Friday, June 17, 2011

The Mill Girls of Manchester

 Mill girls weaving

Old newspapers give you a wonderful view of life in another time, and they give it as it rolls along, without the wisdom of a historian, as a snapshot in words that reporters capture at the moment. Sometimes you’ll catch fleeting reference to an event that later turns out to be the first appearance of a glittering gem of history.
More often you’ll observe details that give you a colorful picture of life in those times, at that place.

In my travels I’m always glad to scoop up newspapers from the nineteenth century.  Not long ago I found a bunch of papers called The Gleaner, from the tiny little textile mill town of Manchester, New Hampshire.
Manchester was a town of just a few hundred when the mills started to go up along the Merrimac River, but it grew rapidly into one of the main textile manufacturing cities in the United States. 
The mills hired young women to operate the thousands of spindles in the mills, and the first came from American families, mostly in New England.  Many farmers in the 1830s could barely feed their large families. The boys helped with the crops, but the girls just helped churn the butter, wash the clothes, spin and knit, and help with cleaning—all things the mother in the home was expected to do, and families often looked upon the girls as just more mouths to feed.  When farmers heard that the mills were hiring young women they were eager to ship their second or third daughters off to work there. 
The boarding houses where the mill girls worked were often run by women who were strict disciplinarians, and demanded that the girls keep their rooms and their persons spotless.  They worked terribly long hours, and had only Sunday to read, write letters home, mend their clothes, and find a bit of enjoyment.  Sunday was of course the day they were expected to attend church. 
Most of the girls in the early years at the mill were very clean cut, God-fearing, and of average intelligence.  They attended evening talks, eagerly read books, and were dedicated to self-improvement.  Pay for those girls was something like $1 a week, and most of that was taken up with room and board.
Of course, there were exceptions, and sometimes there were unscrupulous males and females operating the boarding houses, and there are tales of older men seducing the fresh-faced young girls.  There were also stories of young swains luring girls astray, and in cases where a girl got pregnant out of wedlock, fear of social and family rejection  might lead her to commit suicide.
Those Yankee women in that early mill force constituted the last WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) majority in the labor force in America.  By 1860 they had been replaced by young immigrant girls from Canada, Ireland, and later, other parts of Europe, who would all work for even less than the American girls.

The Gleaner captured the flavor of those early years in Manchester. In the July 26, 1845 issue, the Editor relates a story from the Boston Satirist, of a young man from Boston who comes to Manchester and hires a horse and chaise, and after concluding that bargain, asked that he might obtain a feminine partner to accompany him on a pleasant moonlight ride.  An Irish girl was provided...she asked the young lover for her pay up front, but he said the pay would come when they arrived at the happy spot. There was kissing and hugging.  As they rode, she dropped her handkerchief, the young lover stopped to pick it up, and the girl took off with the horse and chaise.  The girl… turned out to be a crafty New Hampshire boy.

In the April 26, 1845 issue The Gleaner turns to the Massachusetts mill town of Lowell, with a poem, "Lowell Song" by J.B. Hall. It’s a tale of a nice young girl who comes to work in Lowell, but James Cook, man of high renown, comes into her room at night and seduces her.  She goes home to Vermont, disgraced, and tells her lover, who accepts the child.  They wed, and ten years later, visit Mr. Cook and extract a payment for the child's education. 
In the May 3, 1845 issue we read of "Dizer Jr.'s First Sermon,"  a piece of humor written in "Negro" dialect: "Moses was de meakest man, Sampson was de trongest, 'Thuselah was de oldest man, Bekase he liv'd de longest. Nebu-chad-mud-sneezerr, Drib out among de cattle, Libed on grass and grabil, 'Til his teeth begun to rattle."   
In the July 5, 1845 issue, there is a letter from Nashville, NH (a town created from the northwestern part of Nashua, which existed from 1842 to 1853) asking how they get along over at the Chesnut St. Theatre. "If the lewd young men don't go over there to catch the wanton lasses? Guess there is some Onderdonking going on among the perfectionist. The use of ‘Onderdonking’ must have been very humorous, but appears that it represents the temperature at which conducting wires melt.  I wish I knew what it really meant!
 The Glorious Fourth (July 4, 1845) will be celebrated in Manchester by different classes in various ways.  Grand National Temperance Meeting!!!!!!! Important and alarming to rumies! Tongue-in-cheek "news" notes meeting July 3 to make arrangements for celebration of the Fourth. "No person will be allowed to speak or take part in the meeting , who has not been either a miserable drunkard or has become wealthy  by the traffic in damnation." Gleaner publishes its regular list of those purchasing spirits, rum, gin, brandy and wine at Tilton's Rum Hole. Letter to Editor points out that a certain Doctor C. is engaged in mesmerizing certain girls whose characters are under suspicion. He "spends too much time... in their employ...and also the effects of the nervo vital fluid that must.. pass from the doctor in quieting the nerves of his femenine (sic) subjects
In the July 12, 1845 issue, two whole columns of the second page are devoted to Notice of Grand National Celebration: “Lickspittles and Nimcompoops of Manchester to the Rescue”, July 4, 1845. This piece includes a crude illustration of man chasing an animal.  Announces order of celebration.  First, the filling of 107 pint bottles...  Then comes "Col. Soft Soap, mounted upon a Blacking Bottle; then Liquor Agents and Boobys. Surviving members of the Drunkards Funeral Society; then Selectmen…  That Lawyer.. Libertiners and Strumpets... Dr. Vomit.. Eleven boys, without breeches or manners.  ... Tory Moore with six british Lickspittles...Millerites, Priests, Horse Stealers, Liars, Thieves, Pickpockets...etc." 

