Friday, May 22, 2015

Chasing History

Mystery Scene Magazine published my essay with that title. It described the inspiration for the third book in my trilogy The Maine Shore Chronicles. The essay started with questions."Would you believe a picture on the wall of a defunct cotton mill could inspire a series? Could a New England mill town be a vibrant sense of place for the setting?" The answer was Yes. The seed for the stories was a lithograph circa 1845 of a woman tending a spinning frame in a local cotton mill. In my mind's eye that picture metamorphosed into my grandmother, who actually came to that town with her family  in 1890 to work in the mills."

During the four decades preceding the Civil War, the New England textile industry evolved and employment  to over one hundred thousand workers. One of the astonishing features of the early days of the industry was its dependence on "The Mill Girls". In some cities residency in factory boarding houses was mandatory. In a book called Run of the Mill this  was written."No persons could be employed whose habits are or shall be dissolute,indolent,dishonest or intemperate, or who absent themselves from public worship and violate the Sabbath. A board charge of $1.25 was deducted from the $2 to $4 a girl could earn in a 70 hour week.The hours were long, yet they were not overworked. They were to tend no more looms and frames than they could easily take care of. They had plenty of time to sit and rest and they were treated with respect by their employers."

Workers for the mills were recruited from Great Britain and Quebec, Canada. The Irish were pretty well established when French Canadians came to work in New England mills. Many of the mill towns from Connecticut through Maine had whole villages or sections of French Canadians.  That was true of the towns of Saco and Biddeford Maine, the setting for my book.  I added Biddeford Pool for its uniqueness and beauty. The towns were steeped in ethnicity and tradition and that became a theme of my stories.

I don't know whether my grandmother actually worked there because the family migrated to New York state before the turn of the century. The research, which started with that lithograph was a long and frustrating process which could be a story in itself, but it led to a semi- sequel featuring Tante Margaret   a much loved character from the Chronicles series in a book of her own SAFE HARBOR. It debuted a few weeks ago as a paperback book  available from Create Space and Amazon. Watch for a special reduced price as a Memorial Day bargain, and for all you readers of electronic books, an eBook of Safe Harbor is coming soon.


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Mary,

I'm very impressed that you've had an essay published in Mystery Scene Magazine. This is an aspect of American history that I'm unfamiliar with. I didn't realize so many of New England female workers were brought in from other countries to labor in the textile industry. Sad that Americans make so little these days. In any case, your new book sounds like a winner. Congrats!

Mary F. Schoenecker Writes said...

Thanks, Jacquie. The essay was published a few years ago, but it fit nicely in this blog as a lead into mention of the "mill girls" in connection with the textile industry.

Mary F. Schoenecker said...

Thanks Jacquie. The essay in Mystery Scene magazine was a few years ago, but it was a good lead into my series.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Massachusetts has its own Rust Belt, and the history of the old mills in New England is indeed fascinating. I'll look for your new book.

Mary F. Schoenecker Writes said...

Most of the New England states have huge blocks of old red brick mills, that but some of them have turned parts of them into shops, and apartments. The one in Saco Maine actually had conversions into shops which figured into the plots of my Maine Shore Chronicles series.