The Last Generation: Work and Life in the Textile Mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, 1910-1960

Mary H. Blewett, Author University of Massachusetts Press $35 (0p) ISBN 978-0-87023-712-6
Blewett ( Men, Women, and Work : Class, Gender, and Protest in the New England Shoe Industry, 1780-1910 ) has assembled a polished and highly readable volume that offers a view of a vanished workplace. Included are oral histories of 30 textile workers--among them spinners, weavers, loom fixers--each depicting a vivid personality and a distinct experience of life in the mills. At 14, Valentine Chartrand found employment as a doffer--removing bobbins spun full of yarn and replacing them with empty ones. During WW II, she moved to an armaments factory; after the war, almost edged out by men, she obtained mill employment with difficulty, and labored through her 60s. Harry Dickenson was also a ``mill rat,'' navigating his way up from doffer to foreman. He became dissatisfied when the owners brought in their college-educated sons to replace mill-trained men as managers. There are narratives by union organizers and by a boss who fired the union president. Workers tell how nationality (Lowell was heavily populated by immigrants) or gender denied--or helped secure--the best jobs. Some people felt trapped in their occupation and others recall careers with pride and contentment. Data on textile production and the economic and historical setting of Lowell elucidate the accounts. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/01/1990
Release date: 08/01/1990
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