Proud to be a Mill Girl

New England industrialists hired thousands of young farm girls to work together in early textile mills—and spawned a host of unintended consequences

In June 1833 President Andrew Jackson, visiting the brand-new factory town of Lowell, Massachusetts, watched as 2,500 female mill workers marched past the balcony of his hotel. The “mile of gals,” as one male observer dubbed the spectacle, bore no resemblance to the ragged, sickly paupers crowding English cotton mills of Manchester and Birmingham. These were proud, well-behaved Yankee farmers’ daughters, nearly all of them in their teens or 20s, wearing white dresses and carrying silk parasols in Old Hickory’s honor.Read more »

Big Guns For Washington

How tough Henry Knox hauled a train of cannon over wintry trails to help drive the British away from Boston

Knox was one of those providential characters which spring up in emergencies, as if they were formed by and for the occasion.

—Washington Irving, Life of George Washington .

 
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Reinventing A River

Its waters drove our first Industrial Revolution—and were poisoned by it. Thoreau believed the Merrimack might not run pure again for thousands of years, but today it is a welcoming pathway through a hundred-mile-long red-brick museum of America’s rise to power.

Matters did not look promising. the path down to the canoe launch onto the Merrimack River was long and steep, thick with roots and brambles and sharply angled. Pushing, pulling, and grunting, we reached a scum-slicked spit of sand just below a wide stretch of renovated nineteenth-century mill buildings in Manchester, New Hampshire, and pushed off.

 
 
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The Other Cape

ON THE RUGGED COAST NORTH OF BOSTON, FOUR TOWNS SHARE A LONG HISTORY OF MORTAL PERIL AND ENDURING BEAUTY.

Cape Cod and Cape Ann—two seashore vacation draws not far from Boston —might appear to be siblings. But in truth the two Massachusetts capes are as different as mustard and custard. South of the city, Cape Cod thrusts seaward from the mainland as a 75-mile arm, flexed and brawny, with Provincetown for a fist. North of it, Cape Ann is hardly more than a snub nose poking into the Atlantic.

 
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The Undying Problem Of The Death Penalty

Can it be fair? Humane? Deter crime? These very current questions troubled Americans just as much in the day of the Salem witch trials as in the day of Timothy McVeigh

Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court spent part of May 6, 1901, writing about the death penalty, and specifically about electrocution. Earlier that day lawyers for Luigi Storti, a twenty-seven-year-old Italian laborer without a family in America, convicted for the murder of a fellow immigrant in Boston’s North End, had argued that electrocution was punishment “cruel or unusual,” proscribed by the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, a charter nine years older than the federal Bill of Rights. Read more »

The Tragedy Of Bridget Such-a-one

A hundred and fifty years ago famine in Ireland fostered a desperate, unprecedented mass migration to America. Neither country has been the same since.

Walking through the woods outside Concord, Massachusetts, in the spring of 1846, amid his solitary experiment in living close to nature, Henry David Thoreau was driven by a sudden storm to find shelter in what he thought was an uninhabited hut. “But therein,” Thoreau recounts in Walden , he found living “John Field, an Irishman, and his wife, and several children,” and he sat with them “under that part of the roof which leaked the least, while it showered and thundered without.” Read more »

The Virgin And The Carburetor

When Henry Adams sought the medieval world in an automobile, this stuffiest of prophets became the first American to sing of the liberating force later celebrated by Jack Kerouac and the Beach Boys

Test-driving automobiles, Henry Adams discovered in June 1904, was “shattering to one’s nerves.” Trying out a Hotchkiss for purchase “scared my hair green. Truly it is a new world that I live in,” he continued, “though its spots are old. … The pace we go is quite vertiginous. Only men under forty are fit for it.” He was sixty-six, born in Boston in 1838, when railroads were replacing canals.Read more »

The Jury On Trial

Is trial by jury the essential underpinning of our system of justice or—as more and more critics charge—a relic so flawed it should perhaps even be abolished? An experienced trial judge examines the historical evidence in the case.

The distinguished lawyer could not restrain himself. Even in the somber pages of the American Bar Association’s Tort & Insurance Law Journal late last year, his rage blazed and fulminated. Juries, he thundered, were more and more willing to accept scanty, insufficient evidence en route to awarding unmerited damages to undeserving plaintiffs. Read more »

Chaplain Kidder’s Song

A D-DAY VETERAN’S GRANDSON ATTEMPTS TO FIND THE ANSWER TO THAT MOST IMPENETRABLE QUESTION: WHAT WAS IT LIKE?

The Reverend Maurice Kidder used to wake at five to write sermons in his dark study where the beagle slept; that early hour seemed to give him the clarity to compose his lectures, which he delivered in an unaffected but commanding baritone voice each Sunday at his All Saints’ Church in western Massachusetts. By the time I knew him my grandfather had been giving sermons for more than thirty years. He was a tall, powerfully genial man with blue eyes, a colonial-looking head of wavy white hair, and a long, squared jaw.Read more »

Friends At Twilight

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson stood together in America’s perilous dawn, but politics soon drove them apart. Then in their last years the two old enemies began a remarkable correspondence that is both testimony to the power of friendship and an eloquent summary of the dialogue that went on within the Revolutionary generation—and that continues within our own.

 
 
 
Jefferson said that he admired everything about Adams except his politics. This was like claiming the pope was reliable on all but religion.

To most of their contemporaries they were America’s odd couple. John Adams was short, plump, passionate to the point of frenzy.Read more »