Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Mill Girls at Amoskeag

History Book Club
Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Mill Girls in Amoskeag Mill, Manchester, NH, ca. 1880

The Industrial Revolution in New England

Wednesday, October 25, 2017: The Industrial Revolution in New England.  Development of mills, the textile industry in Lowell, Lawrence, Manchester and elsewhere. Life in the mills, quality of life in the cities. Advent of the steam engine. Railroads. Banking and commerce in the Industrial age. Labor problems and unionization. Iron and steel production. Coal mining. Communications. [Suggested by Sam Coulbourn]

            Amoskeag—Life and Work in an American Factory-City, Pantheon Village Series, by Tamara K. Hareven & Randolph Langenbach, 1978. New York, NY: Pantheon Books. 394 pp. Paper.

            Tamara Hareven, University of Delaware Professor of Family Studies and History, with a joint appointment in urban affairs and public policy, born in 1937 in Chernivtsi, Ukraine, died in Newark, DE in 2002. A social historian, she was one of the foremost leaders in the field of family history.

            In the 1970s, Dr. Hareven began her studies of the families who had worked in the Amoskeag Mills in Manchester, N.H., resulting in “Amoskeag: Life and Work in an American Factory City” (1978), followed by “Family Time and Industrial Time: The Relationship Between the Family and Work in a New England Industrial Community” (1982).

            Focusing on the family’s relationship to the process of industrialization, she interviewed generations of families about their work and family lives and about how events–such as the closing of the mills and World War II–and how personal responsibilities–such as caring for aged parents–affected their lives.

            Randolph Langenbach's educational background is in both Architecture and in Building Conservation. He received a Master's of Architecture from Harvard University, and a Diploma in Conservation Studies from the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies in York, England.

            His professional experience includes working as an independent consultant in Historic Preservation Planning and Design for over 16 years and teaching as an Assistant Professor of Architecture at the University of California. He is currently employed at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) where he works with technical analysis and cost estimation for the rehabilitation of significant historical buildings.

            This is the story of a city that began as a factory.  The Amoskeag company founded the city of Manchester, NH and dominated it over the entire century of its existence, from beginning of construction in 1838 until 1936 when the mills shut down.

            This book is a collection of oral history interviews with the people who worked in Amoskeag mills, from the boss on down to many of the people who came here as youngsters from elsewhere in New England, and then from Ireland, Germany, Greece and Canada.

            We often have a romantic view of life in the old days on the farm, but the people who worked at Amoskeag came from farms. Life was brutal on those farms, with much starvation and deprivation.

            Later, the supply of American women was insufficient, and thousands of young women came from Canada, and then from Ireland and elsewhere in Europe.  They were taking jobs that more established Americans wouldn’t take.       Because of this, these people could take a lot of punishment, and they worked long, hard hours in the mills, under sometimes miserable conditions.

            Contrary to the prevailing popular idea that large factories and the urban environment cause individual lack of moral standards and social fragmentation, most of these people had a highly developed sense of place and formed tightly knit societies around their kin and ethnic associations.

            Amoskeag was an exercise in social engineering that began at the mills in Lowell.  Farmers sent their “excess” daughters down from New Hampshire and Vermont to the mills.  If they didn’t marry, they were another mouth to feed, so onto the train they climbed, and went to the mills to work for one dollar a week.

