ATHM Blog

ATHM Welcomes New Project Archivist

ATHM is pleased to announce that Rhonda Chadwick has been hired as a Project Archivist to begin work on the Troy Mills records, a large collection (approximately 700 cartons) of material relating to the Troy Mills of Troy, N.H.  Troy Mills, owned and operated by the Ripley family, began life in 1865 as Troy Blanket Mills, a manufacturer of horse blankets; branched out into apparel fabrics and automotive trim in the 20th century; and continued operations under the same family until the early part of this century, a remarkable span of over 135 years.  The collection represents an exceptional look at the complete business history of the longest family-owned textile mill in New Hampshire.

Rhonda Chadwick stands among the stacks of records from the Troy Mills that she will be archiving.

 

Rhonda holds a dual master’s degree from Simmons College in Boston: an MS in Library and Information Science and an MA in History.  She recently completed work on a comprehensive survey of the Gorham Manufacturing Company collection (6,000 linear feet) at the John Hay Library at Brown University in Providence, R.I., and has worked on collections at the Rhode Island School of Design, the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at UMass Boston, the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College and the Rhode Island Historical Society.

The Troy Mills Project is being supported by the generosity of Ripley family members.

A Printing Success Story

An important piece of American textile history has found a home at ATHM, thanks to the talents of a Russian immigrant.

Ruth Terry Wolfson was born near Odessa, in what is now Ukraine. Seeking a better life, 10-year-old Ruth and her family immigrated to Springfield, Massachusetts, in the 1890s.

Young Ruth’s abilities in art and design led her high school teachers to encourage her in pursing a career as a teacher of art. Ruth had the good fortune of continuing her education at Pratt Institute in New York City at a time when relatively few women (especially those from immigrant families) were being trained for professions other than teaching and secretarial work.

 

Ruth Terry Wolfson, 1927.

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New Exhibit Added to “Textile Revolution”

Visitors can now see a stunning new exhibit on display in ATHM’s core exhibition, “Textile Revolution.”  This piece, titled “Sky into Water / Tides,” is a contemporary work of fiber art featuring optical fibers by artist Laurie Carlson Steger.  The piece has replaced another work of fiber art by Steger, titled “Keyhole,” which was added to “Textile Revolution” in 2011.

"Sky into Water / Tides" by Laurie Carlson Steger

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“Educating the Educators” with ATHM and MITS

By collaborating with many outstanding cultural and educational institutions, the Education Department at ATHM fulfills our mission to increase student knowledge and appreciation of the art, history and science of textiles. An important aspect of this is “educating the educator”.  Through collaborations with more than 100 museums, aquaria, nature centers and other non profit science education organizations, MITS aims to provide valuable and creative professional development opportunities for educators.

 

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“Being Obliged to Room with Any-Body and Every-Body That May Come Along Is Not What I Like”

Lowell, Mass., was famous in the 19th century for its textile industry, including the use of “mill girls,” Yankee women who came from farms in New England to the big city to work in the mills.  The Osborne Library here in the American Textile History Museum owns a number of mill girl letters, written to friends and family about the work of the mill girls, their homesickness, the city and other matters.

Somewhat less common are letters from “mill guys” or men who worked in the mills.  The library has recently acquired two wonderful letters written by Charles Lucius Anderson who worked in the Lowell Machine Shop (a textile machinery manufacturer).  Both written in 1853, Anderson describes his work, comments at length about family and friends, and makes a number of comments about life in Lowell that are illuminating, amusing and just rich in history.

In his letter dated October 6, 1853 (nearly 150 years ago!), Anderson writes to his parents in West Windham, N.H. (just over the state line from Lowell) concerning—among other matters—his change in his boarding place.  Unlike many of the mill girls who lived in company-owned boardinghouses, Anderson was living in a private house, renting a room.  However, the situation was not to his satisfaction, as he explains:

“Since I saw Father I have changed my boarding-place to Mr. George Fiske’s in Appleton Street… The reason why I removed was because the “Old Lady” put a young man into room with me, which I would not room with; so I picked up my duds and left.  This boarding at a place and being obliged to room with any-body and every-body that may come along is not what I like, and I made up my mind that when I did move I would have a room to myself if it cost me $3.00 per week for board.”

