“I Have Sometimes Seen the White Cloth Winding Over the Rollers ... and I Have Thought it Beautiful”: Reading the Mill Girls’ Narratives as Artifacts of Material Rhetoric

Amy Propen

Abstract


I analyze narratives written by a group of women, known
as the “Mill Girls,” who laboured in the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, in the 1840s.
These narratives provide rich accounts of the material artifacts and spatial layout of the
mills, and the impact of the mills on the minds and bodies of the women who worked there. I
build on ideas about material culture to demonstrate how these narratives allow readers to
experience these texts as more tangible and rhetorically powerful. Borrowing from Michel
Foucault’s theory of heterotopias, I aim to illuminate the spatial and rhetorical dimensions of
material culture, and with it, the importance of material texts for understanding with greater
clarity the lived experiences of marginalized groups like the Mill
Girls.

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