Homage to Women by Mico Kaufman stands in a small shaded park on Market St. in Lowell, MA. The statue is part of the Lowell National Historical Park, which celebrates the textile industry that was founded in the mills along the Merrimack River.
It should surprise no one that women played an important role in the industrialization of the United States. Homage to Women celebrates their role in the textile mills that were built along the Merrimack River in Lowell. Kaufman had this to say about his sculpture:
“Although this sculpture was inspired by the ‘mill girls’ of the Industrial Revolution, it easily identifies with the struggles and aspirations of working women everywhere. The figures represent women of different races and celebrate the contributions made by women throughout time.
“Women all over the world have one trait in common: they work, they work hard, and their work is unheralded.”
Lowell is the home of the National Park Service Museum housed in the former Boott Mill. The museum has weaving machines on the first floor and displays on the second. Near the museum is the workers’ dormitory which shows how the workers lived.
Work in the mills was hard and the hours were long. An eleven hour work day was the norm (60 hours per week). Look at this time schedule: Breakfast at 6:15, Commence Work at 6:45, Take an hour for mid-day meal, return to work until 6 pm. That’s nearly 11 hours a day, but on Saturday quitting time is 4:30 pm and no work on Sunday. With all that, the weekly total is 60 hours of work (miss time and your pay is docked).
The long hours, the constant ringing of the work bells and the noise was too much for some. One worker left the following anonymous note when she left:
“I am going home where I shall not be obliged to rise so early in the morning, nor be dragged about by the factory bell, nor confined in a close noisy room from morning to night. I shall not stay here. … Up before day, at the clang of a bell and out of the mill by the clang of the bell—into the mill and at work in obedience to that ding-dong of a bell—just as though we were so many machines.”
–The Belles of New England, an anonymous mill worker.
Poet Robert Frost worked the mills for a while, but found that he had another calling. He writes the following:
The factory was very fine;
He wished it all the modern speed.
If there should ever come a day
When industry seemed like to die
Because he left it in the lurch,
Or even merely seemed to pine
For want of his approval, why,
Come get him—they knew where to search.
–Robert Frost, A Lone Striker
Didn’t sound like Frost would be going back to the mill any time soon.
Frost, later in the same poem, seems in awe of his fellow workers, the girls of the second floor who run the wool spinning machines:
And if one broke by any chance,
The spinner saw it at a glance.
The spinner still was there to spin.
That’s where the human still came in.
Her deft hand showed with finger rings
Among the harplike spread of strings.
She caught the pieces end to end
And, with a touch that never missed,
Not so much tied as made them blend.
–Robert Frost, A Lone Striker, The Belles of New England, p.20
You can listen to a New Englander read A Lone Striker on the web site: Robert Frost Out Loud. The narrator is Eric Copenhaver, who says:
“This site is a labor of love that collects those Frost poems that are somehow significant to me and passes them on for others to enjoy. Most tell a story of life on a New England farm long ago using simple words and accessible imagery. Perhaps others will be inspired to learn a poem to carry with them for lifelong enjoyment. These greatest hits serve as my tribute to Robert Frost and to my native New England heritage (thanks, Mom—a real Vermonter). Enjoy.
Ok. There’s my tribute to Working Women, Moms and Independent Book Stores (where you can always buy Robert Frost’s poetry and The Belles of New England) on this International Women’s Day.
Week 10-2012: The Belles of New England: The Women of the Textile Mills and the Families Whose Wealth They Wove, William Moran (2002).
P.S. In my inbox on this March 8 was this email from my local independent bookstore (Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, CA):
International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world on March 8 to mark the economic, political, and social achievements of women. Observation of International Women’s Day was spearheaded by the socialist movement in the early 1900s and has expanded over the years to become a day that both honors women and provokes thought about and discussion of women’s rights. There are a number of international events being held in recognition of IWD, and you can find more information on the IWD website.
Today is a reminder to think about the women who inspire us and change our lives. Whether you’re a woman or not, it’s also a day when we can think about the issues that women face both here and abroad, to recognize the advances we’ve made in gender equality, and to have conversations about what needs to happen to ensure women’s rights in the future.
It’s also an excellent occasion to tell some of those great women in your life how much they mean to you!
Kepler’s Web Team
Good Idea! Kepler’s has been serving book lovers for 50 years now and they are still hanging in. Go! Kepler’s!