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Talk Show on the Lowell Strike of 1834 or 1836

by John P. Spencer, American Social History Project

In this activity, students work in small groups to read primary documents that reflect a variety of viewpoints on the 1834 and 1836 labor strikes by young female factory workers in Lowell, Massachusetts. They then plan and act out a five to seven minute “talk show” airing the issues raised by their reading of the historical sources. Designed for high school students, this activity can be supplemented by (but does not require) students viewing the 30-minute American Social History Project documentary Daughters of Free Men.

Talk Show on the Lowell Strike of 1834 or 1836

Goal: To understand the perspectives of various participants in the Lowell textile mill strikes of 1834 and 1836.

Themes: Early industrialization and the struggles it created over work routines, gender roles and the meaning of independence.

Skills: document analysis; group work; dramatic presentation.


  • The Viewer’s Guide (http://www.ashp.cuny.edu/video/d-guide.html) to and, if possible, the video “Daughters of Free Men”
  • Additional primary documents on ASHP’s History Matters Web site (http://historymatters.gmu.edu) and CUNY historian Catherine Lavender’s Web Site 'Liberty Rhetoric' and Nineteenth-Century Women (http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/americanstudies/lavender/liberty.html)

Using the “Daughters of Free Men” materials and other documents, your group of five will plan and act out a 5–7 MINUTE talk show featuring participants in the Lowell strike of 1834 or 1836. Each group member will play a role in the show.
NOTE: Teacher may want to modify time limits for each step.

Step 1: Choosing a Document

Each group member should choose ONE of the following documents to read and/or analyze (a different one for each person).

Poem that Concluded Lowell Women Workers' 1834 Petition to the Manufacturers

The Boston Transcript Reports on the Strike, 1834

Time Table of the Lowell Mills

The Lowell Mill Girls Go on Strike, 1836

Excerpts, script for “Daughters of Free Men”

Step 2: Analyzing your Document (10 mins)

Think about and answer the following questions about your document. If you finish before others in your group, start looking at the other documents.

  • Whose point(s) of view does this document represent? Who do you think the intended audience was?
  • What words or phrases are most important to understanding the meaning of the document? What do they mean? Which ones do you need to look up or research?
  • What people or groups might have had a negative reaction to this document? What would they have said?
  • What do you feel you can you learn from this document?
  • What questions does the document raise in your mind? Can the “Daughters of Free Men” Viewer’s Guide or video help you answer them? Where else could you look for answers?

Step 3: Discussing your document (10 mins)

Discuss your document and the questions with the rest of your group

Step 4: Turning the information into a plan for a talk show (20 mins)

Choose a moderator(s) who will interview the guests and manage your talk show on the Lowell strike of 1834 or 1836. Give that person and your show a name (for example, Ted Koppel/Nightline, Jerry Springer show, Oprah Winfrey show, Larry King Live, or one of your own invention).

As a group, look at the script-writing sheet and use it to plan your show.

Step 5: Acting out the show (5–7 mins each group)

Choose performers for each role and practice the show.

Act out the show for the class

Step 6: Class discussion

What did you and your group learn from this activity?

Compare and contrast the different talk shows the various groups produced. What similar ideas, themes, and conflicts did you notice? What were the most interesting differences between the shows?