Opportunities for Females in Mill Towns


Background Notes

Most early nineteenth−century families depended on the work of all their members to prosper, or even to survive. In New England’s early mill villages there were many relatively poor families like Jemima Sandborn’s who made ends meet by combining farm labor with mill work and taking in other mill employees as boarders. For such families, for whom it was “hard times to get a living,” the coming of the mills to New England meant new opportunities. In these letters to their relatives the Bennetts, Persis Edwards, Malenda Edwards, Lucy Davis, Ann Blake and Jemima Sandborn describe their family situations and their own work choices.

Transcription of Primary Source

Persis L. Edwards to Sabrina Bennett

Nashua [New Hampshire] April 4 1839


Doubtless you will be surprised to hear from me as I am not in the habit of holding correspondence with you. It is not because I have forgotten you no, Dear S[abrina]. I often think of you & could as often wish to see you. I suppose I need not apolygize for past negligence as you are guilty of the same yourself. I hope we shall let past neglig[en]ce suffice & for the future commence a correspondence. There shall be no lack on my part. I have often thought of you since I came to this place & especially since I heard that you was obliged to give up your shop on account of ill health. I left Vermont last july come to Bristol & stayed until October when I came to this place. I work in the mill like very well enjoy myself much better than I expected am very confined could wish to have my liberty a little more but however I can put up with that as I am favored with other priveleges. I think I shall visit you this Summer. I think if nothing in providence prevents I shall stay here untill fall. I seems now a long time since I left home am almost homesick sometimes. I heard from home last week & likewise from Bristol. Our folks all & Grandfarthers are all in good health except Aunt Bryant she has not been able to work this winter.

I will just say I hope you will answer this soon. Give my love to uncle & Aunt & all friends. If you do not think of coming here to work I hope y[ou come] & visit us. I want to see you very much hope to soon. Write us all the news you have & believe [me] to be [your] undeviating Friend & Cousin

Persis L. Edwards

Malenda Edwards to Sabrina Bennett [Persis Edwards’s aunt appended a letter of her own on the same page.]


...You have been informed I suppose that I am a factory girl and that I am at Nashua and I have wished you were here too but I suppose your mother would think it far beneith your dignity to be a factory girl. There are many young Ladies at work in the factories that have given up milinary d[r]essmaking & s[c]hool keeping for to work in the mill. But I would not advise any one to do it for I was so sick of it at first I wished a factory had never been thought of. But the longer I stay the better I like and I think if nothing unforesene calls me away I shall stay here till fall...Write soon and write me all the news you can think. I want to hear from Haverhill. Write too where you are and what you are doing and what you intend to do this summer. My health is very poor indeed but it is better than it was when I left home. If you should have any idea of working in the factory I will do the best I can to get you a place with us. We have an excellent boarding place. We board with a family with whome I was acquainted with when I lived at Haverhill. Pleas to write us soon and believe your affectionate Aunt.

M[alenda] M. Edwards

Persis L. Edwards to Sabrina Bennett

Barnet [Vermont] April the 18 1840


I received your letter dated jan 24 after a long time it layed in the [post] office. Be assured it met with the most hearty welcome was read over & over again & again. It brought to mind the many social hours we have spent together which are now past…When I came home last fall found Sister E[liza] confined with the Fever…We have had one trouble after another ever since I came home till this Spring…I do not know what my employment will be this Summer. Mother is not willing I should go to the Factory. I thought some of learning the Milleners & Dressmakers trade but have failed in the attempt…

If I could learn the trade there is a very pleasant village in this town which would be a good place to work. There is no one in the place that keeps shop. Hope you will try to visit us this Summer. Come & spend a long time with us. Write to me as soon as you get this tell me of your prosperity & how you are employed. Don’t delay. If you work at your trade I should be glad to work with you. I wish you were here in a shop. Could you come we should enjoy all the pleasures imaginable. Father & Mother send love to your Parents. Wish them to visit us as soon as convenient. Give them my love. My Brothers & Sisters all send love to you all, you all have our best wishes for your prosperity. Cousin there shall be no lack on my part aboutt keeping up a correspondence. Answer this as soon as possible. Direct your letter to Peacham. Barnet Post Office is five miles from us. Believe me to remain your very affectionate Cousin Persis L. Edwards.

