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Author: Excerpted from an activity by teacher
Christine Smith, Spaulding High School
Grade Level: High School
Essential Questions: What was working life like in the cotton mills? How were the experiences of four Vermont girls who worked in them similar and how were they different?
To learn what the living and working lives were like for the girls in the Massachusetts and Vermont Mills, we first examine some documents that inform us about life in the mills, and then examine letters of four young Vermont women who worked in them, exploring the similarities and differences in their experiences. The evidence we examine in Part I comprises primary documents such as posters, poems, time tables, and excerpts of journals. After examining the evidence, we fill out an evidence analysis worksheet, using specific information to confirm our analysis.
In Part II we read and take notes on
letters of four mill girls. Mary Paul was a young woman who came from
Barnard and traveled to the Lowell Mills in 1845 to escape a life as
a domestic. Rebecca Ford and Priscilla Howe left Granville, a small
enclave in the mountains of Central Vermont, to work in the woolen Mills
of Middlebury, Vermont and Lowell, Massachusetts during the late 1830s
to the mid 1850s. Hannah Bundy was just a teenager when she left Bethel
to work in Lowell in the mid 1850s. While Mary stayed at the Lowell
Mills, Rebecca Ford worked at both places. Hannah returned to Vermont,
married, and eventually disappeared from history by the 1870s. A worksheet
accompanies the letter-reading activity, which is later used to create
a dialogue among the young women.
Part I: Life at the Mills—Analyzing Evidence
1. Arrange copies of the following primary documents (many of which are available online at http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/americanstudies/lavender/queslowe.html)
around the room at different stations:
2. Have students read through, listen
to, view, and touch the documents/artifacts. Their focus should be to
analyze and evaluate each piece of evidence in order to determine and
illustrate the varied experiences of women at the Lowell Mills. Have
them take notes to highlight the main ideas or describe what is going
on. What does each artifact/document tell them about living and working
3. After evaluating the evidence, use
the Evidence Analysis worksheet to identify TWO pieces of evidence that
support the listed statements. Use specific information from
each primary source to confirm your analysis.
Getting Personal—The Letters Home
1. In groups of four, give each student a collection of letters—one from Mary Paul, one from Hannah Bundy, one from Rebecca Ford, and one from Priscilla Howe. After examining their set of letters, have them complete the letter activity worksheet provided.
2. Have students report their findings
to their team mates. Make sure they discuss working/living conditions,
wages, boarding house experiences, and leisure time, comparing and contrasting
the experiences of the four young women.
3. Once they have finished discussing
their findings, have students assign roles (one person to be Mary Paul,
one Hannah, one Rebecca, and one Priscilla).
4. To show what they learned, have students
create a 10-minute dialogue between the four girls that follows the
attached rubric. Assign them a group number and pass out the Dialogue
Activity worksheet. The setup is as follows:
Group One: You are traveling
to Lowell from Vermont on a train anxiously anticipating your new experience.
In the dialogue, focus on the various push and pull factors of mill
work, your fears and what you hope to accomplish or experience while
Group Two: You are sitting around
the table at the boarding house. Discuss your work, the conditions at
the mill, and the experience of working in a mill as well as life in
a boarding house.
Group Three: You are all
traveling home to Vermont on the train from Lowell. In your dialogue,
compare and contrast your experience as mill workers and why you are
returning to Vermont.
Remember to use all the information you
have been given in the letters (as well as the primary documents from
Part I) and your own creative imaginations. You will be assessed on
your dialogue, historical accuracy, relevancy of the information, and
your creativity. Show what you’ve learned! Be prepared to perform
your dialogue for the class!
6.4 Historical Connections
6.5 Traditional and Social Histories
6.6 Being an Historian
6.14Forces of Unity and Disunity
6.15 Knowledge of Economic Systems
6.19 Identity and Interdependence
Rubrics provided in Vermont Girls Rubrics.doc:
Primary Source Rubric
Dialogue Activity Rubric
The Primary Source Rubric can be used
for either of the first two worksheets.
The Dialogue Activity Rubric can be used
as a self-assessment of the dialogue activity or as a basis on which
to grade the entire lesson.
Materials and Resources
Online source for many primary documents
related to the Mills and Factory Life:http://www.wwnorton.com/college/history/inventing/interface/ch12/ch12_documents.htm
The World of Wooden Bobbins, Edited by Graham Fellowes. Somerdale, NJ: The Discovery Collection, 1995.
Catherine Lavender, Liberty Rhetoric
and Nineteenth Century American Women. July 28, 2009, http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/americanstudies/lavender/queslowe.html
Becker, Susan D. and William Bruce Wheeler,
Discovering the American Past, 3rd ed, Volume1:
to 1877, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1984.
Lowell: The Story of an Industrial
City, National Park Service, (Washington D.C, 2009).
Textile Manufacturing, pp. 28-29
The Lowell Offering, June,
1845, reproduction. (Nova Anglia Press, Hinesville, GA).
Front Cover of Lowell Offering, June 1845
Dublin, Thomas, Farm to Factory: Women’s
Letters, 1830-1860, 2nd ed.
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1993)
Keith and Rusty McNeil. Working &
Union Songs. WEM Records compact disc, 1-878360-14-0.
Hannah Bundy Letters:
American Textile History Museum, Lowell Massachusetts, Osborne Library http://library.uml.edu/clh/All/ano4.htm
Mary Paul Letters:
Vermont Historical Society Archives, Barre, VT.
Rebecca Ford and Priscilla Howe Letters:
Courtesy of He/nry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History Research Center