Interdisciplinary Investigations of the Boott Mills Lowell, Massachusetts, Volume III: The Boarding House System as a Way of Life


This is the third and final volume in the series of reports on the Boston University/National Park Service cooperative, interdisciplinary study of the Boott Mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. It presents the results of documentary and archeological research and analysis as well as our interpretations of the evidence; the focus is on boardinghouse keepers and boardinghouse residents. Note that the Appendices, produced on microfiche sheets for the original publication have been printed and are included in this version at the end of the report text.

In this report on the investigations of the Boott Cotton Mills operation in Lowell, the focal point of our efforts is once again the mill operatives and the boardinghouses in which they lived. With the boardinghouses now done and the examination of interior space limited to documentary research, we have endeavored to probe the proxemics of the worker's daily lives by turning our attention to the rear yards. These small but intensively used areas served the needs of mill workers and boardinghouse keepers alike. Here was a truly urban space where work and leisure activities merged to create a material record that is a select yet fitting legacy for a laboring people. Much like the prankster's jar of peanuts that explodes in the hands of the unsuspecting dupe, the boardinghouse yards have contained innumerable surprises. By employing excavation techniques geared for maximum horizontal coverage and an array of interdisciplinary analytical techniques, we hope that few of the surprises have eluded us.

As our research and analysis proceeded, it became increasingly clear that the boardinghouses in Lowell were very much part of a system and must be approached, understood, and interpreted as such. The boardinghouse system, engendered by the policy of corporate paternalism, had a pervasive influence on the lives of all those who lived in corporate housing. It further influenced how boardinghouse keepers ran their houses, local businesses marketed their goods, and politicians developed city ordinances and municipal policy. Ultimately it affected-and accounts for-the nature of the archeological record of sites such as the Boott Mills boardinghouse backlots. The boardinghouse system may represent a pattern for corporate housing, but it is a pattern that differs as dramatically from private boarding as it does from normal-if such a term can ever be used with accuracy-domestic arrangements (Le., nuclear families). The Lowell boardinghouse system fostered a way of life that contrasted starkly with life in rural America, but it was a way of life that became common in industrial cities as the 19th century progressed.

That the Lowell system was effective in meeting managerial goals is evident in the fact that, with minor modifications, it was widely adopted throughout New England (see Clancey, this volume). This "system" was a bounded arena which, despite its seeming rigidity, left openings for workers to operate creatively. Workers found room for individual choice and self-expression where they could, inventing and constructing a working-class culture in contradistinction to middle-class mores and lifestyles. Oftentimes it is from the residues of daily existence--in the artifacts of everyday life and leisure--that we recover evidence of such adaptation and self-expression. Hence there are two themes throughout this volume: the boardinghouse system and its effects, direct or otherwise, on workers' lives; and workers' response to the conditions engendered by the system. Both perspectives are essential to a full comprehension of how the boardinghouse system truly became a way of life.

Cite this Record

Interdisciplinary Investigations of the Boott Mills Lowell, Massachusetts, Volume III: The Boarding House System as a Way of Life. Mary C. Beaudry, Kathleen H. Bond, Gregory K. Clancey, Lauren C. Cook, David H. Dutton, William F. Fisher, Gerald K. Kelso, David B. Landon, Stephen A. Mrozowski, Karl J. Reinhard, Grace H. Ziesing, Mary C. Beaudry, Stephen A. Mrozowski. Cultural Resources Management Studies ,21. Boston, Massachusetts: Division of Cultural Resources, North Atlantic Region, NPS. 1989 ( tDAR id: 366143) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8FQ9VKC

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Temporal Coverage

Calendar Date: 1825 to 1836

Spatial Coverage

min long: -71.321; min lat: 42.628 ; max long: -71.285; max lat: 42.66 ;

Record Identifiers

Cooperative Agreement No.(s): CA1600-5-0004

NADB document id number(s): 551041

NADB citation id number(s): 000000068526

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