 

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The Great Hurricane of 1938

While hurricanes are certainly not uncommon in New England, few were as disastrous and destructive as the Great Hurricane of 1938, which struck without much warning and caused extensive damage in New England, particularly in eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island.  September 21 marks the anniversary of this storm 74 years ago, a storm that killed more than 500 people and caused millions of dollars in damage.  Especially destructive was the tidal wave created by the storm, which caused special havoc along the shoreline and flooded tidal basins and rivers.  Downtown Providence, R.I., at the head of Narragansett Bay, suffered extensive flooding damage, for instance; I can remember one of my aunts recalling how she had to retreat to the attic of the building in which she was working in Providence at the time when the flood struck.

Many textile mills suffered damage from the winds, which tore off roofs and smashed windows uncovering the interiors; machinery and stock was further damaged from rain or broken sprinkler systems.  The photo below shows damage to the Warwick Mills in Centerville, R.I., where a partial roof collapse has led to damage in the interior.

While the damage seems severe, you can see from the following image that only one end of the fourth floor of the Warwick Mills actually suffered damage.

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How Big is Your Turbine?

Turbines, or water wheels, were manufactured to supply power to many industries, not the least of which was the textile industry.  Before the advent of electricity, it was the water wheels in the basements of many textile  factories churning the water supplied by the canals or rivers on which these factories were situated that supplied the power to the textile machinery on the floors above.  The Osborne Library has an extensive collection of trade catalogs for companies that manufactured turbines, including the Rodney Hunt Machine Company of Orange, Mass.; the Holyoke Machine Company of Holyoke, Mass.; and James Leffel & Company of Springfield, Ohio.

However, turbines were produced for other industries, especially the power industry, such as this one pictured below, a water turbine manufactured by S. Morgan Smith Co. of York, Penn.  Made for the Great Falls Power Station of the Montana Power Company, it was one of six units manufactured by S. Morgan Smith Co. developing 90,000 HP (horsepower) under 50 feet head at 200 RPM (revolutions per minute).

It’s not until you realize that’s a man standing inside the penstock (on the right) that you understand just how tremendously large this turbine is.  It gives a whole new meaning to scale, and illustrates the awesome size far better than a dry recitation of so many feet high and so many feet wide.

S. Morgan Smith & Co. was founded in York, Penn., in 1876 and operated under that name until 1959, when it was taken over by Allis-Chambers Manufacturing Company.  The company continues today under the name Precision Custom Components, still manufacturing energy related equipment for commercial and government markets, including components of nuclear reactors.

Jane Ward, Assistant Librarian

It’s a Twister!

July 26, 1890 started out as a typically hot July day in Lawrence, Massachusetts, but early in the morning, disaster struck in the form of the Great Cyclone of July 26, 1890.

Nowadays we would call this a tornado, but regardless of its nomenclature, this storm wreaked destruction on part of South Lawrence, as seen in the above photo, where a house has been split in two and unceremoniously dumped onto the ground.  Eight people were killed and 65 injured.  The cyclone struck shortly after 9:00 a.m., and certainly there was no warning of the wind.  Even today, tornado warnings are issued only minutes before the storm strikes and sometimes not at all, as the prediction of a tornado—where and when it will strike—is still a difficult science.

These photos, taken by A. W. Anderson of Haverhill, Mass., show the destruction.  Houses were opened up by the storm, having walls and roofs torn off.  Strewn around in the foreground of one photo is bedding and a chair, along with other unrecognizable debris while rescuers pose literally on top of what is left of the house.

A poem about the calamity, written by Alexander B. Beard of West Manchester, N.H., described the storm this way: “Like a demon loosed from Bedlam nought could its progress stay, / It spent its awful fury on all within its way. / The dwellings fell like ripe grain beneath the reapers blade, / Many poor industrious people were thereby homeless made.”  Thankfully the damage was confined to a small part of South Lawrence, and the rest of the city was undamaged.  Relief efforts poured in from Lawrence and surrounding towns and cities, amounting to a total of over $37,000, a substantial sum in 1890.

