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Lucy Larcom letter

 Collection — Multiple Collection Box: [CA 1884 Sept 15] 1
Identifier: CA 1884 Sept 15

Scope and Contents

The collection (1884) contains one letter that includes a handwritten poem from Larcom to a "Mrs Bray," regarding other writers, and Larcom's growing pile of unanswered mail.


  • 1884 September 15


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Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Conditions Governing Use

Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Biographical / Historical

"Although Lucy Larcom was a well-published poet in her lifetime, she is best known today for writing A New England Girlhood (1889). This autobiography is a classic book about the age of industrialization and her role in it as a textile mill worker – beginning at age eleven.

She was born on May 5, 1824, in the then-rural town of Beverly, Massachusetts, north of Boston. Lucy’s life was greatly affected when her father, Benjamin, died when she was just eight. From then on, the family struggled to maintain middle-class status. Social Security, life insurance, and other mechanisms to assist such families had yet to be created, and the financial fate of widows often was hard. Instead of taking the usual path of finding a stepfather for her eight children, Lois Larcom moved to Lowell, Massachusetts, where the older girls worked in the textile mills, while she ran a boarding house for mill workers.

[Larcom] started as a spinner, using the education her mother had given her, rose to become a bookkeeper.

Larcom wrote many short stories and poems. Her first work was published in Operative Magazine, which was founded by her sisters for other machine operators. In 1843, Lucy Larcom’s writing caught the attention of John Greenleaf Whittier, a nationally known poet and Quaker activist against slavery, and they became long-time friends.

After more than a decade in the mills, she took the big step of moving from New England in 1846; at 22, Lucy accompanied her sister Emeline and Emeline’s new husband to the boomtown of St. Louis. Although she had little formal education, Lucy had learned enough from her mother and older sisters that she was hired as a teacher in nearby Illinois. She continued to write poetry, and in 1849, was recognized with inclusion in Female Poets of America. She managed to save enough from her teaching salary that she soon could afford to enroll at Monticello Female Seminary in Godfrey, Illinois. She graduated in 1852, having earned the credentials to teach at similar institutions back East.

Larcom then became a teacher at Wheaton Seminary in Norton, Massachusetts, while also continuing to write. When she won a major poetry contest in 1854, Whittier introduced her to his publishing contacts. Soon her poetry appeared in the leading periodicals of her time. She also anonymously edited three volumes of Whittier’s work.

Larcom was an abolitionist and rejoiced when Abraham Lincoln was elected president. She became more conservative as she aged, however, and did not support Massachusetts’ Lucy Stone or other women’s rights leaders. Her chief ambition throughout life was maintaining middle-class respectability, while also asserting women’s right to economic independence via education.

In 1889, Larcom published A New England Girlhood, which detailed her life as a Lowell mill worker. The book became her most famous work and is still in print today. She was sixty-five when she wrote it, and her reminiscences emphasized the positive side of life in the nation’s early textile mills. It nonetheless has served as a valuable record of this unusual time in American history, when factories recruited teenage girls, paid them relatively well, and even provided opportunities such as Operative Magazine.

Larcom died in Boston on April 17, 1893 and was buried in her hometown of Beverly, Massachusetts."

[Sources: National Women's History Museum (NWHM) webpage.

Baldwin, David. “Lucy Larcom” in Notable American Women, vol 2, 368-69.

Kirkland, Winifred and Frances. Girls Who Made Good. Freeport, NY: books for Libraries Press, 1971.

Larcom, Lucy. A New England Girlhood: outlined from memory. Boston : Northeastern University Press, 1986.

Selden, Bernice. The Mill Girls: Lucy Larcom, Harriet Hanson Robinson, Sarah G. Bagley. New York: Atheneum, 1983.]


0.025 linear feet (1 container) : 1 folder

Language of Materials



Lucy Larcom (1824-1893) was a poet, and novelist who wrote about her experiences working in a textile mill beginning at age eleven. The collection (1884) contains one letter that includes a handwritten poem from Larcom to a "Mrs Bray," regarding other writers, and Larcom's growing pile of unanswered mail.

Processing Information

Collection processed by staff.

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

This collection received a basic level of processing including minimal organization and rehousing.

Description information is drawn in part from information supplied with the collection and initial surveys of the contents.

Guide to the Lucy Larcom Letter
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Tanya Parlet.
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.
Funding for production of this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

Repository Details

Part of the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Repository

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA