The Lowell Offering, Vol. III (1842)


Home in a boarding-house is always different from home anywhere else; and home in a factory boarding-house, differs materially from home in any other. This difference is perceptible at the first entrance. There is a peculiarity "all its own," in the great domicil, which usually shelters us. One might readily see by its accommodations, or rather its "fixings," (we beg pardon of Dickens) for they are not always acknowledged as accommodations, by the party most directly concerned, that it cannot be exactly a home, but only a place to eat and lodge in, a sort of rendezvous, after the real home, the daily habitation, is abandoned. This is tacitly acknowledged, by the cognomen of the room, which is the only one common to all the boarders. This is the dining-room-or, more properly, the eating-room, for breakfast and supper, as well as dinner, are demolished in its precincts. This is always amply furnished with chairs and tables, though but little of anything else, for, amidst all our deprivations, we have never been deprived of the privilege of sitting at our meals. Chairs, chairs-one, two, three, four, and so on to forty. It is really refreshing, sometimes, to go where there is only now and then a chair. This pleasure we can usually enjoy, by leaving the dining-room for our chambers, where there is not often a surplus of this article of furniture; but then there are always plenty of trunks, boxes, etc., which will answer for seats, and the bed is easily persuaded to stand proxy for a sofa.

But these are all trifles, compared with the perplexities to which we are subjected in other ways; and some of these might be remedied by the girls themselves. We now allude to the importunities of evening visitors, such as pedlers, candy and newspaper boys, shoe-dealers, book-sellers, etc., etc., breaking in upon the only hours of leisure we can call our own, and proffering their articles with a pertinacity which will admit of no denial. That these evening salesmen are always unwelcome, we will not assert, but they are too often inclined to remain where they know they are considered a nuisance. And then they often forget, if they ever knew, the rules of politeness which should regulate all transient visitors. They deal about their hints, inuendoes, and low cunning, as though a factory boarding-house was what no boarding- house should ever be.

The remedy is entirely with the girls. Treat all of these comers with a politeness truly lady-like, when they appear as gentlemen, but let your manners change to stern formality when they forget that they are in the company of respectable females.

Never encourage evening traders, unless you see some very good reason for so doing. The reason usually given is, that they can trade cheaper with these men, than with the storekeepers of Lowell. There is competition enough among the shopkeepers to keep things at a reasonable price, and good articles are seldom purchased cheaper of a pedler. "But," say others, "it is much more convenient for us, if we can be suited at home, to have our things brought us, than to go out for them." Even where this is true, it should be remembered that each buyer is interrupting the occupations of one, two, or three dozen girls.

But it is not wholly by traders that we are imposed upon. Some- times an impudent charlatan, calling himself a practical phrenologist, intrudes upon us with the assurance that he can tell us what we are, even better than we know ourselves. And as far as they have any actual knowledge, or a tolerable Yankee faculty of guessing, they abuse it, to pander to the vanity of those who are ready to believe they are possessed of every virtue and talent under the sun, because the phrenologist tells them so. . . .