Mill Girls had a hard life
            The mills were full of these young rural New England women, and the owners treated them as “the corporation’s children”, with dormitory doors locked at 10 p.m., and mandatory church attendance. Alcohol consumption was prohibited.  These clean-cut young New England women were brought up in God-fearing families, they were usually far better educated than the average high school student today, and they made excellent employees.
            I had the privilege of buying a packet of letters written by a young woman working in the mills at Lowell in the mid-1840s, to her parents in northern New Hampshire. Those letters were a rich look into New England life in those days.
            Although they often lived in dormitories supervised by a stern older woman, the letters I read reported the occasional girl who would get snared by an old landlord, or a young dandy, and impregnated.  In their religious culture, that sometimes meant that the girl felt so ashamed that she would take poison and end it all.
            Shortly before the Civil War Irish immigrants began to come in increasing numbers, and whole families would work for what the American girls were paid.  The corporation built boardinghouses for these families, and speculators built more tenements. This marked the end of the so-called “utopian” period.
            You quickly get into the life in the mills, with words like bale breaker, breaker picker, carding, drawing, fine frame, jack frame, creel, warper, slasher, burling, burshing, singing and napping, doffing and dobby loom. 
            Antonia Bergeron was 96 at the time of her interview in 1976. She came to Manchester from Quebec in 1885, at the age of 15, and got married in 1899.  “Misery, you know, was made for people; it’s not for dogs. I had a dog, and he never had any misery. He’d lay down under the stove and he was fine.”
            Amoskeag during the Depression was forced to lay off workers and cut production.  At the same time a labor strike shut down the looms; this was the last straw—the company was forced to close, beginning a long, sad period for Manchester.


                            HISTORY BOOK CLUB TOPICS FOR 2017-18

Wednesday, November 29, 2017: The Decline of Major Powers.  How does it happen, that a nation that has been calling all the shots suddenly finds out that it’s not the Big Cheese any longer? Read about Athens and Sparta, or look at Rome, or the Arab Caliphate, Spain, Great Britain, France, Germany, the Soviet Union. Do we see China coming to take the mace away from the United States of America?  [Suggested by Beverly Verrengia]

No meeting in December

Wednesday, January 31, 2018:  Manifest Destiny: The 19th century period of American expansion that the United States not only could, but was destined to, stretch from coast to coast. Western settlement, Native American removal and war with Mexico. Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark Expedition, Missouri Compromise, Oregon Territory, Indian Wars, Union Pacific Railway, Texas, California… [Suggested by Sam Coulbourn]

Wednesday, February 28, 2018:  Famous Travelers and Adventurers before the 20th Century—their lives and stories. Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Lewis and Clark, Stanley and Livingstone, more. [Suggested by Walt Frederick]

Wednesday, March 28, 2018:  The U.S. Navy in Asia. The Asiatic Squadron. The Yangtze Patrol. Patrolling the Philippine Islands, “China Sailors”, World War II, The Seventh Fleet. [Suggested by Walt Frederick]

Wednesday, April 25, 2018:  A look at the world and times of Jane Austen. Rockport Public Library is celebrating “Austen in April”.  Read about the life of Austen, or focus upon England in the early 1800s, the Royal Navy at that time, the gentle English world Jane lived in. Feel free to read Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, or any of her novels to gather a sense of Jane and her world. [Suggested by Christiann Guibeau]

Wednesday, May 30, 2018:  A History of Public Relations. Managing the news, propaganda, image-building. Hitler’s Joseph Goebbels. Ancient persuasive techniques. How information, false. Tainted or factual, can be used to elect leaders, start wars, and more. [Suggested by Sam Coulbourn]

Wednesday, June 27, 2018: The History of Language. Can you understand the English spoken by Chaucer? [WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote; The droghte  of Marche hath perced to the roote, And bathed every veyne in swich  licour,]  Choose any language and learn how it grew from its ancient roots, how it absorbed other languages, how it spread, and its variations in use in the world today. Did you know that only one in 40 Italians spoke Italian in 1861?  What language is most widely spoken in the world today? How are languages changing in modern times? [Suggested by Sam Coulbourn]

Wednesday, July 25, 2018:  Immigration to America. How did we all get here?  Read about the history of immigration, at any stage – from first settlers to the great immigration waves of the 19th and early 20th centuries; victims of the Irish Potato famine, Jews fleeing persecution in Europe, Europeans suffering poverty in their countries, Africans brought here as slaves, Chinese brought here to build railroads; Fugitives of war everywhere; Mexicans and Central Americans coming to pick crops. Read about immigration policies and national drives to keep out or encourage immigration. [Suggested by Walt Frederick.]

Wednesday, August 29, 2018.  Let’s hear your suggestion for a history topic!

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