And the advertisements:

Ad: "Despair Not! You are not incurable! Relief is at hand, at Dr. Morrill's Office at the American House, Manchester Street. Treatment for the following complaints: Coughs, Diarrhea, Gravel, Rheumatism, Female Debility, Glandular Affections, Effects of Mercury, Scrufula, Cholera Morbus, more." 
Ad for Mail Stage over the Mammoth Road, leaves Manchester House, passing through Londonderry, Windham to Lowell, arriving in season for the 2 o'clock train of cars for Boston. Fare 75 cts. 
Ad for Improvements in dental surgery by Dr. Blaisdell, Surgeon Dentist. Price for filling single cavity with tin foil, 25¢ to 50¢. With gold, 50¢ to $1.00.
Ad for The Swell Seraphim: "Persons in want of a sweet toned parlor instrument will do well to call on M.O. Nichols who continues to manufacture and improve the same.”
Ad for Benjamin Kimball of Haverhill who offers for sale 50 barrels (bbls)  of Newburyport Rum, 1 pipe each of French, American brandy, Holland and American gin, 250 bbls of molasses sugar, 20 bbls of good salt pork, 3 Hogsheads (hhds) of good first rate molasses and a variety of other articles usually found in a West India Goods store.

And now….here are some items I’m offering…

National Intelligencer, Washington City, Saturday, March 5, 1814 by Jackson, John G.  Washington, DC: Gales and Seaton. Much of this small newspaper is devoted to the speech of Congressman John G. Jackson (1777-1825) of western Virginia in a lengthy debate on a Loan Bill for the War with Great Britain. Jackson covers the universe in his lengthy speech in support of the justness of the War of 1812, the justness of continuing it, and the mode of waging it.  This war had pitted the northern states (who opposed it) against the southern states, who favored it.  Jackson had married Dolley Madison's sister, Mary, in 1800, but she died in 1808. The President's wife remained close to Jackson after Mary's death. Northerners called this war "Mr. Madison's War".   In two pages of this speech, which concludes in another issue, Cong. Jackson reminds a modern reader of the  debate about the War in Iraq. Also, Story on the Proposal for National Bank.  4 pp. 32 x 50 cm. Newspaper, edges frayed, brittle, poor. (7431) $35.00. Newspapers/History

 Boston Courier  Semi-Weekly, Thursday, March 5, 1829 Buckingham, J.T. 1829 Boston, MA: J.T. Buckingham, Editor and Proprietor. This is a lively Boston paper from the time when Andrew Jackson was President.  "Domestic Slave Trade"  story from National Gazette tells about steamer on which writer was embarked encountering steamboat Tesch completely aflame. In aftermath several slaves were killed; two years later (1827)  in Frankfort, KY trial takes place initiated by slave trader-- much disapproval of slave trade-- then fire breaks out in courthouse. Slaves as "property". Announcement of new administration in Washington: Van Buren as Secretary of State, Ingham of PA to be Secretary of the Treasury, McLean of OH to be Postmaster General, Eaton of TN to be Secretary of War, Branch of NC to be Secretary of the Navy. Long editorial discusses new cabinet.  4 pp. 39 x 53 cm. Newspaper, worn, fair. Name "G. Wilkinson" written at top of front page. (8076) $30.00. Newspapers/History

President Andrew Jackson

Boston Courier  Semi-Weekly, Thursday, April 30, 1829 Buckingham, J.T. 1829 Boston, MA: J.T. Buckingham, Editor and Proprietor. This is a lively Boston paper from the time when Andrew Jackson was President.  "An Apology for the United States" editor comments on article from the Edinburgh Review: "we do not recollect that we ever read an article… more insulting in its tone toward the people of the United States."  Editorial critical of Gen. Jackson and his cabinet, commenting on difference between him and Pres. Jefferson. Jackson, editor writes, appointed cabinet members strictly on political basis. A line of steam-boats is established to run the next summer between Boston and Portland. "Office Hunting" critical of men turned out of office and those begging for offices as new administration begins.  4 pp. 39 x 53 cm. Newspaper, worn, fair. Name "G. Wilkinson" written at top of front page. (8077) $30.00. Newspapers/History

