"A woman of the century"
March 5, 1824|
Beverly, Massachusetts, U.S.
April 17, 1893 (aged 69)|
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Occupation||teacher, poet, author|
|Alma mater||Monticello Female Seminary|
Lucy Larcom (March 5, 1824 – April 17, 1893) was an American teacher, poet, and author.
In the 1840s (circa 1846), Larcom taught at a school in Illinois before returning to Massachusetts. She went on to become one of the first teachers at Wheaton Female Seminary (now Wheaton College) in Norton, Massachusetts, and taught there from 1854 to 1862. While there, she helped to found Rushlight Literary Magazine, a submission-based student literary magazine which is still published today. From 1865 to 1873, she was the editor of the Boston-based Our Young Folks, which merged with St. Nicholas Magazine in 1874.[a] In 1889, Larcom published one of the best-known accounts of New England childhood of her time, A New England Girlhood, commonly used as a reference in studying antebellum American childhood. This autobiographical text covers the early years of her life, in Beverly Farms and Lowell, Massachusetts.
Among her earlier and best-known poems are "Hannah Binding Shoes," and "The Rose Enthroned," Larcom's earliest contribution to the Atlantic Monthly, when the poet Lowell was its editor, a poem, that in the absence of signature, was attributed to Emerson by one reviewer. Also of note was "A Loyal Woman's No" which was a patriotic lyric and attracted considerable attention during the American Civil War.
Larcom was inclined to write on religious themes, and made two volumes of compilations from the world's great religious thinkers, Breathings of the Better Life (Boston, 1866) and Beckonings (Boston. 1886). Her last two books, As it is in Heaven (Boston, 1891) and The Unseen Friend (Boston, 1892), embodied much of her own thought on matters concerning the spiritual life.
Early years and education
Lucy Larcom was born in Beverly, Massachusetts in 1824 as the ninth of ten children. She was the next to the youngest of a family of eight sisters. The homes built up the streets of her village were full of neighbor children; they all played and grew up together. She read what she could find. This included the Pilgrim's Progress and the Scottish Chiefs. She read John Milton's Paradise Lost and other English literature. At the age of seven, she secretly wrote, illustrated with crude watercolors, and published (only to herself) her first work: a manuscript volume of little stories and poems.
After her father's death when she was eight years old, the home at Beverly was broken up. Mrs. Larcom turned her thoughts toward Lowell. Girls were wanted, and were flocking there for employment in the mills. Homes were wanted, also, in consequence. Good, motherly housekeepers —not common boarding-mistresses— were sought, and accepted only with the best credentials, by the corporation, to occupy its houses and take care of the operatives. Lucy's mother, the mother of many girls, was just one such. The family removed to Lowell, where her mother became a boardinghouse keeper to bring in income for the family. Here, at the age of ten, she helped her mother, in the intervals between her hours of school, in the household work.
Lowell mill girl
At age eleven, in 1835, she began working at Boott Mills, a cotton mill in Lowell, as a doffer, to earn extra money for her family. She was among the very youngest of those employed at the mills. Her first work as a Lowell operative was in a spinning-room, doffing and replacing the bobbins, after which she tended a spinning-frame and then a dressing-frame, while looking out windows towards the river. Later, she was employed in a "cloth-room," considered to be a more agreeable working-place because of its fewer hours of confinement, its cleanliness, and the absence of machinery. The last two years of her Lowell life, which covered in all a period of about ten years, were spent in that room, not in measuring cloth, but as bookkeeper, recording the number of pieces and bales. There, she pursued her studies during leisure moments, some textbooks in mathematics, grammar, English or German literature usually laying open on her desk.
