THE BELLES OF NEW ENGLAND: The Women of the Textile Mills and the Families Whose Wealth They Wove

William Moran, Author
William Moran, Author . St. Martin's/Dunne $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-312-30183-5
Paperback - 322 pages - 978-0-312-32600-5
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The huge, largely abandoned mill buildings of northern New England towns are the remnants of an industry that dominated the region and transformed the lives of its inhabitants, especially the women, for slightly more than a hundred years, beginning in the early 19th century. In broad, descriptive strokes, Moran, formerly a writer and producer for CBS News, recounts the rise and fall of the New England textile industry, from Francis Cabot Lowell's first 1814 mill in Waltham, Mass., to the flight South in the decades after WWI of mill owners seeking a haven from labor unions and the reasonable working conditions the unions had won. The enormous social changes wrought by the textile industry are the subject here, especially in the lives of women, whom it freed from servitude on the small farm only to bind them to the looms. Later, the mills' voracious appetite for workers attracted a vast influx of immigrants from Ireland, Quebec and eastern Europe, while generating enormous wealth for owners like the Cabots and the Lowells, who became the aristocracy of New England. The story of the mills as evoked here, with all its ironies, energy and tragedies, reflects the larger America these factories helped to shape. 16 pages of photos unseen by PW. (Sept.)

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