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Published on 2023-12-03 00:22:54 source:Spring Breeze and Summer Rain

One of the pleasantest visitors that I recall was a young Quaker woman from Philadelphia, a school-teacher, who came to see for herself how the Lowell girls lived, of whom she had heard so much. A deep, quiet friendship grew up between us two. I wrote some verses for her when we parted, and she sent me one cordial, charmingly-written letter. In a few weeks I answered it; but the response was from another person, a near relative. She was dead. But she still remains a real person to me; I often recall her features and the tone of her voice. It was as if a beautiful spirit from an invisible world had slipped in among us, and quickly gone back again.

locomotive just under the headlight with great violence,

It was an event to me, and to my immediate friends among the mill-girls, when the poet Whittier came to Lowell to stay awhile. I had not supposed that it would be my good fortune to meet him; but one evening when we assembled at the "Improvement Circle," he was there. The "Offering" editor, Miss Harriet Farley, had lived in the same town with him, and they were old acquaintances. It was a warm, summer evening. I recall the circumstance that a number of us wore white dresses; also that I shrank back into myself, and felt much abashed when some verses of mine were read by the editor,--with others so much better, however, that mine received little attention. I felt relieved; for I was not fond of having my productions spoken of, for good or ill. He commended quite highly a poem by another member of the Circle, on "Pentucket," the Indian name of his native place, Haverhill. My subject was "Sabbath Bells." As the Friends do not believe in "steeple-houses," I was at liberty to imagine that it was my theme, and not my verses, that failed to interest him.

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Various other papers were read,--stories, sketches, etc., and after the reading there was a little conversation, when he came and spoke to me. I let the friend who had accompanied me do my part of the talking for I was too much overawed by the presence of one whose poetry I had so long admired, to say a great deal. But from that evening we knew each other as friends; and, of course, the day has a white mark among memories of my Lowell life.

locomotive just under the headlight with great violence,

Mr. Whittier's visit to Lowell had some political bearing upon the antislavery cause. It is strange now to think that a cause like that should not always have been our country's cause,--our country,--our own free nation! But antislavery sentiments were then regarded by many as traitorous heresies; and those who held them did not expect to win popularity. If the vote of the mill- girls had been taken, it would doubtless have been unanimous on the antislavery side. But those were also the days when a woman was not expected to give, or even to have, an opinion on subjects of public interest.

Occasionally a young girl was attracted to the Lowell mills through her own idealization of the life there, as it had been reported to her. Margaret Foley, who afterwards became distinguished as a sculptor, was one of these. She did not remain many months at her occupation,--which I think was weaving,--soon changing it for that of teaching and studying art. Those who came as she did were usually disappointed. Instead of an Arcadia, they found a place of matter-of-fact toil, filled with a company of industrious, wide-awake girls, who were faithfully improving their opportunities, while looking through them into avenues Toward profit and usefulness, more desirable yet. It has always been the way of the steady-minded New Englander to accept the present situation--but to accept it without boundaries, taking in also the larger prospects--all the heavens above and the earth beneath--towards which it opens.

The movement of New England girls toward Lowell was only an impulse of a larger movement which about that time sent so many people from the Eastern States into the West. The needs of the West were constantly kept before us in the churches. We were asked for contributions for Home Missions, which were willingly given; and some of us were appointed collectors of funds for the education of indigent young men to become Western Home Missionary preachers. There was something almost pathetic in the readiness with which this was done by young girls who were longing to fit themselves for teachers, but had not the means. Many a girl at Lowell was working to send her brother to college, who had far more talent and character than he; but a man could preach, and it was not "orthodox" to think that a woman could. And in her devotion to him, and her zeal for the spread of Christian truth, she was hardly conscious of her own sacrifice. Yet our ministers appreciated the intelligence and piety of their feminine parishioners. An agent who came from the West for school-teachers was told by our own pastor that five hundred could easily be furnished from among Lowell mill-girls. Many did go, and they made another New England in some of our Western States.

The missionary spirit was strong among my companions. I never thought that I had the right qualifications for that work; but I had a desire to see the prairies and the great rivers of the West, and to get a taste of free, primitive life among pioneers.

Before the year 1845, several of my friends had emigrated as teachers or missionaries. One of the editors of the "Operatives' Magazine" had gone to Arkansas with a mill-girl who had worked beside her among the looms. They were at an Indian mission--to the Cherokees and Choctaws. I seemed to breathe the air of that far Southwest, in a spray of yellow jessamine which one of those friends sent me, pressed in a letter. People wrote very long letters then, in those days of twenty-five cent postage.

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