Betsey Guppy Chamberlain

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Betsey Chamberlain
Born Betsey Guppy
ca. 1797
Wolfeboro, New Hampshire
Died 1886
Nationality United States
Occupation Author
Known for A Fire-Side Scene

Betsey Guppy Chamberlain (c. 1797–1886) was a textile mill worker of Native American background who wrote sketches and poetry in the early 19th century.[1] Her work was among the first published by a native woman to protest against their treatment by the U.S. government.[2]



Betsey Chamberlain's origins are obscure, but she has been identified with Betsey Guppy, born on 29 December 1797 in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, beside Lake Winnipesaukee. Betsey Guppy was the daughter of William Guppy and Comfort Meserve.[3] Another source says she was born in Brookfield, New Hampshire. She was of mixed Flemish/English and Algonquian (most likely Narragansett or Abenaki) descent.[4] She married Josiah Chamberlain in 1820, and had two children by him before he died in 1823. She was forced to sell their small farm in Brookfield and come to work in the mills, which paid good wages for the time, although the hours were long.[5]


Betsey Chamberlain was recorded as joining the First Congregational Church in Lowell, Massachusetts in March 1831, and in April 1834 was married to Thomas Wright in that church. The marriage does not seem to have lasted, and Betsey Chamberlain did not use the name "Wright" in later years.[6] According to Harriet Hanson Robinson, who started work in the Lowell mills as a child of ten in 1835, "Mrs. Chamberlain was a widow, and came to Lowell with three children from some 'community' (probably the Shakers), where she had not been contented. She had inherited Indian blood, and was proud of it. She had long, straight black hair, and walked very erect, with great freedom of movement. One of her sons was afterwards connected with the New York Tribune."[7]

Lowell was a planned factory town. Under the Lowell System, the company recruited young farm girls to work in the mills, building dormitories where they could live at low rents, and hiring matrons to monitor the social conduct of the girls. The company arranged for cultural events, bible studies and other educational opportunities.[8] Lowell was rich in educational and cultural opportunities for women at that time. There were libraries and bookstores, evening schools and lectures, concerts and balls. Two of the first magazines written by women were published in the town, the Lowell Offering (1840-1845) and the New England Offering (1847-1850). Chamberlain wrote for both of these journals using the pseudonyms "Betsey", "B.C.", "Jemima", and "Tabitha."[1]

Later life[edit]

In 1843 Betsey Chamberlain married Charles Boutwell, a widowed farmer with children of his own.[9] They moved to Illinois, where they began farming. She was back in Lowell in 1848, perhaps to earn cash to help support the farm, and published short pieces in The New England Offering between December 1848 and February 1850. She returned to Illinois in 1850.[10] She had four husbands in total, dying at the age of eighty-eight.[11]


Thirty-three prose works by Chamberlain were published in the Lowell Offering between 1841 and 1842, and four more in the New England Offering of 1848.[4] A few of her writings, such as the 1842 The Indian Pledge and A Fire-Side Scene, are among the earliest protests against Indian persecution to be published by native women.[12] The satirical A Fire-Side Scene is highly critical of the way the government was treating native people, implying that their actions were far from following Christian morality.[2] Most of her published pieces are sketches of village life and legends told from a woman's viewpoint, in which she shows great powers of observation, bringing her characters vividly to life.[4] Harriet Hanson Robinson said of her "Mrs. Chamberlain was the most original, the most prolific, and the most noted of all the early story-writers. Her writings were characterized, as Mr. Thomas says, 'by humorous incidents and sound common sense,' and is shown by her setting forth of certain utopian schemes of right living."[7]


  1. ^ a b Ranta 2003, p. xii.
  2. ^ a b Murphy 2008, p. 73.
  3. ^ Ranta 2003, p. 5.
  4. ^ a b c Porter & Roemer 2005, p. 161.
  5. ^ Ranta 2003, p. xi.
  6. ^ Ranta 2003, p. 47-48.
  7. ^ a b Robinson 1898, p. 145.
  8. ^ McNeese 2003, p. 64.
  9. ^ Ranta 2003, p. 52.
  10. ^ Ranta 2003, p. 53.
  11. ^ Ranta 2003, p. 15.
  12. ^ Ranta 2003, p. 10.
  • McNeese, Tim (2003-09-01). Revolutionary War. Lorenz Educational Press. ISBN 978-0-7877-0583-1. Retrieved 2012-07-02.
  • Murphy, Annalyssa Gypsy (2008). Dissent Along the Borders of the Fourth World: Native American Writings as Social Protest. ProQuest. ISBN 978-0-549-51859-4. Retrieved 2012-07-05.
  • Porter, Joy; Roemer, Kenneth M. (2005-07-21). The Cambridge Companion To Native American Literature. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-82283-1. Retrieved 2012-07-05.
  • Ranta, Judith A. (2003-04-01). The Life and Writings of Betsey Chamberlain: Native American Mill Worker. UPNE. ISBN 978-1-55553-564-3. Retrieved 2012-07-05.
  • Robinson, Harriet (1898). Loom and Spindle. Applewood Books. ISBN 978-1-4290-4524-7. Retrieved 2012-07-05.