Set in 1832 in Lowell, Massachusetts, Alcott tells the story of a strong and independent young woman who leaves her family’s farm to go to work in a textile mill in this company town. Alice Barrow gives up the support of her family to get away from the farm life which threatened to suffocate her. While the work in the textile mill is hard and dangerous, what it does offer her is intellectual stimulation and a chance to build true friendships with the other women working at the mill.
Alice’s intelligence and practical common sense get her noticed by the Fiske family who own the mill, and in particular, the eldest son Samuel. As working conditions seem to worsen and become more dangerous, Alice becomes a liaison between the workers and the family. An unlikely romance blossoms.
The murder of her best friend Lovey make the romance even more unlikely as fingers of suspicion point towards the Fiske family. Lovey, it seems, was pregnant when she was murdered, and Samuel’s younger brother is the apparent father.
I enjoyed the book very much because I love stories about strong women who play an important role in making real differences in the world. I also love stories about friendships, and these women who not only work together but live together as well are not only friends, but really become family to one another.
The book requires some suspension of belief because the amount of power that the women wielded seems quite unlikely in the early 1800s. Still, changes in early industrial America had to begin somewhere, and the idea that women could play a role in these changes is intriguing.
Alcott’s characterizations were realistic and interesting. Lovey was someone with whom I would like to be friends, though I have to repeat that it is unlikely that a woman in 1832 could be as outspoken as she and not be fired on the spot. Still, that’s why it’s a novel and not a work of nonfiction.
I also liked Alcott’s portrayal of Samuel, who struggled with loving and supporting his family and the importance the mill played in the town and the lives of the women who worked in the mill and doing the right thing. Sometimes those kinds of choices can be difficult in a capitalistic society.
The Daring Ladies of Lowell is definitely a women’s book, but an interesting story at that. Great discussion for a book group.
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