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The Great Turn-Out of 1841: Maine Textile Workers on Strike

Dr. Elizabeth DeWolfe, Professor of History at the University of New England, presents a little-known tale of ordinary women mill workers who took extraordinary measures to demand just treatment. In 1841, nearly 500 female factory workers walked out of Saco’s York Manufacturing Company and paraded up Main Street, chanting and singing. They gathered in a local church, formed a committee, and sent the factory owner a document articulating their complaints about wages, housing, and paternalistic rules. In this illustrated talk, Dr. DeWolfe explores the life of New England “factory girls,” the opportunities mill work brought, and the challenges of this difficult labor. She examines the tense days that followed the “turn-out” and shares how a strike in one Maine town connected to national agitation for women’s rights, including suffrage. This special presentation was generously sponsored by the Maine Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

As Professor of History at the University of New England, Elizabeth DeWolfe teaches courses in women’s history, archival research, and American culture. Dr. DeWolfe is a historical detective: she hunts archives for the traces of ordinary women, piecing together their all-but-forgotten lives from disparate clues. Dr. DeWolfe’s book on the short life and tragic death of a textile mill girl, The Murder of Mary Bean, was named the Outstanding Book of 2008 by the New England Historical Association. She has also written on anti-Shaker activists, on textile factory workers, and on an 1890s political scandal involving a US congressman, his mistress, and a spy.

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