Primary Sources by Theme

Women's Work

Uncovering Evidence

Women and Social Movements

Women in Your Community

Primary Sources Online:
Writings and Speeches by Women and Girls
compiled by Paula J. Sincero, © 2003

I compiled this comprehensive listing of primary source materials for use with Writing Women In. You may wish to include additonal primary sources related to Writing Women In's themes (see chart above). Please refer to "Writing Women Into the Curriculum," published in the May/June 2003 issue of Social Education, and to the actual curriculum, for additional primary source materials.

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Session I: Women's Work

Organizing questions: What do we mean by women's work? What do we know about women's work in the past?

Themes: women's work, child labor, labor reform

Primary Sources (Lowell Mill Girls)

Time Table, Factory and Boarding House Rules, Statistics, Pictorial Map, Song

Time Table of the Lowell Mills (source:Baker Library, Harvard University)

Factory Rules from the Handbook to Lowell, 1848, Massachusetts Investigation into Labor Conditions, Factory Life Description, Boarding House Rules from the Handbook to Lowell, 1848 (source: The Illinois Labor History Society)

Statistics of Lowell Manufacturers, January 1, 1835. Compiled from authentic sources.[Lowell 1835} (source: Library of Congress: American Memory)

Pictorial Map of the Merrimack Company, Lowell, Massachusetts, c. 1850. (source: Lowell Historical Society)

Illustrations of the Lowell Mills and Factories (source: A Virtual Museum of Technology and Everyday Life: The United States in the Industrial Age by Steve Meyer)

Tintype of two female weavers (source: Merrimack Valley Textile Museum)

"Song of the Spinners" from the Lowell Offering, 1841. (source: Merrimack Valley Textile Museum)

Writings in the Lowell Offering

Cover of the Lowell Offering

Title page of the Lowell Offering, 1840 (source: Merrimack Valley Textile Museum)

THE SPIRIT OF DISCONTENT. [fiction from the Lowell Offering ca1840.]
Sarah T: Tales of Factory Life, No. 1, Lowell Offering, 1841.

Harriet Farley, one of the editors of the Lowell Offering, wrote a series of fictitious "Letters From Susan" in 1844.

"Letters from Susan," Letter First [fiction], Lowell Offering, 1844
"Letters from Susan," Letter Second [fiction], Lowell Offering, 1844
(source: Associate Professor of English Deidre Johnson's course on Katherine Paterson's Lyddie and Lowell, West Chester University, West Chester, PA)
"Letters from Susan," Letter Fourth [fiction], Lowell Offering, 1844 "Susan" discusses the reasons why women come to work in Lowell. (source: Writing by New England Mill Girls, Benita Eisler, ed., (New York, 1977). Used by permission by Old Sturbridge Village.)

"A Week in the Mill," Lowell Offering, Vol. V (1845): 217-218.
[selection from the Lowell Offering, 1844]
"A Second Peep at Factory Life," Lowell Offering, 1845
(source: Workers and Work in America: 1600 to the Present (Men and Women in the Early Industrial Era): A Multimedia Course. Gerald Zahavi, Department of History, University at Albany)

The Lowell Offering By Harriet H. Robinson New England Magazine 7 (Dec. 1889)

Letters from Mill Girls

A Vermont Girl Goes to Lowell (Letters of Mary Paul from 1845-1848) (source: In An Era of Great Change: A Teaching Packet Exploring Vermont 1820-1850) This site includes the original letters written in Mary Paul's hand.

Letters from Mill Girls (source: "Bennett Family, Letters (1839- 1846)" in New England Mill Village, 1790-1860, Gary Kulik, Roger Parks, Theodore Z. Penn, eds., (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1982). Used by permission and edited by Old Sturbridge Village.)

Sally Rice to Her Parents (source: 'I Can Never Be Happy There Among So Many Mountains'-The Letters of Sally Rice," Nell W. Kull, Vermont History 38 (Winter, 1970) 1: 49-57. Used by permission and edited by Old Sturbridge Village.)

Emeline Larcom's letters to her mother Emeline, sister to Lucy Larcom, also worked in the Lowell Mills. (source: Workers and Work in America: 1600 to the Present (Men and Women in the Early Industrial Era): A Multimedia Course. Gerald Zahavi, Department of History, University at Albany)

Visitor Accounts

The Harbinger, Female Workers of Lowell, November 14, 1836

Political Organizing/Labor Reform
Women operatives organized the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association (LFLRA) in 1844. Headed by Sarah Bagley, the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association (LFLRA) was one of the first American labor organizations organized by and for women. An important part of the campaign was their periodical Voice of Industry. Another publication, Factory Tracts, was part of their effort to expose conditions in the mills and advocate a ten hour day. Male mechanics and other workers in industrial communities joined the Lowell women operatives' campaign.

Sarah Bagley's testimony before the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1845 describing the labor conditions in the mills. Scroll down to "Massachusetts Investigation into Labor Conditions Excerpted from Massachusetts House Document, no. 50, March 1845" to read the report of Bagley's testimony.

