!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Working People of Holyoke III: The Decline of New England's Mills

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Working People of Holyoke III: The Decline of New England's Mills

Stagnant wages in Holyoke mills, enforced by the availability of low-wage workers in the southern states, contributed to pervasive disenchantment with mill work among young people in New England after World War II. William Hartford describes the situation in Working People of Holyoke: Class and Ethnicity in a Massachusetts Mill Town, 1850-1960:

The crucial decade was the 1930s. As Marc Miller has written of Lowell [MA] during the depression, "a natural partner to high unemployment was exemplary school attendance." ... As late as 1950 in Holyoke, median school years completed was still only 9.9. But this was an increase of nearly a full school year since 1940, and there was every indication that this and related measures would continue to rise in the future.

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... A number of parents simply stated that they wanted their children to be happy, to be able to do what they wished. However vaguely phrased, these statements tell us much about the meaning of social mobility in working-class America. What these parents most wanted for their children was that they have choices, choices that they as children did not have; and in the end, what their children chose to do was less important than that they be able to choose at all. As Madeleine Biehler [a Holyoke resident of French-Canadian extraction] said of her mother, "It was always do what I didn't do"

When the next generation began making these choices, textile employment ranked low on its list of career alternatives. ... This was the case not only in Holyoke, but throughout much of New England as well. From Adams, Massachusetts, Wauregan, Connecticut, West Warwick, Rhode Island, and Biddeford, Maine, came similar reports after World War II, all stating that young people were consciously avoiding textile work. The reasons for their decisions were perhaps best summarized in a 1950 study of the state textile industry by the Massachusetts House of Representatives:
It was represented to the Commission that because of beliefs such as that mill work entailed lack of opportunity, unpleasant surroundings, absence of progressive personnel and industrial relations policies, relatively low wages, and the uncertainty of regular employment, a stigma is attached to employment in the industry in the Northern States. These beliefs repel younger persons and children of textile workers, the normal replacement, and results in their turning to other forms of employment.
Holyoke TWUA [Textile Workers' Union of America] official Anna Sullivan put it more bluntly: textiles was "at the bottom of the heap."
[pp. 202-203]


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