Elizabeth "Lillie" Chace Wyman

Lillie Chace Wyman
"Lillie" Chace Wyman

Elizabeth, known as “Lillie,” Buffum Chace Wyman was the seventh child of Samuel and Elizabeth Buffam Chace. The oldest daughter to survive to adulthood, Lillie grew up under the strong Quaker influence of her father and mother. Young Lillie had a passion for literature, undoubtedly encourage by her parents. She read such Abolitionist works as Uncle Tom’s Cabin and William Lloyd Garrison’s newspaper The Liberator.

After the abolition of American slavery, Lillie’s famous mother turned her attention to women’s suffrage. Although her mother was noted for her progressive work in the family’s mill village, providing for adult and child education, her daughter didn’t think these steps went far enough. Growing up in the family home, Lillie lived next to her family’s mill and village. There she became aware of the struggles of the working-class. She especially became concerned for the women and children operatives in her father’s mills.

Lillie became a writer. She published short, fictional stories which demonstrated the sad quality of life endured by mill workers. Many of these mill workers were recent immigrants to the United States – these included French-Canadians, Irish, and English. Her writings in the 1870s seem to have inspired her mother to finally speak out on behalf of working-class women at a conference in Buffalo, New York in 1881.

Lillie’s biggest accomplishment was the publication of Poverty Grass in 1886. This collection of short stories portrayed the harsh reality of mill life for working-class women and children. In one story, “Child of the State,” Lillie warned: “Men and women who labor eleven hours a day in the stifling air of a great factory have limitations to their freedom of will.” Drawing upon her firsthand experience as the daughter of a mill owner living in Valley Falls, the picture Lillie painted was bleak.

In another story, “Luke Gardner’s Love,” Lillie implicitly attacked her parent’s indifference to the struggles of their workers. While focusing on the slaves of the American South, Lillie feared the workers in her parent’s mill were well on their way to becoming chattel slaves themselves.

She admitted that if she did have a purpose or a motive for her writing, “it has been that I might help ever so slightly to make the fortunate ones of this world know the less happy ones well enough to sympathize with them.” Much like her idol Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Lillie hoped to make the plight of the worker known to her middle and upper class patrons who either were ignorant or turned a blind eye.

Last updated: March 4, 2022

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