Publication Date


Document Type


First Page


Last Page



In 1887 the Maine legislature responded to pressures from the Knights of Labor and an increasingly agitated industrial labor force by instituting the Bureau of Industrial and Labor Statistics. The bureau’s job was to examine the state's workplaces and provide information to guide the legislature in making labor law. Reflecting the ideals of the popular Knights of Labor, the bureau initially focused its investigations on female as well as male workers. When the bureau requested that workers fill out questionnaires about their work, hundreds of women responded, leaving a rare first-hand account of women’s attitudes toward their working and living conditions. With the decline of the Knights between 1888 and 1895, working women’s voices disappear from the records. Although the bureau’s effort did little to ameliorate hard work and low wages, the information they collected provides valuable clues to understanding the women who worked in Maine's late nineteenth-century shops and factories. Carol Toner is Coordinator for the Certificate in Maine Studies Program and Research Associate in History at the University of Maine. She is the author of Persisting Traditions: Artisan Work and Culture in Bangor, Maine, 1820-1860 (New York: Garland Publishing, 1995) and several articles on Maine labor history.