Brown Bag The Labor of Self-Making in New England Mill Women's Poetry 4 August 2014.Monday, 12:00PM - 1:00PM Robin Smith, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

One of the most visible and publicly discussed moments in the history of American working women was the entrance of women into the industrial textile mills of New England in the 1830s and 1840s. The figure of the “female operative” or “Lowell mill girl” fostered an unprecedented public interest in the lives and labor of working women, and the mill women seized this opportunity to publicly challenge the obstacles that industrial labor posed to 19th century ideas of humanity and a coherent sense of self. Drawing upon poems and prose pieces written by women mill workers for publication in literary magazines such as The Lowell Offering, I will argue that for mill women, writing poetry was an important means of humanizing potentially dehumanizing labor; through the rhythms of poetry, they reclaimed control of time and in so doing, made space for fortifying their creative, coherent selves.