Whittier Cameo        
Lucy Larcom        
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brooch04.png Played by Cheryl Lassiter

Lucy Larcom

My father died when I was eight and my mother, not wanting to find a stepfather for the eight of us children, moved to Lowell and operated a boarding house for young ladies who worked in the mills.

When I was eleven I went to work in the mills and worked there for ten years. Work was our main priority, but we had plenty of time for intellectual pursuits and our studies. In fact, some of the best known lecturers in America spoke at the Lowell Lyceum where I was able to hear them speak.

cheryl_0646-denoise-clear_cp1_fx1_med.jpg In between my work shifts I liked to read and write poetry. I submitted a poem entitled Sabbath Bells to The Standard. Whittier, who was the editor at the time, was not interested in the poem - perhaps as a Quaker he did not approve of church spires and belis....but he wanted to meet me. This began a life friendship with him and his sister, Elizabeth. John also introduced me to the famous publisher James Fields, whom he greatly admired, and Mr. Fields ended up publishing my works in the Atlantic Monthly. John helped a lot of us women writers succeed. Like John, I too was an abolitionist.

As a young woman I went west, eventually settling in Illinois where I taught school until I earned enough money to enroll at Monticello Female Seminary in Godfrey, Ill. I graduated and earned credentials, returning east to teach at Wheaton Seminary in Norton, Mass.

Returning back to New England, I edited a children's magazine called Our Young Folks and John sent a poem to be used in it called In School Days, about a one-room school house in East Haverhill where he and Lydia Ayer had taken part in a spelling bee. The poem became very famous.

For many years John and I critiqued each other's writings before publication. We wrote some books together and I even anonymously edited three volumes of his work for the Atlantic Monthly. You know, I never married because by doing so my legal rights and proceeds from my writing would have belonged to my husband. You could say that my chief ambition throughout life was maintaining my middle class respectability while also asserting my right to economic independence through my education and hard work.

In my 60s, I became ill and John raised money for my support and presented me with cash and an annuity. I was 65 years old when I wrote my most famous work A New England Girlhood. This book detailed my life as a Lowell mill worker and is still in print today. When John died he left me the copyrights to the books we had written together and $500.

Note. Whittier had hoped for a career in politics. He was elected to the state convention of the National Republican Party and ran for Congress as a Whig. His interest turned to anti-slavery work; Whittier lectured and accepted high positions in the New England Anti-Slavery Society. While he worked vigorously trying to recruit men to run for Congress in the Liberty Party, he was appointed to a committee to confer with Lydia Maria Child.