Have you ever read a book you were seemingly uninterested in only to find out it would alter your life? For my college New England History class I am reading “Farm to Factory” by Thomas Dublin. The premise is a collection of letters written by young girls in the 1800’s to their families. While the subject may not spark a burning desire to read further, the insight into early 19th century living is fascinating. We can learn facts from history books, witness events through photographs, but the writing of every day people provides an unprecedented glimpse into their world.
The young girls writing the letters took the bold step of leaving their secure lives in rural New England for the unpredictable realm of urban living. The letter writers came to love the financial and social independence they found. Instead of marrying at a young age and beginning their families, the girls worked and lived alone. Undoubtedly, the experiences of these ordinary girls influenced the women’s rights movement.
Reading the letters has sparked my interest in my own family history. While I know many of their names, I do not know who they were. Entire lifetimes have been lost behind the span of years, with only fractured remnants of their stories. I had a “many greats” grandfather fight at Gettysburg and a grandmother presumably murdered in early 20th century Boston. These facts are cold, sterile, and without life. I would love to see letters written by them and understand their troubles and joys. While finding information may be impossible, I am now determined to know more than just their names!