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.