Updated: Sep 17, 2020
A circular fence, seating circle, and inscribed steps are three of the five sculptural elements in Ellen Rothenberg's tribute to pioneering 19th century female mill workers, known as "mill girls." Dedicated in 1996, the memorial, titled "Industry, Not Servitude," is located in Lucy Larcom Park, along the Merrimack Canal in Lowell, MA. My first visit to Lowell, site of the 19th century textile industry, was in 1999 to give a speech about my book Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front at the Tsongas History Learning Center. In 2018, I gave a talk there on my book Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World. In between, in 2012, on the way back from Monhegan Island in Maine, I stopped and explored Rothenberg's tribute. The pieces are inscribed with words and phrases from mill girls. It was moving and stimulating to see a sculptor's conception of a historical period with female workers that I had written about in my book Girls: A History of Growing Up Female in America.
This circular fence is for Lucy Larcom, who, at the age of 10, went to work in the mills. She grew up to be a teacher and
a popular poet. Cut into steel plates, her words read: "So up and down before her loom/she paces on, and to and fro,/till sunset fills the dusty room,/and makes the water redly glow,/as if the Merrimack's calm flood/ were changed into a stream of blood./Too soon fulfilled, and all too true/the words she murmured as she wrought:/But, weary weaver, not to you/alone was war's stern message brought:/'Woman!' It knelled from heart to heart,/"Thy Sister's Keeper Know Thou Art!"
The next image is a section of the seating circle dedicated to Sarah G. Bagley, mill worker and co-founder of the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association in 1844. Her words "Truth Loses Nothing" ends with "Upon Investigation" that appear on another section of the circle. The bottom image is the steps inscribed with the enduring words of mill girls who published poetry and fiction The Lowell Offerings, their own monthly magazine.