The Factory Girl

Original Text: 
John Arthur Phillips, Thompson's Turkey, and Other Christmas Tales, Poems, &c. (Montreal: John Lovell, 1873): 253-55. Victoria College Library Canadiana Collection PR 9199.2 P48 T48 1873
1She wasn't the least bit pretty,
2And only the least bit gay;
3And she walked with a firm elastic tread,
4In a business-like kind of way.
5Her dress was of coarse, brown woollen,
6Plainly but neatly made,
7Trimmed with some common ribbon
8Or cheaper kind of braid;
9And a hat with a broken feather,
10And shawl of a modest plaid.
11Her face seemed worn and weary,
12And traced with lines of care,
13As her nut-brown tresses blew aside
14In the keen December air;
15Yet she was not old, scarce twenty,
16And her form was full and sleek,
17But her heavy eye, and tired step,
18Seemed of wearisome toil to speak;
19She worked as a common factory girl
20For two dollars and a half a week.
21Ten hours a day of labor
22In a close, ill-lighted room;
23Machinery's buzz for music,
24Waste gas for sweet perfume;
25Hot stifling vapors in summer,
26Chill draughts on a winter's day,
27No pause for rest or pleasure
28On pain of being sent away;
29So ran her civilized serfdom --
30Four cents an hour the pay.
31"A fair day's work," say the masters,
32And "a fair day's pay," say the men;
33There's a strike -- a rise in wages,
34What effect to the poor girl then?
35A harder struggle than ever
36The honest path to keep;
37And so sink a little lower,
38Some humbler home to seek;
39For living is dearer -- her wages,
40Two dollars and a half a week.
41A man gets thrice the money,
42But then "a man's a man,
44"To earn as much as he can."
45Of his hire the laborer's worthy,
46Be that laborer who it may;
47If a woman can do a man's work
48She should have a man's full pay,
49Not to be left to starve -- or sin --
50On forty cents a day.
51Two dollars and a half to live on,
52Or starve on, if you will;
53Two dollars and a half to dress on,
54And a hungry mouth to fill;
55Two dollars and a half to lodge on
56In some wretched hole or den,
57Where crowds are huddled together,
58Girls, and women, and men;
59If she sins to escape her bondage
60Is there room for wonder then.


43] woman: "moman" in text. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
Ontario Workman (April 1873)
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1999.