Here, as in her earlier childhood, she put words to her visions through verses and by telling herself stories. Of those days, Larcom stated,— "While yet a child, I used to consider it special good fortune that my home was at Lowell. There was a frank friendliness and sincerity in the social atmosphere that wrought upon me unconsciously, and made the place pleasant to live in. People moved about their every-day duties with purpose and zest, and were genuinely interested in one another; while in the towns on the seaboard it sometimes was as if every man's house was his castle in almost a feudal sense, where the family shut themselves in, on the defensive against intruders." Still, she never lost her love and allegiance to the seaside area where she was born, while frequent visits kept up the charm, and gave her links to her home town. The ten years that Larcom spent at the mills made a huge impact on her. The Lowell Offering, a magazine whose editors and contributors were "female operatives in the Lowell mills," was published in 1842, and soon after Larcom became one of its corps of writers. One of her first poems was entitled "The River," and many of her verses and essays were found in its volumes. Some of those Lowell Offering essays appeared afterwards in Similitudes, her first published work.
It was at one of the meetings of the literary circle, established among the "mill girls", that Larcom first met the poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, who was then in Lowell editing a Free Soil journal. He became her friend, showing his real interest in her at once by criticising her share in the written contributions of the evening. She was then very young, but it was the beginning of an interest and gratitude that continued mutually in an established friendship. Afterward, when she had come to know and dearly love the Whittier's sister, Elizabeth ("Lizzie"), the three spent time together. During happy sojourns at Salisbury Beach, near the respective homes at Amesbury and Beverly, in visits at Amesbury, in counsel and work together, out of which in recent time have grown the beautiful compilations of Child-life, and Songs of Three Centuries, their lives ran near together and contributed the one to the other.
One after another, Larcom's sisters married out of the home, until only two remained. At about twenty years of age, Larcom accompanied the oldest of the Larcom sisters in Lowell, Emeline, to the then wild prairies of Illinois. Here, she shared in the efforts of a clergyman's household in pioneer times. A truly pioneer life was theirs as they moved many times from place to place, dependent upon who summoned the clergyman. Somewhere in this prairie Larcom taught school in a vacated log building to a 2 miles (3.2 km) neighborhood. Her students came from small colonies within this radius. It was in the corner of a big township which included three counties. She taught under the auspices of a district committee, before whom, previous to induction to office, the candidate was obliged to hold up her right hand and swear to acquaintance, sufficient to instruct from, with writing, spelling, arithmetic, and geography. Her salary was US$40 for three months; and once, when the time for payment arrived, and her brother-in-law visited the committee-man whose duty it was to make it, his reminder was met with the rather startled remark, as if the subject had never presented itself in so strong a light before:— "Forty dollars! Well, that's a lot o' money to pay a young woman for three months' teachin'! She oughter know consider'ble!" When the official was reassured by a statement of what Larcom's antecedents in study and achievement had been, he replied:— "Well, that's a good deal for her to ha' done!" before handing over the money.
During another sojourning, Larcom found herself in the neighborhood of an excellent young ladies' school. Switching from teacher of scholar, she spent three years at Monticello Female Semmary, following the full course of study. During the last two years, she took charge of the preparatory department of that institution.
Back to Beverly
Eventually, Larcom tired of life in the west, so she went back to Beverly, where, for a year or two, she taught a class of young ladies before accepting a position as teacher in Wheaton Female Seminary, at Norton. She remained there for six years, conducting classes in rhetoric, English literature, and composition, while sometimes adding history, mental and moral science, or botany. Larcom's health began after these few years to suffer from such a constant strain of teaching work forcing hhe had to relinquish the regular employment, although, from time to time, she lectures upon literature, or taught classes in various young ladies' schools of Boston.
Her first poem in the Atlantic was "The Rose Enthroned" and it is remembered as her greatest inspiration. It was a parable-epic of creation with twenty-one four-line stanzas. Previously to this,— as far back as during her early residence in Illinois,— some poems were published with the name, and some slight sketch of the writer, in Griswold's Female Poets of America; and at about the same time, verses of hers were printed in Sartain's Magazine. During 1852-53, she wrote frequently for the National Era, of which Mr. Whittier was corresponding editor. Later, the Independent and the Boston Congregationalist, and various other magazines received and published her contributions. "Hannah Binding Shoes" appeared first in the New York Crayon; perhaps no single poem of hers was better known or more admired. When Our Young Folks magazine was started, Larcom became one of its assistant editors. Subsequently, for a year or two, she was the leading editor. For the next seven years, she lived quietly and independently at Beverly Farms.
