If you’ve ever wondered what life at the mill was like for women, then mark this on your calendar: Talk on Mill Girls at Nashua Library, Sunday, March 18, at 2 p.m.
Author Doug Stewart, a popular writer for Smithsonian Magazine, will be the featured speaker at the illustrated discussion.
Nashua Public Library’s Outreach Coordinator Carol Luers Eyman keeps me up to date with happenings at NPL, and this one looks very interesting, considering the huge role women also played locally as cotton mill employees here in Nashua, Manchester and Lowell during the 19th and early 20th centuries and their impact on the American Industrial Revolution.
One only needs to take a pause at the striking sculpture created by Christopher R. Gowell that celebrates French-Canadian heritage and the many women who tirelessly labored in the Nashua mills. The sculpture is one of my favorites here in the Gate City, and it’s located in the small downtown park (Notre Renaissance Francaise) by the former mill complex and swift-running Nashua River off Water Street. The six-foot-tall bronze statue of “La Dame de Notre Renaissance Française” arises from a 3-foot commemorative base featuring a millworking mother with her young son. She is wearing a cross around her neck and has a weaving shuttle in her left pocket. The boy is holding a book written in French,
Nearby sits Clocktower Place apartments in part of the city’s original textile mill empire known formerly as the Nashua Manufacturing company. The first major building, Mill No.1, was built in 1825 and was up and running a year later.
My late father John and his childhood friend Frank “Punch” Ackstin both applied for work at the mills when they were in their late teens and were accepted.
I wasn’t aware that my dad had been employed there until I came across some old 1960s newspaper columns he had written while working for the Nashua Telegraph. I was captivated by his words, and to this day, still, learn a lot about my father from his journeys brought to life in newspaper articles that have now yellowed and curled with age.
I’m sharing some excerpts here with you from one of his vintage “Around the Town” columns.
“This was in the mid-1930s when the nation was fighting back from the Depression. Weekly wages were between $14 and $15 for non-skilled employees like ourselves.”
The man who authorized the hiring was Guy E. Swallow, and my father and Punch were assigned to the carding room.
“The job certainly kept us in top condition. It was moving trucks on small wheels. Each truck carried eight laps of cotton, about 400 pounds. Several miles were covered daily in pushing the trucks from the Number 7 mill — now home of the plastics firm, west past the 1st, 2nd, 3rd mills to the No. 4 mill, near Pine Street.
“There was a small incline separating the Number 2 and 3 mills, near the boss’s office. One day, we almost barreled down the overseer, the late Edward S. Moore. He took the little jolt rather well and did not reprimand us. He never did say much to the workers ...
“No city should have to depend on one industry alone as was the case for years with the textile operation. But the Nashua Manufacturing company was also a blessing to the community; it provided jobs for thousands and with these jobs rode the hopes and ambitions of entire families.”
The textile mill was acquired by Textron, Inc., in 1945 and shut down by 1949. A cluster of diversified industries later occupied the sprawling properties, helping create the well-rounded Nashua we know today.
Ms. Stylianos is a Nashua native. Her column is published weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.