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Work Rules—Then (1859) and Now

Over 150 years ago, on March 18, 1859, Martha Constantine was registered to work in the No. 2 Weaving Room of the Salmon Falls Manufacturing Company in Salmon Falls, N.H.  (Salmon Falls Village was part of present-day Rollinsford, N.H., just across the river from South Berwick, Maine.)  The Salmon Falls Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1822 to make woolen cloth; after a fire in 1834, the mill was rebuilt and the company turned to the manufacture of cotton cloth.  The company continued under the Salmon Falls name for over 100 years until 1929, when its name changed to the Tire Fabric Corp., as tire fabric had become the company’s chief product.  The company finally stopped production in 1936.

General Regulations of Salmon Falls Manufacturing Company, Salem Falls, N.H.; 1859; 0033.85.77

When Martha was registered to work, she was probably given a copy of the notice published here: the General Regulations of the company.  The Osborne Library holds a number of the work regulations of various companies, and the language is startling similar in many of them, indicating that these were system wide rules.  These were the rules laid out for employees, starting with the regulations to be followed by the overseers (the supervisors) who were “to be punctually in their rooms at the starting of the mills, and not to be absent unnecessarily during working hours” and who “may grant leave of absence to those employed under them, when there are spare hands in the room to supply their places; otherwise they are not to grant leave of absence, except in cases of absolute necessity.” 

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Today in Textile History: March 14th

Today marks the date of not one, but two significant events in the history of textiles: 

March 14 is a significant date in textile history, as that was the date Eli Whitney received a patent for his cotton gin back in 1794.  The cotton gin greatly simplified the separation of cotton fibers from the cotton seeds, which otherwise would have to be done by hand, a slow and painstaking process.  The cotton fibers, of course, would be processed into cotton goods, while the cotton seeds would be used to seed more cotton plants.  Although Whitney patented his gin, patent infringement lawsuits caused his cotton gin company to go out of business only three years later in 1797. 

Photograph of a meeting held in Lawrence Commons on March 14, 1912 to celebrate the end of the Bread and Roses Strke. Gelatin silver print; 1912; 1993.131.17

March 14 is also the day the Bread & Roses Strike in Lawrence, Mass., ended in 1912. After over two months of striking, picketing, arrests and jail terms, textile workers (primarily immigrant women) had earned some concessions from the mill owners, such as pay increases, overtime pay, and a promise of non-discrimination against the strikers. A mass meeting was held on Lawrence Common in Lawrence on the 14th, shown here in this photo, to celebrate the end of the strike. Men, women, and children came to the common to hear speakers, including William “Big Bill” Haywood, the leader of the I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World). The I.W.W. had already established a presence in Lawrence prior to the strike and quickly took over leadership of the strike.

Whatever gains the strikers achieved from the strike did not stand the test of time and conditions for workers did not permanently improve.

By Jane Ward, Assistant Librarian

“The Jail Is All Full”

By early March 1912, the Bread and Roses Strike in Lawrence, Mass., had been ongoing for nearly two months. Textile workers in Lawrence, Mass., primarily immigrant women, went out on strike on January 12 after mill owners lowered wages due to a shortened workweek.  More than 20,000 workers were out by the end of the first week.  Demonstrations and picketing took place and the governor of Massachusetts eventually called out the state militia to keep the peace, and large numbers of strikers were arrested. 

Postcard Front

Postcard, 1912; 0000.1623.2

The postcard shown here is a common view of the Lawrence Dam; we have about a dozen different views of the dam in the holdings here in the Osborne Library.  However, it is the message on the back of this one that stands out.  Postmarked Feb. 26, 1912, and written by “Tom” in Lawrence to “Rose” in Revere, Mass., it includes the following message: “Rose am having a swell time here this. [sic] a man was shot and 17 women arrested, and 30 men.  the jail is all full.  Yours, Tom” 

Postcard Reverse

Postcard-reverse, 1912; 0000.1623.2

While the strike was extensively reported in newspapers and periodicals of the time throughout 1912, and has been studied in depth since then, it is less common to see a personal comment while the strike was ongoing.  This is the only personal notation concerning the strike we have here in the library. 

The strike was settled on March 14 in favor of the strikers, with pay increases, overtime pay, and a promise of non-discrimination against the strikers.  Due to a number of factors, the gains from the strike dissipated over the next few years and the mill workers ended up no better off than they had been before 1912. 

By Jane Ward, Assistant Librarian