1834 Boston Transcript reports on the Strike
Poem that Concluded Lowell Women Workers' 1834 Petition to the Manufacturers
1836 Song Lyrics Sung by Protesting Workers at Lowell
(source: Uses of Liberty Rhetoric Among Lowell Mill Girls. Created for Catherine Lavender's History 286 (American Women's History) web project, The Department of History, The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York)

Harriet Hanson Robinson: The Lowell Mill Girls Go on Strike, 1836 (source: Harriet Hanson Robinson, Loom and Spindle or Life Among the Early Mill Girls (New York, T. Y. Crowell, 1898), 8386. Made available online by History Matters.)

"We Call On You to Deliver Us From the Tyrant's Chain": Lowell Women Workers Campaign for a Ten Hour Workday (source: Factory Tracts. Factory Life As It Is, Number One, [(Lowell, MA, 1845)]. Made available online by History Matters.)

Petition to the Massachusetts Legislature [the Ten Hour Movement] (Made available online by Berwick Academy.)

Recruitment of Female Operatives: An Account from the 1840s, Voice of Industry, January 2, 1846
(source: Workers and Work in America: 1600 to the Present (Men and Women in the Early Industrial Era): A Multimedia Course. Gerald Zahavi, Department of History, University at Albany)

Industrial Reform. [The United States Democratic review. / Volume 23, Issue 126, Dec 1848] (source: Library of Congress: American Memory)

Memoirs (Lucy Larcom and Harriet Robinson)

Excerpt from "Among Mill-Girls: A Reminiscence" by Lucy Larcom, Atlantic Monthly 48, November 1881. (source: The Campaign to End Child Labor, Jim Zwick, ed.)

Harriet Robinson "Loom and Spindle" (1836) (source: The University of Chicago)

Harriet Robinson: Lowell Mill Girls (source: Harriet H. Robinson, "Early Factory Labor in New England," in Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor, Fourteenth Annual Report (Boston: Wright & Potter, 1883), pp. 380-82, 387-88, 391-92. Online at Modern History Sourcebook.)

Lucy Larcom

Poems, by Lucy Larcom (Fields, Osgood, & Company: Boston. 1869.)
An idyl of work by Lucy Larcom (J. R. Osgood & Company, 1875.)
(source: University of Michigan, Making of America (MOA) digital library of primary sources in American social history)

Additional Online Sources:

Reading Habits of the Nineteenth-Century New England Mill Girls (Susan Lank Tolbert)

Lowell Mill Girls and the Rhetoric of Women's Labor Unrest (Professor Catherine Lavender's History 286 (American Women's History) web project, The Department of History, The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York)

Uses of Liberty Rhetoric Among Lowell Mill Girls offers a comprehesive archive of maps, city plans, illustrations and writings by and about the Lowell mill girls. Each primary source document includes a series of focus questions. (Created for Catherine Lavender's History 286 (American Women's History) web project, The Department of History, The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York)

Mill Girls: Lowell Mill Girls During the Industrial Revolution I especially enjoyed this innovative site created by Mary Weingartner's 5th grade Humanities class at Berwick Academy. Students read Lyddie and visited the Tsongas Industrial History Center at the Lowell Mills and were then inspired to create this website. Computer teacher Wendy Harrigton published the students' graphics and writings.

Harriet Robinson: A Mill Girl in the Lowell Mills Andrea Paquette and Jackie Harrington created this website as part of their History of American Technology class.

Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Site: Lyddie

For Further Investigation:

The Working People Exhibit and Boarding House System (PDF)(Lowell National Historical Park)

The Biography of America: The Industrial Revolution (1776-1861) (Annenberg/CPB)

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Sweatshops in America (Smithsonian Institution)

Women at Work 1826-1860 (Thomas Dublin) This study, based on women working in the cotton textile mills of Lowell, explores the transformation of women's work in the first half of the 19th century and female workers' attitudes and responses to these changes.


Session II: Uncovering Evidence

Organizing questions: How can we learn about women of the past? Why might it be more difficult to learn about some women or groups of women than others?

Themes: locating and using primary and secondary sources

Diaries, letters, cookbooks, and other papers are becoming increasingly available through local libraries and university archives. Web-based oral history projects may incorporate audio and/or video. Researching non-traditional sources such as photographs, quilts, electrical appliances, and other items of material culture can provide interesting clues about women's lives in the past.

Selected Resources for Finding Primary Sources:

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

The Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in the United States (Radcliffe College)

The Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College

A Geographic Guide to Uncovering Women's History in Archival Collections (University of Texas at San Antonio)

Sources in US Women's Labor History (The Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University)

African American Women Online Archival Collections (The Digital Scriptorium Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University)

Slavery and Law Documents, 1740-1860 (Law Library of Congress: American Memory)

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938 (Library of Congress: American Memory)

American Women's History: Finding Primary Sources (Middle Tennessee State University Library)

Selections from The National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921
Woman Suffrage: Photographs and Prints (Library of Congress: American Memory)

Repositories of Primary Sources (University of Idaho Library)

Modern History Sourcebook (Paul Halsall, ed.)

