Girls

Song lyrics

By: Anonymous

Date: 1977

Source: "Song of the Factory Girls," in Foner, Philip S., ed. The Factory Girls: A Collection of Writings on Life and Struggles in the New England Factories of the 1840's by the Factory Girls Themselves, and the Story, in Their Own Words, of the First Trade Unions of Women Workers in the United States. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1977.

About the Author: Booming industries in the early nineteenth century sought to create an army of regi-mented workers for their factories, most of whom were accustomed to regulating their own workplace on the farm, and many of whom were female. Industry glamorized factory work in songs such as "Song of the Factory Girls," which dates from this period in American history.


The Industrial Revolution in the United States began in New England in the 1790s. Here, factory owners predominantly recruited young farm girls and girls from poorer families in order to staff the factories. This kept the cost of factory employees low (because women's wages were considerably lower than men's), and the use of lower class females did not threaten existing social conventions, which held that women were supposed to work within the home.

The average factory worker worked fourteen hours a day, sometimes seven days a week. Working conditions and pay were poor, and factories were often unsanitary and poorly ventilated; even if there were windows, for example, they were often covered with bars. To protest these working conditions, women (and other employees) began to strike. They fought against wage cuts, the loss of meal breaks (factory owners had a variety of reasons for ceasing meal breaks and the most common was the belief that workers got lazy after meals), and almost always to improve working conditions. The first recorded labor strike by female workers occurred in 1828 in Dover, New Hampshire.

To contrast the actual working conditions and the reality of the life of a factory worker, company owners subsidized booklets proclaiming factory life and work as happy, wholesome, and somewhat glamorous. In these accounts, factory girls were encouraged to highlight their conceptions of financial and personal independence. They did have some independence in the factories because they were not living in their father's homes, they could partially spend their money as they saw fit (after they paid boarding costs and sent money home, which happened frequently), and workers developed a sense of community with other females. Since many of these girls came from rural areas, their introduction to new people filled a sense of curiosity and longing for more experiences in life. In essence, stories attesting to freedom and independence tended to overshadow stories about horrible working and living conditions at the mills. Factory owners used these stories as propaganda to encourage new workers to come the mills.


Song of the Factory Girls

    Oh, sing me the song of the Factory Girl!
    So merry and glad and free
    The bloom in her cheeks, of health how it speaks,
    Oh! A happy creature is she!
    She tends the loom, she watches the spindle,
    And cheerfully toileth away,
    Amid the din of wheels, how her bright eyes kindle,
    And her bosom is ever gay.
    Oh, sing me the song of the Factory Girl!
    Who no titled lord doth own,
    Who with treasures more rare, is more free from care
    Than a queen upon her throne!
    She tends the loom, she watches the spindle,
    And she parts her glossy hair,
    I know by her smile, as her bright eyes kindle,
    That a cheerful spirit is there.
    Oh, sing me the song of the Factory Girl!
    Link not her name with the Slave's;
    She is brave and free, as the old elm tree
    Which over her homestead waves.
    She ends the loom, she watches the spindle,
    And scorns the laugh and the sneer,
    I know by her lip, and her bright eyes kindle,
    That a free born spirit is there.
    Oh, sing me the song of the Factory Girl!
    Whose fabric doth clothe the world,
    From the king and his peers to the jolly tars
    With our flag o'er all seas unfurled.
    From the California's seas, to the tainted breeze
    Which sweeps the smokened rooms,
    Where "God save the Queen" to cry are seen
    The slaves of the British looms.


Poems and stories like "Song of the Factory Girls" celebrated the female worker for her independence, freedom, and wage earning ability. Phrases like "her bright eyes kindle" and "her bosom is ever gay" gave the impression that all factory girls were happy, and those workers who were not gleeful and happy to be there did not exist. But, the modern reader should remember that even though this piece depicts an enchanted girl, social dialect of the period held the underlying message that the factory worker (especially the female) was only temporary. The girl was always expected to eventually marry and stay home with her family to provide useful and needed labor within the home.

Female strikers continued to demand better pay, and as the factory system grew the life of the factory worker became more permanent. Technology increased production, the population grew, and men and women working in factories began to stay after marriage—and some never got married. Their labor became an intrinsic part of society's needs, and gradually their needs developed into unions and legislation restricting working hours, prohibiting children from working, and increasing pay.



Kessler-Harris, Alice. Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Kasserman, David Richard. Fall River Outrage: Life, Murder, and Justice in Early Industrial New England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986.

Web sites

American Antiquarian Society. "A Woman's Work is Never Done." 〈〉 (accessed April 10, 2006).

Lavender, Katherine. Department of History. College of Staten Island of The City University of New York. "Lowell Mill Girls and the Rhetoric of Women's Labor Unrest." 〈〉 (accessed April 12, 2006).