Jemima Sandborn to Richard and Ruth Bennett

Nashville [Nashua, N.H.] May 14th 1843


I thought I would jest say a word to you…Our famely is all in good health except myself. I have been q[u]ite out of health this spring but am much better now. The Doctor says I have the liver complaint. You will probely want to know the cause of our moveing here which are many. I will menshion a few of them. One of them is the hard times to get aliving off the farm for so large famely so we have devided our famely. For this year, we have left Plummer and Luther to care on the farm with granmarm and aunt Polly. The rest of us have moved here to Nashvill thinking the girls and Charles they would probely work in the Mill but we have had bad luck in giting them in. Only Jane has got in yet. Ann has the promis of going in the mill next week. Hannah is going to school. We are in hopes to take a few boarders but have not got any yet. We live on canall street very nere Indian head factory. We heard from father, folks last week. They were all well. They had lately heard from Mary. She wrote she was well fat sausy and happy and had got a little girl, the prittyest little babe you ever see. She sayd they ware agoing to move to Indinia in April. They wrote they had bought a farm there and ware agoing to farming. They did not write the name of the town so we do not know whar to direct a letter to her tell we here from them…I think Eliza would like to come down here and work in Mill. There is a grate many more trying to git in than can git in. It is quite apleasant place hear but it dont seeme much like home. It would seeme more like home if any of my folks lived here. You know I never was weaned from fathers house before. It is rather a hard case but I suppose I must try and bare it. You must come and see us soon as you can. It is only 20 miles. You can take the cars* and come in a few minits. I have some good news to tell you about father. He became q[u]ite pious last fall…it would have affected your heart to have seen our aged farther agoing fored [forward] to the anxious seats* and bending the knee for prayers. He is very particular to crave a blessing before eating. You know that is a grate undertaking for him…Sabryna I was vary sorrow to hear of your sickness. I hope you are fast againeng your health. When you git well enough to ride abroad come and make us a good longe visit. I should have been glad if Ann could have gone to Haverhil and lernt the trade but she thinks she must try the mill aspell first for the want of clothes that is fit to wear. I think I shall not have to make any appology, only say that Daniel has gone to Brystol and you will not think strange of my bad spelling and interlineng*. I am as lonesome as you can think here among all strangers. You must all come and see us as soon as you can.

I must draw to a cloas by subcrybing you loveing Sister

Jemima W. Sandborn

Ann M B[lake] to Sabrina Bennett

[May 14, 1843]


It is with pleasure I sit my self to write to you informing you of my good helth I feel as well contented as could be expected considering all things. I think it would be best for me to work in the mill a year and then I should be better prepared to learn a traid. I should like to have gone [to Haverhill] but our folks moving to Nashville I thought I should like to try the Mill and see how I like it. I think I shall like [it] very mutch for I go in all moast every day to see Jane…I think I shall go in to work next weak. It is [ ] imposable for any one to get in to the Mill. They do not engage only half the help they did before they reduced the spead…I think if I have good luck I shall go to Haverhill but do not wait for me. Come if you can conviently. Father is gon to Bristol so we are very loanly. We received your letter and was very glad to hear from you.

You must excuse all bad mistakes as I am in a grate hurry. Give my love to all the good folks you know.

Ann M B[lake]

Lucy M. Davis to Sabrina Bennett

Friday Eve Nashua Sept 25th 1846


It is with much pleasure I seat myself at my table to converse with you by the silent language of the pen. How my Dear S[abrina]. are you these days and all the good friends of H[averhill]. I assure you I wold give all the bright cents I have to see you and some others in H tonight but as that will do no good I will tell something of my times and health since I saw you. I could not get a chance* to suit me, so I came here to work in the Mill. The work was much harder than I expected and quite new to me. After I had been there a number of days I was obliged to stay out sick but I did not mean to give it up so and tried it again but was obliged to give it up altogether. I have now been out about one week and am some better than when I left but not verry well. I think myself cured of my Mill fever as I cannot stand it to work there. The people that I board with have been verry kind to me and want me to stay hear and work in a shop. There are a number of chances and I think some of stopping but have not decided yet. My friend in Boston wished me to come there. If I worked at my trade and if I thought I could make more I would go and think some of going next week and see what I can do. I like the place and people hear verry much but wish to work whare I can make the most. Will you pleas…write me whare to find Dr. Gleason as I wish to see him when I go to Boston. My head has been considerably affected since I went into the Mill…will you pleas to ask Miss Forbs to excuse me for not paying my bill…Pleas tell her if I do not come to H soon I shal send to you when I pay my assesments…Next time I write I hope my head will feel better and I will write more…

Yours truly

L[ucy] M Davis


  • anxious seats − seating set aside, usually very close to the minister, for people who are hopeful and eager to receive salvation
  • cars − railroad train
  • chance − an opportunity for work, a job offer
  • interlineng − interlining: insertions between lines already written; interlineation

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
Bennett Family Letters
Probable Date: 
1839 to 1846
Courtesy of the Trustees of the Haverhill Public Library, Special Collection Department. Edited by Old Sturbridge Village.
The Bennett Family