By the late 1840s an increasing number of mill workers were immigrants, including many Irish women who came to the United States after the potato famine of 1845-46 in their homeland.
Desperate for money, these women were willing to work for very low wages, and the mill owners took advantage of this.
More than 40,000 teenage girls and young women worked in cotton mills by the end of the 1830s.
Famed American artist Winslow Homer depicted quitting time in a 19th-century New England mill town in this drawing. Workers included children and the elderly, but most were young women.