"The Daring Ladies of Lowell" by Kate Alcott depicts the harsh world endured by a group of young women known as "the mill girls" in the town of Lowell, Massachusetts. In the 1830s — and for most of that century — few employment options existed for decent young ladies who wanted to work or needed a job to survive, and the looms were one of those.
The town of Lowell is much like the Pullman town created in Illinois during the 1870s with the primary difference being Lowell's focus on a female-driven workforce in order to keep their looms moving at maximum speed at all times.
The women live in a series of homes structured like orphanages with groups of women sharing sleeping quarters and common areas downstairs. They read and, if they possess the ability, write for the Lowell paper, which was driven by female voices. Shopping occurred on the weekend at the company store.
Medical needs were seen to by a company doctor who treated the girls for injuries suffered at the looms or for inhaling the fibers in the air at the mill until they coughed up balls of fabric that would eventually suffocate the weaker.
Within this town of Lowell — which exists as both a haven and a curse — the book focuses on a fictional woman named Alice Barrow who saw the mill as a blessing that would allow her to be independent.
Unfortunately, her experiences reflect both extremes as she watches women who have become friends die, both in the mill and at the hands of a religious fiend. The criminal trial that plays out in the book is also based on a historical murder that occurred in a mill town during the time period.
As Alice faces this unpleasantness and writes for the paper in support of better, safer treatment of workers within the mill facilities, it becomes necessary for her to navigate a world much more complex than the one she expected to find.
"The Daring Ladies of Lowell" fails a bit in reflecting the personal journey of one woman but accurately depicts the harshness of a world where opportunity, independence and equality are limited.