Toward a happier new year
Earlier this month, for my birthday, I received a copy of "The Lowell Offering" (thanks Kathryn, Mort and Seth). As Wikipedia explains The Lowell Offering was a monthly periodical, from 1840-1845 of works of poetry and fiction by the female textile workers (young women [age 15-35] known as the Lowell Mill Girls) of the Lowell, Massachusetts textile mills of the early American industrial revolution.
I've always been interested in the mill girls. The mills provided women with opportunities for more independence and more money than pretty much any other job. But there was a lot of shame involved. My grandmother was a mill girl in Lawrence MA in the early 20th century. She worked there for 13 years, became a "forelady" and only quit when she married my grandfather. She never told me she was a mill girl; indeed knowing of my interest in the mill girls, my mother had to check with her older sister to see it it was ok to tell me, her grown up feminist daughter, that Grandma was a mill girl.
Grandma was a big influence on my feminism. Raising four daughters during the depression- she demanded that they all go on for post secondary education and it was a great disappointment to her that all they could afford was business school, teachers' college or nursing school. While she felt strongly that all of her grandchildren should go to college-- it was the girls she wanted to go to school away from home-- they needed the experience. She married at 29 and thought that was a little young. Well aware of how much women's lives could be constrained by marriage, she wanted her daughters to have lived a life of their own before they married.
Sorry about the tangent, but in many ways it wasn't a tangent. Although Grandma, as 16 year old immigrant from England, went into the mills 60+ years after the original Yankee mill girls, I recognized much of her spirit in the writings in the Lowell Offering, especially as I read the resolutions in "A New Society" from the first volume in 1841. Here's a sample
"1. Resolved, That every father of a family who neglects to give his daughters the same advantages for an education which he gives his sons, shall be expelled from this society, and be considered a heathen."
"3. Resolved, That, as the laborer is worthy of his hire, the price for labor shall be sufficient to enable the working-people to pay a proper attention to scientific and literary pursuits."
"4. Resolved, That the wages of females shall be equal to the wages of males, that they may be enabled to maintain proper independence of character and virtuous deportment."
Alas in the story, it was a dream, and in many ways it is still a dream. My dream is that it becomes a reality in 2009
A happier 2009 to us all