‘This is Your City, Lowell’ (1958)

In 1958, the League of Women Voters published a pamphlet with results of a survey about Lowell, which was intended to provide “general background on which citizens can base informed opinions and take intelligent action on local governmental issues.” The pamphlet was produced with financial assistance from the First Federal Savings and Loan Association and with additional help from Pollard’s of Lowell. The 56-page publication is filled with brief descriptions of the city’s history and aspects of civic life, along with some helpful timelines and financial statistics.

Here are the reported results of voting in the four elections prior to the pamphlet being published. The four categories are Type of Election (state,  national, or local), Lowell’s Adult Population total, Registered Voters total,  Number Who Voted. Lowell’s total population in 1955, the closest benchmark for this survey, was 93,876.

1954: STATE; 62,067; 51,642; 41,604

1955: LOCAL; 62,813; 50,153; 37,143

1956: STATE/NATIONAL; 61,447; 52,309; 47,777

1957: LOCAL: 60,238; 50,372; 35,040

The 1944 election figures show 67,260 Total Adult Population and 51,905 Registered Voters, which is interesting because the adult population in 1957 had dropped by some 7,000 people (part of the decline from the peak general population of 112,000 in 1920 to 92,000 in 1960, before it began to grow again), but the number of registered voters stays about the same from 1944 to 1957.

Here’s a fact that may be of special interest to the Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust: Between 1955 and 1957, the city tree population was ravaged by Dutch Elm Disease, which spread throughout New England. The Lowell City Council approved “emergency” spending of $100,000 to hire a private tree service to remove 1,050 elm trees from the streets around the city.

Interesting to note is that the short paragraph about “Cultural Growth” mentions the 19th-century mills girls and the Lowell Offering magazine, poet Lucy Larcom, the founding of the nation’s first c0-educational high school in 1831, the time spent in the city by poets John Greenleaf Whittier and Edgar Allan Poe, the birth of James McNeill Whistler in the Worthen Street house that became the home of the Lowell Art Association, and the “eminent painter” David Neal, another native of the city. That’s it. In 1958. No mention of highlights of 20th-century culture in the city. No movies, vaudeville, choral groups, theater, authors, parish festivities, nightclubs, carnivals and parades, automobile races, ballrooms for dancing and music. None of that.

Economic development strategy? In 1951, with state approval, the City created an 11-member Industrial Commission with a full-time executive director. The Commission in turn established the New Industrial Plants Foundation of Lowell, Inc., (NIP) whose president “persuaded 24 businessmen to put up the sum of $5,000 each” to fund a 110-acre industrial park upon which three one-story buildings had already been built and sold by 1958. The NIP featured “a revolving fund to finance the new plants, and a local bank provided the first mortgage money consisting of 60 % of the cost of each new building.”  Further, the report states: “A recent bill passed by the state House of Representatives enabled the city’s banks to participate jointly in a the financing. Eventually, after payments of all indebtedness, any profits will go to the three largest local hospitals and to the United Fund.”