In the spirit of ministry, she gathered together the compilation of Breathings of a Better Life. Roadside Poems, and Hillside and Seaside, were compilations from readings of nature. Childlife, Childlife in Prose, and Songs of Three Centuries, were pulled together in company with Whittier, and which he edited. The volume, Wild Roses of Cape Ann came after these.
Larcom served as a model for the change in women's roles in society. She was a friend of Harriet Hanson Robinson, who worked in the Lowell mills at the same time. Robinson also became a poet and author; later, she was prominent in the women's suffrage movement. Both contributed to the literary magazine Lowell Offering.[b]
Death and legacy
Larcom died at age 69 on April 17, 1893 in Boston and was buried in her hometown of Beverly, Massachusetts. Her influence is still felt in Beverly. A local literary magazine entitled The Larcom Review is named for her, as is the library at the Beverly High School.
Larcom Mountain, located in the Ossipee Mountains in New Hampshire, is named after her, as she frequented the area during the late 1800s. At Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, the Larcom Dormitory is named after her. Rushlight Literary Magazine, which she founded, is still in publication today. Larcom's legacy is honored in Lowell, Massachusetts, where she worked as a "mill girl" at the Boott Mills, and as such, the Lucy Larcom Park was named after her to honor her works of literature that recounted her life at the mills. The park is located between the two Lowell High School buildings, and excerpts from her writings can be found on monuments, statues and other works of art throughout the park.
Style and themes
Larcom's later writings, assumed a deeply religious tone, in which the faith of her whole life found complete expression. In retrospection, she wrote Idyl of Work. Notwithstanding the fact that she really meant to set forth the image she had in her mind of her own elder sister, she unconsciously gave herself also, perhaps, through family likeness, in some touches of her portrayal of "Esther" in the Idyl. In her Idyl of Work and also in A New England Girlhood, Larcom described her early life. In the Idyl, the mill-life of forty or fifty years earlier was portrayed.
- An Idyll of Work (1875)
- "Among Lowell Mill-Girls: A Reminiscence", Atlantic Monthly (November 1881)
- A New England Girlhood (1889)
- As It Is in Heaven (1893)
- "Landscape in American Poetry." New York. Appleton and Company,(1879)
- Watts 1978, p. 191.
- Dobson, James E. (2016). "Lucy Larcom and the Time of the Temporal Collapse". Legacy. 33 (1): 82–102.
- Willard & Livermore 1893, p. 448.
- Phelps, Stowe & Cooke 1884, p. 415-.
- Rosenberg 2013, p. 16.
- Dublin 1995, p. 97.
- Babitskaya, Inna (27 March 2012). "Celebrating Women's History Month: A Profile of Suffragist Harriet Hanson Robinson". NoBo Magazine. Retrieved 2012-06-28.
- The Lowell offering / written, edited and published by female operatives employed in the mills. 5. HathiTrust. 1845.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart; Stowe, Harriet Beecher; Cooke, Rose Terry (1884). Our Famous Women: An Authorized Record of the Lives and Deeds of Distinguished American Women of Our Times ... (Public domain ed.). A. D. Worthington & Company.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Willard, Frances Elizabeth; Livermore, Mary Ashton Rice (1893). A Woman of the Century: Fourteen Hundred-seventy Biographical Sketches Accompanied by Portraits of Leading American Women in All Walks of Life (Public domain ed.). Moulton.
- Dublin, Thomas (1995). Transforming Women's Work: New England Lives in the Industrial Revolution. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-8090-6.
- Rosenberg, Chaim M. (12 August 2013). Child Labor in America: A History. McFarland. ISBN 978-1-4766-0272-1.
- Watts, Emily Stipes (1978). The Poetry of American Women from 1632 to 1945. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. p. 191. ISBN 978-1-4773-0344-3.
- Selden, Bernice (1983). The mill girls: Lucy Larcom, Harriet Hanson Robinson, Sarah G. Bagley. Atheneum. ISBN 9780689310058.
- Sylvia J. Cook (2007). "Working Woman's Bard". Working Women, Literary Ladies: The Industrial Revolution and Female Aspiration. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-971661-6.
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