Food and Wages

Alice and Antoinette Deon with their little sister, 1911.

U. S. Commissioner of Labor Charles P. Neil found that for the week ending November 25, 1911, 22,000 textile employees—including foremen, supervisors, and office workers—averaged about $8.76 for a full week’s work in Lawrence. Not everyone worked a full week.

The MA Labor Commission found that “the lowest total for human living conditions for an individual…was $8.28 a week.” A third of Lawrence families earned less than $7.00.

“It is obvious,” the Massachusetts State Bureau of Labor Statistics concluded in 1911, “that the full-time earnings of a large number of adult employees are entirely inadequate for a family.”

Families often survived on bread, molasses, and beans. One worker testified during the March 1912 Congressional investigation of the strike that, “When we eat meat it seems like a holiday, especially for the children.”

The website makes it possible to get an idea what wage and profit numbers mean. In 1910 the Pacific Mills generated $10M in sales. Adjusted for inflation, and as a measure of current purchasing power, this translates into $237M in sales for one mill complex in 2012. The average hourly wage for a male mill worker over age 18 was $0.18, equal to $4.26 an hour in 2012.The average hourly wage for a woman over age 18 was $0.14, equal to $3.31 an hour in 2012.