• "Shoe shop, Haverhill, Massachusetts, 1920." The more different processes and operation of heavy machinery went to male employees.  Women frequently worked lighter jobs, such as stitching, finishing, dressing, and packing. Courtesy of the Lawrence History Center via Digital Commonwealth.

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    Shoe shop, Haverhill Mass 1920
    • Date
    • 1920
    • Description
    • Title from item. Text on back of item: Gloria Zanni Laudani, her mother worked in this shoe shop. Date from item.
    • Rights
    • The rights to this image may be restricted. Contact the Lawrence History Center for more information. Contact host institution for more information.
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    • Digital Commonwealth
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    • Lawrence History Center

  • "Kimball Shoe Co., Blanchard St., interior view of male + female workers, c. 1906." Courtesy of Lawrence History Center via Digital Commonwealth.

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    Kimball Shoe Co., Blanchard St., interior view of male + female workers, c. 1906, b+w
    • Date
    • 1906
    • Description
    • Title from item. Text on back of item: Woman back/right Ellen McNamara Lamb. Date from item.
    • Rights
    • The rights to this image may be restricted. Contact the Lawrence History Center for more information. Contact host institution for more information.
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    • Digital Commonwealth
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    • Lawrence History Center

  • "Factory Workers at Bridges & Co. Boot shop, Hopkinton 1876." Bridges & Co. Boot Shop employed around 600 workers. Courtesy of Hopkinton Public Library via Digital Commonwealth."

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    Factory Workers at Bridges & Co. Boot shop, Hopkinton 1876
    • Date
    • 1876
    • Description
    • Factory workers lean from windows and pose from outside of D.T. Bridges boot factory on Main Street in Hopkinton MA. ca 1876. Dozens can be seen outside; most wear work aprons, many wear hats. Note women sitting on sill of second floor right hand win... more
      Factory workers lean from windows and pose from outside of D.T. Bridges boot factory on Main Street in Hopkinton MA. ca 1876. Dozens can be seen outside; most wear work aprons, many wear hats. Note women sitting on sill of second floor right hand window, also a worker dangles a boot from third-story window on far left. The building is a five-story clapboard sided structure, directly to the left is the original Town Hall. View is of the southern side. This building was destroyed in a fire of April 1882, the building which replaced this one then burned in 1900. Bridges & Co. employed hundred of workers in the boot manufactory. From the Hopkinton Public Library Treasure Room. less
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    • Please request permission to use image by contacting Hopkinton Public Library in advance at hopkintonlibrary@hopkintonma.gov or 508-497-9777. Contact host institution for more information.
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    • Hopkinton Public Library

  • “Fire 3, Boot Factory Ruins in Hopkinton,” 1883. Bridges & Co. Boot Shop burned down three times in 1876, 1882 and 1900. This image shows fire destruction after the 1882 fire.  Courtesy of Hopkinton Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

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    Fire 3, Boot Factory Ruins in Hopkinton
    • Date
    • 1883
    • Description
    • Fire destruction, possibly of D.T. Bridges and Co. Boot Manufacturers factory building in 1883. Shows remaining brick foundation and chimney, intact houses are in the background. View is from the north side of Main Street, looking north west. Possibl... more
      Fire destruction, possibly of D.T. Bridges and Co. Boot Manufacturers factory building in 1883. Shows remaining brick foundation and chimney, intact houses are in the background. View is from the north side of Main Street, looking north west. Possibly is image of fire destruction in 1876, 1882 or 1900. From the Hopkinton Public Library Treasure Room. less
    • Rights
    • Please request permission to use image by contacting Hopkinton Public Library in advance at hopkintonlibrary@hopkintonma.gov or 508-497-9777. Contact host institution for more information.
    • Partner
    • Digital Commonwealth
    • Contributing Institution
    • Hopkinton Public Library

By 1869, nearly sixty percent of boots and shoes made in the United States came from Massachusetts. In the state’s humming shoemaking industry, jobs were plentiful and desirable, paying workers a living wage. The factories also employed both men and women, though men accounted for about seventy percent of industry laborers. While the mechanization of shoemaking made the burgeoning industry possible, it was cited as creating a “depressing and wearing” state for the machine operators, with the machine creating “little mental or physical activity aside from it.”

Shoe labor unions were established early on in Massachusetts, fighting for labor laws that had yet to take root in other states. In 1913, a law passed that prohibited children under the age of fourteen from working in shoe and boot factories, an early step in child-labor policy. Nevertheless, the labor laws of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries paled in comparison to the safety and protection laws of present day. Factory work remained dangerous, with devastating machinery fires proving a constant hazard and burning many Massachusetts shoemaking factories to the ground. While factory owners installed sprinkler systems and fire hydrants as protective measures, the efforts were more on behalf of their businesses than for the safety of their employees.