The Belles of New England The Women of the Textile Mills and the Families Whose Wealth They Wove

William Moran

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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The Belles of New England is the story of one group of pioneers in the American labor movement—the thousands of women who left New England farm towns to work in the textile cities that sprang up in the region in the early nineteenth century. Their goal was to achieve personal independence, their mission social justice. At a time when women had no political influence, they battled powerful mill owners for fair pay and decent working conditions.

Generations of immigrants followed these women into the mills and changed Yankee New England forever. They came from famine-stricken Ireland and the impoverished farms of Quebec, then from the war-weary countries of Europe. The immigrants, too, found that fighting for justice was part of realizing the promise of America.

The Belles of New England fills the American stage with historical figures—from the blue-blooded Cabots and Lowells of Boston to the Southern slaves who first supplied cotton to the mills. Also playing their parts are the famous poets and politicians who hated slavery, as well as the radical labor agitators, and finally, the mill workers themselves, who after World War II stood by helplessly as their looms, and their jobs, vanished. In part a microcosm of America's social development during the period, The Belles of New England casts a new and finer light on this rich tapestry of vast wealth, greed, discrimination, and courage.


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1A Place in the Universe
The young women who lived in northern New England in the early nineteenth century seemed destined to play a passive role in American history. They spent confining lives on isolated family farms and in tranquil rural villages. They helped with the farm chores or earned their keep as house servants for prosperous neighbors and assumed that eventually they would have a home of their own. That was what society expected of them. Marriage prospects were limited; the most likely candidates were young men who also worked on the farms. So women of purpose felt the shackles of
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  • William Moran

  • William Moran was a writer, editor, and producer at CBS News for twenty-five years. From 1974 to 1977 he was principal writer for The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. He was producer on the program for two years before joining CBS News Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt, where he served as producer and senior producer for sixteen years. His work at CBS News brought him awards from the Writers Guild of America and an Emmy. Prior to joining CBS News, Moran was a reporter for the Associated Press, covering events in New England, New York, and Washington. He was also a producer and writer at Vermont Public Television. While in Vermont, he was a stringer correspondent for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Time magazine. Moran is a graduate of Boston University, where he majored in journalism. He is a native of Portland, Maine, and now resides in Scarborough, Maine and Sarasota, Florida.