Social History for Every Classroom


Social History for Every Classroom

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Active Viewing: Daughters of Free Men

In this activity, students watch short clips of the ASHP documentary Daughters of Free Men to learn about the experiences of Lowell mill girls in the 1830s. Students follow the life of Lucy, a young girl working in Lowell in 1836. After each clip, students reflect on what they have just learned and predict what Lucy will do next.


  • Students will be able to describe the benefits and drawbacks of mill work for young women in the 1830s.

  • Students will be able to analyze the reasons why some mill workers decided to go on strike in 1836. 


Step 1: Tell students that they are going to watch a film about Lucy, a young woman who lived in New England in the 1830s. As they watch the film, they will make predictions about what Lucy will decide to do next. 

Pass out the Active Viewing worksheets for Daughters of Free Men. Read aloud the description at the top. Play Clip 1 (1:35-4:02) and ask students to read the choices and mark what they think Lucy will do next. Then students should write predictions for what they think the consequences of Lucy's decision will be. 

Step 2: Play Clip 2 (4:10-4:50) to see Lucy's decision. Have students complete the next question on their worksheets: Would this decision process have been different if Lucy had brothers who wanted to work?

Step 3: Play Clip 3 (13:45-16:02). As they watch, students should complete the chart about the differences between the hours and types of work on farms and in factories. After the clip, students should make a prediction about what Lucy will do--return to the farm, stay in Lowell, or move to another city.

Step 4: Play Clip 4 (16:45-17:35). After viewing, students should make predictions about what Lucy will do about the Lucinda Perry's rule-breaking. Then Play Clip 5 (17:35-18:20) and ask students to predict the consequences of Lucy's choice.

Step 5: Play Clip 6 (18:34-22:24). Ask students to decide what they think Lucy SHOULD do, based on the circumstances in Lowell described in the film. Then ask students to predict what they think Lucy WILL do. 

Step 6: Play the final clip (22:24-26:03). After completing the film, discuss with students the conditions that led to the strike and their reflections on Lucy's final decision. 

Activity Extension

Pass out copies of the Daughters of Free Men Viewer's Guide and read some or all out loud. Alternatively, divide students into groups and have each group read one section of the Viewer's Guide and share out with the class.

Historical Context

When the first American factories were built in places such as Lowell, Massachusetts, many of the workers were young women. Daughters of Free Men is about the women who worked in America’s first factories—where they came from, their lives and labor in the mill towns, and how they struggled to maintain their independence in a new world of opportunity and exploitation. Lucy Hall is a composite character based on the writing of several Lowell mill workers.

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2011.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Active Viewing: Daughters of Free Men,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 30, 2023,

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