Factory Lass (The)

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FACTORY LASS, THE. Irish, Reel. D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB'. The quote below appears in George Roberts Sims's book Living London: Its Work and Play, Its Humor and Its Pathos, Its Sights and Its Scenes (1903), containing illustrated essays about various aspects of life in London at the turn of the century. One chapter, "Scenes from Factory London" by C. Duncan Lucas, gives this improbably whitewashed view of factory labor.

She is a fine-looking girl. Quietly dressed and with an air of responsibility about her, she is a young mother. Her husband is employed at the soap works hard by, and though some one has to tend the babies during the day she is happy - happy because there are two incomes to maintain the bairns in plenty. Her daily output is 2,500,000 match stems. Watch her. She has a cutting machine all to herself, and as the strands of wax flow into the frame she presses her thumbs at a certain spot, and behold a hundred stems are cut. Her thumbs never weary. The stems ready, up they go to the roof to be dipped. A man stands at a slab on which is spread the composition - a thick paste. He takes a frame and presses it on to the slab, and in ten seconds you have 10,000 finished matches. If any one should suffer from the deadly "phossy jaw" this man should, for he has been dipping matches for a quarter of a century, but he breathes the air of Heaven - the kindly proprietors, who do not look upon their employees merely as so many machines, lay stress on this - and as a further precaution fans are kept going throughout the day to drive away the fumes. No one is idle here. Big strapping girls are making wooden boxes at the rate of 120 gross a day: others are filling the boxes with matches at a speed that beggars description; while over the way men are cutting timber for wooden "lights" with knives as sharp as razors.

O'Neill (1922) remarks: "'The Factory Lass' was first heard by the editor at Gaelic Park, Chicago, on July 4th, '22. It was cleverly rendered in concert by Mr. Mullaney, Miss Geary, and Mr. McGrath, on the Irish or Union Pipes, Violin, and Flute, respectively. The similarity of strain, especially in the the first part, to that of the 'Home Made Reel (The)' which follows may be noticed."

Source for notated version: Miss Theresa Geary (Chicago) [O'Neill]. O'Neill said (in Irish Minstrels and Musicians, 1913) that Theresa was "a charming violinist and pupil of the Chicago Musical College." L.E. McCullough (in liner notes to Rounder Record's "Irish Tradition Music in Chicago", 1978) said that Geary was one of the "musical stalwarts (in the Chicago Irish trad. scene) of the 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s."

Printed sources: O'Neill (Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody), 1922; No. 232.

Recorded sources:




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