Yesterday I spent some time at the AAS using their Historical Periodicals Collection, which can be accessed from their reading room, to gather forty some odd articles from The Lowell Offering. Luckily, I had found an incredibly helpful website through UMass Lowell (http://libweb.uml.edu/clh/Offering.htm), which lists all the magazine’s articles and offers a brief synopsis, so I knew which ones I wanted to download and look at later. And, as part of its Open Collections Program, Harvard Library has a whole collection titled: Women Working, 1800-1930 (http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/ww/index.html), which has also been a great source. Under its “magazine” page you can even read parts of The Lowell Offering and other pertinent periodicals.
Although I haven’t yet read the articles, I found that the magazine’s cover and title pages alone are telling (they are ordered below from earliest to latest)
You can see the progression over the years. In 1840 the women have used a quote from Thomas Gray’s poem, “Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard” on their cover. In 1843 and 1844 (shown here), a bibilical reference. And in 1845, their title page’s image builds off of these two, evoking their literacy (with the book in her hand) and their religiosity (with the church in the background). But the depiction of the mill girl herself is most interesting. Holding the book at her side instead of holding it to her face so as to read it, she seems to be showing herself – putting herself forth in her new urban setting. And it seems that part of that declaration, along with the elements of literacy and religiosity, is her dress.
If the cover and title pages have this much to tell, I am very interested in what these women say when they get a pen in their hands and put their own words on paper!