1840 One Hundred And Fifty Years Ago

PrintPrintEmailEmail

In the course of his uphill campaign to unseat the Democratic President, Martin Van Buren, the Whig candidate Gen. William Henry Harrison introduced a new element to American politics: the stump speech. Harrison broke the tradition of candidate silence, delivering twenty-three speeches ranging in length from one to three hours. Though not known as an inspiring orator, Harrison drew large crowds made up of both supporters and curiosity seekers.

His most dramatic address took place on September 10, when the old general appeared before a huge rally in a valley outside Dayton, Ohio. The former governor of the Indiana Territory and hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe depicted himself as a common man who had humbly accepted the mantle of leadership. “I am no statesman by profession,” he said, contrasting himself to the politico Van Buren. “I am a half soldier and a half farmer .. .”

Harrison decried “the violence of party spirit” that had characterized the campaign, calling it “a serious mischief to the political welfare of the country.” Regardless of his expressed distaste for partisan politicking, Harrison would sweep into the White House in December behind a barrage of Whig songs, slogans, and symbols.

The Lowell Offering , the first women factory workers’ magazine, began publication in October. Founded by Rev. Abel C. Thomas of the First Universalist Church of Lowell, Massachusetts, the Offering provided a creative outlet for the well-educated young female factory workers who had been drawn to the area’s textile mills by wages six to seven times greater than what the average schoolteacher earned.

The Offering ’s contents ranged from romantic poetry to autobiography to scientific discourse, and contributors favored outlandish pen names like Dolly Dindle and Grace Gayfeather. Only one self-imposed rule seemed to limit the content: Rarely did the editorials criticize working conditions.

The presence of these educated women in the mills declined in the mid-1840s as millowners found a cheaper and more permanent source of labor in Irish immigrants, many of whom were illiterate. The Offering published its last issue in 1845. But other workers’ magazines followed in its path, and it would be widely studied as a seminal document of both feminism and industrialization in mid-nineteenth-century America.