Women's Activism in Lowell Videos

On August 18th 1920 the 19th amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified, giving women across the country the right to vote. This moment is a pivotal one for women’s rights in the United States, yet achieving the vote is both the culmination of efforts by women living in years and centuries past, and a conduit by which women continued to expand their freedoms in the century that followed. On this page you can explore these women’s stories through individual Mill City Minute videos, and a Lowell Talks event.

Sarah Bagely and Betsey Guppy Chamberlain were women who embraced the freedoms that Mill Girl life in mid-nineteenth century Lowell offered. Their stories are stories of purpose, activism, creativity and perseverance. While Sarah and Betsey worked in the mills, Betsy Cornwell labored in bondage in the Southern United States, where millions of enslaved people labored to produce the bales of cotton that were transformed into bolts of cloth in Lowell’s mills. Cornwell’s story intersects even more intimately with Lowell, as it was this city that allowed her her first taste of freedom, and partial recompense for her years of captivity and forced labor.

Bagley, Cornwell and Chamberlain did not live to see the day when women could vote, but their lives and careers help to build momentum felt around the United States in the years leading up to 1920. Deolinda Mello was born 5 years before women could vote, yet by the time she was a young adult she was actively pursing her calling to advocate on behalf of Immigrants and their children living in Lowell. Mary Hallaren continued to push the boundaries closer to equality, and was a leader in the United States military during the Second World War, where she earned the rank of Colonel. These five women had remarkable stories that offer a glimpse into the ongoing fight for women’s equality in the United States through two centuries.
 
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Duration:
55 seconds

Betsey Guppy Chamberlain was a Lowell factory operative who is often included on lists of early Indigenous writers. Many have ascribed English and Algonkian heritage to her biography. While living in Lowell, Chamberlain was prolific, writing dozens of short stories out by hand on top of caring for her family and working long days. Outside of her small circle of fellow writers, few would have known of Chamberlain's great output in the early 1840s. Though many of her stories were published in The Lowell Offering (a magazine by factory women) Chamberlain used pseudonyms such as Tabitha and B.C. Chamberlain wrote about Indigenous people with greater humanity and care than many of her contemporaries. In "The Indian Pledge" and "A Fire-Side Scene," Chamberlain questions the morality and values of people who act violently toward Indigenous people.

 
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1 minute, 1 second

Sarah Bagley became a weaver in Lowell in 1837. Within a few years, Bagley began protesting unfair labor practices and worked with other women to form the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association. Testifying before the state legislature in 1845, Bagley advocated for a shorter work day. As editor of the newspaper Voice of Industry, Bagley promoted women’s and workers’ rights. Bagley later became the nation’s first female telegraph operator. What is a cause that you care about?

 
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1 minute

Six years after their emancipation in Mississippi, Betsy Cornwell and her daughter Caroline arrived in Lowell and finally secured their freedom. The man trusted to lead them north to start a new life instead betrayed them, stole their money, and hired them out for work. Risking everything, Betsy met with a lawyer who fought for her freedom and her $4,000 inheritance. Betsy lived in Lowell the rest of her life and built community with other free people. What would you do for freedom?

 
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1 minute

Lowell native Mary Hallaren left her teaching job to serve in the U.S. Military during World War II. An avid learner, Hallaren quickly rose through the ranks to become a commanding officer, and had the duty of leading the first battalion of women in the European Theater of Operations. By 1944, she had taken command of all Women's Auxiliary Corps personnel in Europe, comprising over 9,000 women in five countries. Throughout her life, Colonel Hallaren continued to be an outspoken advocate for women’s equality in the United States Armed Forces.

 
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Deolinda Mello was born in Lowell in 1915 of Portuguese immigrant parents. She dedicated her life to immigrant and refugee settlement. A graduate of Lowell State Teachers College, Mello volunteered with the International Institute for 25 years. She joined the staff and became the Executive Director from 1960-1980. A tireless community translator and advocate for bilingual education in Lowell public schools, Mello made Lowell a more welcoming place. How do you support others?

 
 
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Duration:
55 minutes, 52 seconds

Just over 100 years ago, activists fighting for women's right to vote were up against many challenges--including a pandemic. One suffragist summarized the struggle in 1918 this way: "Everything conspires against women suffrage. Now it is the influenza.” Join Dr. Allison K. Lange, a historian and expert on the women's suffrage movement for a conversation about how the pandemic changed the strategy of suffragists.

 

Last updated: August 30, 2020

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