AMOSKEAG: Life and Work in An American Factory-City by Tamara K. & Randolph Langenbach Hareven
Kirkus Star

AMOSKEAG: Life and Work in An American Factory-City

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

The Boston-based Amoskeag Manufacturing Company launched its mills (in tastefully matched brick) and the town of Manchester, New Hampshire, in 1837. Fifty years later the Amoskeag complex was the largest textile factory in the world. In another fifty years Amoskeag closed down, throwing 17,000 people out of work. This book records the oral history of some of those people and their forebears, most of them now dead. Hareven interviews a handful of workers from the first generation's ""golden age"" (""I think it's the most interesting work a girl can have"") and many from subsequent generations of French Canadians, Irish, Poles, and Greeks carrying on their families' work in the mills. In the inevitable conflict, some side with management (""When I got to be an overseer, I was able to own an automobile""), some with the workers (""I did not enjoy working in the mills""); others simply hang on (""You didn't know things could be better""). Here too are the voices of owners and managers (""Dad believed you got the most for your money when you sold an honest product"") and--stunningly--the voices of women who held together factories and families: ""What can you do when you are the oldest?"" They talk about their work, their living conditions, their family life, and what they have learned: ""If I had my life all over again, I wouldn't be in the mill."" Eventually, after labor battles in the Twenties, the mills close, but not until the owners have squirreled millions in profits in their own private hole. The historical background and brief commentary Hareven provides is, if anything, rather too detached; but the quiet, shattering accounts of the workers' endless labor leave no doubt as to who was doing what to whom. Historic photographs evoke the old days and compensate for Langenbach's pedestrian photos of the mills today and some of the people interviewed. This is a memorable chorus of real and forgotten voices, more intense than Dunwell's Run of the Mill (above).

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1978
ISBN: 0874517362
Publisher: Pantheon