However, as the story of Emeline points out, the promises of the mill owners to shelter the womanhood of female workers did not always come through. Counter to the mill owners' expectations that mill girls would be docile and obedient workers, they resisted the rationalization of their labors; they agitated and philosophized, resisted the application of moral control, and, as in Emeline's case, they tok advantage of their newfound freedom from family control to form alliances with men. Some of the first strikes in America were carried out by these Lowell mill girls, who belied the expectations that they would be easier to control as workers than immigrant men would have been.
But The Sins of Our Mothers is not only the story of a mill girl in Lowell. It is also an examination of the small-town morality of Fayette, Maine, Emeline Gurney's hometown, and the nature of local history when a scandal is involved.
2) What is Emeline's story?
3) What is the pattern of labor in which Emeline takes part in Lowell, Massachusetts? How was her experience of that labor shaped?
4) What does Emeline's story tell us about True Womanhood? What does it tell us about later generations' views of women's place and role?
5) Why was Emeline shunned? What purpose does shunning "bad" people serve?
6) How do the filmmakers reconstruct the story of Emeline?
7) Why was 1816 such a hard year? Why might this have made the people more likely to be afraid of a sinner in their midst? Does this bear any similarity to Mary Matossian's "ergot" argument about the Salem Witchhunts?
8) What was the purpose of farming out children? What does this story tell us about practices of dealing with poverty and pauperhood in this community?
9) What role did the Baptist church play in this community?
10) How does Emeline represent the image of a "disorderly woman"?
The National Park Service's Lowell National Historical Park Homepage
Librarian Susan Lank Tolbert's Reading Habits of the New England Mill Girls
etext of Harriet H. Robinson's "Early Factory Labor in New England," in Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor, Fourteenth Annual Report (Boston: Wright & Potter, 1883), pp. 38082, 38788, 39192.
An article by a mill girl which appeared in the Penny Magazine in the 1830s.
Cynthia Smith's "Factory Girls: Linked to the Domestic Sphere"
Compare the experiences of Lowell Mill girls to the British mill girls from the 1890s.
Read Judith Rossner's Emmeline
Prepared by Professor Catherine Lavender for History 286 (U.S. Women's History), The Department of History, The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York, Fall Semester 1997.
Last modified: Wednesday 22 October 1997