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"Editorial: Two Suicides," Harriet Farley, Lowell Offering, Volume IV
1844


And here may it not be well to add one word against the sin of detraction? -- of rashly and wantonly speaking ill where there is no proof of error -- of lightly repeating the gossip of the day, which may or may not be true -- of carelessly passing opinions upon those of whom no close acquaintance justifies us in passing this judgement. People may talk of village gossip; but in no place is an evil report more quickly circulated, and apparently believed, than in a factory. One fiendish-minded girl can start a calumny which will soon ruin the good name of another, unless she be unusually fortunate in friends, or circumstances are peculiarly favorable; or her whole past life as been as remarkable for the wisdom of the serpent as the harmlessness of the dove. But enough! -- this evil is already curing itself, and "it is only a factory story" is considered as an intimation to inquire further.

But we return from our digression to the theme which suggested it. Morbid dejection, and wounded sensibility, have, in these instances, produced that insanity which prompted suicide. Is it not an appropriate question to ask here whether, or not, there was any thing in their mode of life which tended to this dreadful result?

We have been accused of representing unfairly the relative advantages and disadvantages of factory life. We are thought to give the former too great prominence, and the latter too little, in the pictures we have drawn. Are we guilty?

We should be willing to resign our own individual contributions to the harshest critic, and say to him, Judge ye! And, with regard to the articles of our contributors, we have never published any thing which our own experience had convinced us was unfair. But, if in our sketches, there is too much light and too little shade, let our excuse be found in the circumstances which have brought us before the public. We have not though it necessary to state, or rather to constantly reiterate that our life was a toilsome one -- for we supposed that would be universally understood, after we had stated how may hours in a day we tended our machines. We have not thought a constant repetition of the fact necessary, that our life was one of confinement; when it was known that we work in one spot of one room. We have not thought it necessary to enlarge upon the fact that there was ignorance and folly among a large population of young females, away from their homes, and indiscriminately collected from all quarters. These facts have always been so generally understood that the worth, happiness and intelligence, which really exists, have been undervalued. But, are the operatives here as happy as females in the prime of life, in the constant intercourse of society, in the enjoyment of all necessaries, and many comforts -- with money at their own command; and the means of gratifying their peculiar tastes in dress, &c. -- are they as happy as they would be, with all this, in some other situations? We sometimes fear they are not.

And was there any thing, we ask again, in the situation of these young women which influenced them to this melancholy act? In factory labor it is sometimes an advantage, but also sometimes the contrary, that the mind is thrown back upon itself -- it is forced to depend upon its own resources, for a large proportion of the time of the operative. Excepting by sight, the females hold but little companionship with each other. This is why the young girls rush so furiously together when they are set at liberty. This is why the sedate young woman, who loves contemplation, and enjoys her own thoughts better than any other society, prefers this to any other employment. But, when a young woman is naturally of a morbid tone of mind, or when afflictions have created such a state, that employment which forces the thoughts back upon an unceasing reminiscence of its own misery, is not the right one. This is not the life suited to a misanthrope, or an unfortunate, although they, in their dejection, might thing otherwise. However much of a materialist, and little of a sentimentalist, we may appear, we still believe that fresh bracing air, frequent bathings, and carefully prepared food, may do much in reconciling us to the sorrows and disappointments of life. The beneficial influence of social intercourse, and varied employment, has never been questioned.

Last summer a young woman of this city, who was weary of her monotonous life, but saw no hope of redemption, opened her heart to a benevolent lady, who was visiting upon a philanthropic mission. "And now,' said she, as we concluded her tale of grievances, "what shall I do?" She could do nothing but dig, and was ashamed to beg. The lady was appalled by a misery for which there was no relief. There was no need of pecuniary aid, or she might have appealed to the benevolent. She could give her kind and soothing words, but these would have no permanent power to reconcile her to her lot. "I can tell you of nothing," she replied, "but to throw yourself into the canal."

There is something better than this -- and we are glad that so noble a spirit is manifested by our operatives, for there is something noble in their general cheerfulness and contentment. "They also serve who only stand and wait." They serve, even more acceptably, who labor patiently and wait.

H.F.


 

Consider These Questions

Background

 

1. Do you agree or disagree with the way the author has explained the suicides?

2. How do you think life in the factory system might lead to suicide?




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