History Matters (Rex Bradford, ed.)


Session III: Women and Social Movements

Organizing questions: How have women's organizations made social and political change? What reforms did they undertake when they joined together?

Related Themes: social reform movements, women's clubs

It's best to focus your study on one or two movements. Themes could include women and the abolitionist movement, women and labor reform, women's suffrage, women and civil rights, equal rights, women's health, etc. We highly recommend Women and Social Movements in the United States,1775-2000 (SUNY-Binghamton). The projects, organized by subject, incorporate many useful primary source documents.

Primary Sources: Speeches

General Speech Archives

Great American Speeches: 80 Years of Political Oratory (PBS)
This series includes an excellent online speech archive.

Gifts of Speech (Women's Speeches from Around the World) (Sweet Briar College)

Free Speech Movement Digital Archive (UC Berkeley)

Great Speeches Collection (History Place) (You can listen to historic speeches)

Civil Rights Oral History Interviews (Washington State University)

Suffragist Oral History Project (the Library, University of California, Berkeley)

Vincent Voice Library (Michigan State University) This is the largest academic voice library in the nation. It features speeches, performances, lectures, interviews, broadcasts, etc. by over 50,000 people from all walks of life recorded over 100 years.

History and Politics Out Loud is searchable archive of politically significant audio materials. (Michigan State University)

Online Speech Bank (American Rhetoric)

Related Resources:

Women and Social Movements in the United States,1775-2000 (SUNY-Binghamton)

Timeline of Reform Movements (Rochester Regional Library Council)

National Association of Colored Women Project (Howard University ArchivesNet)
National Association Notes from June 15, 1897

Sources in US Women's Labor History (The Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University)

One Hundred Years Toward Suffrage: An Overview


Session IV: Researching Women in Your Community

Organizing questions: Where are the women in history in your community? What change have they made in your community? How can you add them to the historical record?

Related Themes: local history, women and community, documenting women's lives

Locating Primary Sources:

Researching Women in Your Area

A Geographic Guide to Uncovering Women's History in Archival Collections (University of Texas at San Antonio)

American Women's History: A Research Guide State & Regional History (Middle Tennessee State University Library)

Repositories of Primary Sources (University of Idaho Library)

Boston-area Women
We included materials from The Boston Women's Heritage Trail in our curriculum packet, introducing women such as Ellen Craft, Phillis Wheatley, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Chew Shee Chin, and Melnea Cass to our students. You can take a vitual tour of the five walks in Boston neighborhoods.The guidebook, published by BWHT, illuminates the collaborative efforts of women who worked for social and economic justice, access to education, and artistic and cultural expression. This is a wonderful way to learn about some of the lesser-known Boston-area women (who are excluded from our school textbooks) and their sustained collaborative efforts.

The Boston Women's Heritage Trail

The Boston Atheneaum

Boston History Collaborative

Boston Public Library

The Bostonian Society

Jewish Women's Archive

Massachusetts Archives

Massachusetts Historical Society

Museum of Afro-American History

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Peabody Essex Museum Phillips Library

The Schlesinger Library (Radcliffe College)

Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA)

Public Art/Public Buildings

We also focused our search into women's lives on nontraditional sources such as public buildings and the arts.

A Wall of Respect for Women was created in 1993 by artist Be Sergent and the women of Somerville, Massachusetts. The massive mural resides on the side of a community pharmacy and honors the diverse contributions of women in community. According to Sargent, the mural shows one hundred and twenty actual Somerville women of various ages, races and sexual orientations in solidarity and in various life roles and careers.
Explore the mural online using Flash

Unity and Community (Chinatown Community Mural) This 40' mural, designed by Wen-Ti Tsen and David Fichter in 1986, depicts Chinese-American women and their many roles in Asian-American community life. This was part of the South Cove/Chinatown trail on the Boston Women's Heritage Trail. The Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center's Oak Street building, where the mural resided, was torn down in 2002 to build a larger community center. A replication of this mural will be included within the new community center.

Boston Women's Memorial 2003 honors three important contributors to Boston's rich history— Abigail Adams, Lucy Stone and Phillis Wheatley.

A Studio of Her Own: Women Artists in the Back Bay, A Walking Tour (created in partnership by the Boston Women's Heritage Trail and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, with the support of the City of Boston, the Boston Women's Commission, and the MFA Ladies Committee Associates)

African Meeting House (The National Park Service, Black Heritage Trail)

Old South Meeting House - When this site of mass protest meetings during the Revolutionary War was slated for demolition, Mary Tileston Hemenway (1820-1894) contributed more than half the sum needed to preserve it, thus becoming an early leader in historic preservation. Phillis Wheatley, the first African American poet to be published in book form, was a member of Old South.


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