Boston Courier  Semi-Weekly, Thursday, May 7, 1829 Buckingham, J.T. 1829 Boston, MA: J.T. Buckingham, Editor and Proprietor. This is a lively Boston paper from the time when John Quincy Adams was President. News from Kentucky about Henry Clay, who would later run for President. Gen. Houston has resigned as governor of Tennessee with remarkable resignation letter.  "Decree of Bolivar" reports new trade and commerce rules by Simon Bolivar for Gran Colombia (Venezuela). Tongue-in-cheek report on May Day in New York. Story of intemperance and murder in Maine. Letter from a Boston Merchant who writes about his trip out of Leghorn, Italy en route Florence. Humorous commentary on the militia in Massachusetts. 4 pp. 39 x 53 cm. Newspaper, worn, some foxing, fair. (8068) $29.00. Newspapers/History   

Boston Courier  Semi-Weekly, Thursday, August 6, 1829 Buckingham, J.T. 1829 Boston, MA: J.T. Buckingham, Editor and Proprietor. This is a lively Boston paper from the time when John Quincy Adams was President. Letter to Editor critical of recent editorial about lectures of Miss Wright, takes Courier to task. Signed "Fair Play". Following this, editor notes that he will not comment on the letter, but then he does. Nearly two columns on front page discussing role of women and performance of Miss Wright. Text of speech by celebrated Irish orator O'Connell at Kilrush on June 15. Critical of the British, praises the men of Clare. Chiding commentary on failure of New York newspaper publishers to send their papers north on time. Paper reprints report from Fourth of July celebration in South Carolina which is critical of Kentucky and "The American System" (This was a proposal by Henry Clay and the Whigs) as opposed to States Rights, a favorite in South Carolina.  Speeches also criticize President Adams. 4 pp. 39 x 53 cm. Newspaper, worn, fair. (8069) $30.00. Newspapers/History    

Boston Courier  Semi-Weekly, Thursday, August 13, 1829 Buckingham, J.T. 1829 Boston, MA   : J.T. Buckingham, Editor and Proprietor. This is a lively Boston paper from the time when Andrew Jackson was President.  "Letters from a Boston Merchant"  recalls that in last chapter he said that Japan was "Paradise of Dogs"--- rambling discussion about hunting for dogs and dog-hospitals.   Refuge for Destitute Mosquitoes.. relates tale of a man on the Dorchester flats where the mosquitoes are as large and as hungry as in Turkey, and of man who bet he could strip bare and lie naked for five minutes with mosquitoes.  Japanese have taste for fine gardens. "Extinction of Egypt" dissertation on course of the Niger, speculation on physical extinction of Egypt.  Commentary on Boston Newspapers reports opinions of Mr. Ruffleshirt, Mr. Neverchange, Mr. Firebrand, Mr. Scrupulous and Mr. Sugarplum.  Adv. with illustration of Patent Sponge Boots for Horses' Feet.  See James Boyd, 27 Merchants' Row. 4 pp. 39 x 53 cm. Newspaper, worn, fair. Name "G. Wilkinson" written at top of front page. (8078) $30.00. Newspapers/History

Dan’l Webster for President

Essex Register, Salem, (Mass.) Thursday Morning, September 15, 1836 Salem, MA: Palfray & Chapman. Notice of Whig Nominations in Massachusetts:  For President, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts; for Vice President, Francis Granger, of New York; For Governor, Edward Everett; for Lt. Governor, George Hull.  Commentary from the Amherst Cabinet about recent decision of Chief Justice Hornblower of New Jersey that a person should not be considered presumptive evidence of slavery simply by color. Anecdote about how Henry Clay took a bottle of Ohio wine to President Madison, which turned out to be blended with Kentucky whisky. Snide remarks about Candidate Van Buren from the Washington Sun. "Character of Kosciusko" Text of speech delivered in the Senate by Gen. Wm. H. Harrison, on hearing of the death of Kosciusko, the martyr of Liberty, in Soleure, France in October, 1817. George Bancroft, "the white kid glove and silk stocking democrat" has been nominated as a candidate for Congress by the Van Burenites of Hampden district, MA. When the railroad from New Brunswick harbor, in Georgia is completed, New Orleans and Boston will be brought within seven days of each other. Lines of steamboats will be established to Havana, Vera Cruz and the Isthmus of Darien, 15 days from Boston, and 27 from Europe will place the traveler on the shores of the Pacific! 4 pp. 41 x 58 cm. Newspaper, lightly soiled, some fraying at edges of pages, good. (7486) $30.00. Newspapers

Witness, May, 1868, vol. 4 No. 7 Inglis, James, Editor  New York, NY: James Inglis & Co. 8 pp. 29 x 40 cm. Utter Ruin and Complete Salvation:  defective views of our natural condtion are always found with low views of the person and work of Christ. How can I be assured of Salvation? The Law magnified and Grace Vindicated. Newspaper, slightly browned, edges chipped, good. (5033) $10.00. Religious


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