Mill Girls and Strangers

Single Women's Independent Migration in England, Scotland, and the United States, 1850-1881

By Wendy M. Gordon

Subjects: Women's Studies
Paperback : 9780791455265, 244 pages, October 2002
Hardcover : 9780791455258, 244 pages, October 2002

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Table of contents

List of Figures


1. Transitions in the City: Independent Female Migration, 1850–1881

Single Female Migrants in Historical Perspectives

2. Preston: The Unseen Migrants

Migrants and Domestic Service in Preston
The Migrants' Economy

3. Lowell: The Mill Girls

Migrants and the Textile Industry in Lowell
The Migrants' Society
A Desire to See the City
The Migrants' Independence

4. Paisley: The Strangers and the Maids

Migrants and Domestic Service in Paisley
Migrants and Bleaching in Paisley
Accommodating Independent Migrants
The Migrants' Economy
To Prosecute Her Claim
Personal Migration Patterns
Migrants at Risk

5. Comparisons: The Migrants Beside Themselves

Appendix: The Statistical Methodology




A comparative history of single women's independent migration to the textile cities of Preston, England; Lowell, Massachusetts; and Paisley, Scotland.


In the nineteenth-century mill towns of Preston, England; Lowell, Massachusetts; and Paisley, Scotland, there were specific demands for migrant and female labor, and potential employers provided the necessary respectable conditions in order to attract them. Using individual accounts, this innovative and comparative study examines the migrants' lives by addressing their reasons for migration, their relationship to their families, the roles they played in the cities to which they moved, and the dangers they met as a result of their youth, gender, and separation from family. Gordon details both the similarities and differences in the women's migration experiences, and somewhat surprisingly concludes that they became financially independent, rather than primarily contributors to a family economy.

Wendy M. Gordon is Assistant Professor of History at Plattsburgh State University.


"This slim book is full of good surprises. " — Maine History

"A seamless blend of quantitative and qualitative sources ensures that the book achieves both the statistical foundation essential to demographic history and the personal testimony, which adds human flesh to the skeleton of large-scale patterns in migration. " — Scottish Economic & Social History

"The comparison between the three cities and the three different sets of migrant women, who share much in common, is a wonderful way to examine the experiences of these women and the contexts within which they operated. Centering the analysis on the lives of the women themselves and reconceptualizing the world from their point of view is a vital contribution to feminist history. " — Katharine Jones, author of Accent on Privilege: English Identities and Anglophilia in the U. S.

"This extremely well written and easy-to-read book offers a possibility for reconciling conflicting interpretations of women migrants as either independent or beholden to their families. " — Donna Gabaccia, author of From Sicily to Elizabeth Streety