Anderson’s photos received widespread distribution at the time.  A set of them can be found here in the Osborne Library, as well as in the Special Collections at the Lawrence Public Library.

 

Jane Ward, Assistant Librarian

Bombazetts for Sale!

Bombazetts were only one of the many dry goods for sale by William Manning Jr. in his shop at No. 1 Old Faneuil Hall in Boston around 1835, as we can see in this broadside issued by Manning and recently purchased by the Osborne Library. Along with ginghams, plaids, calicoes, cambrics, linens, silks, velvets, etc.—all terms we recognize today—he also sold such fabrics as bombazetts (a thin dressgoods cloth), fearnoughts (a heavy English cheviot material), duffils (a poor quality blanket made from low grade woolen yarns), kerseys (a term referring to both a high quality woolen fabric and a coarse ribbed or twilled fabric), and bockings (a coarse woolen fabric used for floor cloths), terms that have pretty much faded from the modern lexicon!

Fabrics, of course, were only one aspect of a dry goods store. Manning also sold all of the accompaniments that would be used when sewing a piece of clothing—buttons, ribbons, laces—as well as the needles, thread, and pins needed, plus gloves, handkerchiefs, shawls, hosiery, umbrellas, and the like. And for those interested in one-stop shopping, note the reference to butter and cheese being for sale in the cellar under Manning’s store. Manning’s shop was located directly opposite what we know today as Quincy Market in downtown Boston, where shopkeepers of all sorts of provisions could be found, both then and now.

Industry and art come together in this broadside with the addition of a charming engraving of Faneuil Hall at the top of the sheet, making Manning’s shop location instantly recognizable, even to those who might not be able to read his long list of “articles too numerous to be mentioned.” Manning was “desirous to extend his business” and was willing to accept goods in exchange or barter. He offered cash or credit terms, and would deal wholesale or retail. Despite the wear and tear seen on the sheet, it’s remarkable that this thin sheet survived 175 years to remind us of how some things have changed but some things haven’t. As any business owner would say today, it’s all about the service!

Jane Ward, Assistant Librarian

Researching at ATHM

Guest blogger Dr. Amy L. Montz, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Southern Indiana, writes about her experience conducting research at ATHM:

Archival research is a tricky thing.

There is a lot of planning, of course: the phone calls to make, the emails to send. It is important to establish communication with people you’ve never met before, all with the same purpose: can I, may I, please invade your space, disrupt your work day, ask dozens of questions, and be supervised handling fragile materials in your collection?

When the approval is given, when you have proven that you are, in fact, a legitimate researcher, you need to tell the curator which items or collections you would like to see. This naturally involves more research beyond your initial forays into their collections online. More emails are flung across the wires, more documents are sent—your book summary, their collections list—and by the time you leave for your trip, you have a general idea of the materials you will have the opportunity to see, but oftentimes no guarantee as to whether all materials will be available.

As a new historicist literary critic, I use history and culture to understand literature, and literature to understand history and culture. As a literary scholar working on women and fashion in nineteenth-century novels, my particular brand of history happens to be textiles, ephemera, and other items of domestic everyday. I have conducted archival research for my then-dissertation and now-current book project Dressing for England: Fashion and Nationalism in Victorian Novels now three times in England and once in New England. By this point in my career, I would like to say that I am quite a pro at these introductions: I know how to send the emails, how to search the databases. I know what materials curators will request, and I have a firm grasp on the type of materials I would most want to work with. So when I contact archives, I often ask for specific items of clothing—shawls, crinolines, corsets—and specific items of ephemera—photographs, diaries, letters. Often, there is not enough time in the day to complete the amount of research I want to conduct, even when limited to the materials requested. This is, of course, complicated when I meet a curator who knows her archive inside and out.

Shawl, c. 1925, Brightwood Manufacturing Company, North Andover, MA

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