Yorkshire lasses and their lads: sexuality, sexual customs, and gender antagonisms in Anglo-American working-class culture.

Turner, About Myself, pp. 270 (Feb 1997): 89-94.

48. 61.

By Mary Blewett

56. Jan Lambertz, “Sexual Harassment in the Nineteenth Century

English Cotton Industry,” History Workshop Journal, no. Bradford Observer, Jan. Jowitt, “Retardation,” in Employers and Labour, p.


Evidence of female victimization, however, predominates in many

other studies and personal accounts. 57, and of Bertha Stott, “The

Black Sheep,” p. She held his arms tight and her big bosoms

pinned him down to the ground while others caught hold of his legs,

which were thrashing about and held them still so that others could

get his trousers down….

“Aye, let’s see what he’s gotten,” they screamed, and “Nay, he’s

nobbut half a man at that,” and “Reach us the oil can here.” They had

a long spouted oil can with ‘em and they emptied it onto his privates

and rubbed it well in with hard hands and fingers and knuckles that

were used to kneading a bowl ‘o dough and did the same thing now with

his wincing flesh. 74-5.

80. Smith, “The Mill Folk,” pp. Nicola Reader, Ph.D. But they faced taunts from their

employers, co-workers, families, and communities that equated female

militancy with being “brazen” and “having cheek:”

aggressive behaviors that questioned their moral “decency.”

(63) In other strikes, such as in 1868 and 1876 at Titus Salt’s

alpaca mills at Saltaire in Bradford, wool combers, weavers, and

spinners (men and women, boys and girls) cooperated to protest against

wage cuts. Ittmann, Work, Gender and Family, pp. For a more optimistic view based on middle-class

feminist activism in Leeds and Bradford, see Hannam, “‘In the

Comradeship of the Sexes,” pp. Bornat, “Lost Leaders,” pp. (86) The oil in the can itself was relatively clean, but

smearing lubrication for machinery on the human body is ritual

pollution. Knight, Women and Abortion,” pp. John, ed., Unequal Opportunities: Women’s Employment in

England, 1800-1918 (London, 1986) pp. 317-21.

63. Adjusting and repairing machinery was

skilled work strictly reserved for men. (34) Ittmann’s study of fertility in

mid-Victorian Bradford, Yorkshire, questioned the prevalence of

working-class sexual prudery and reticence, pointing to a late

nineteenth- century tradition of female bawdiness and open sexual

antagonism in Yorkshire. For as long as

they remained textile workers, mill lasses could expect no advances in

skills or in wage rates or any role in changing their situation through

union activity. The punishment for not

being a fully developed male in their eyes is the oil can.

Regardless of the strength of trade union patriarchy and corporate

paternalism backed by intense middle-class anxiety about working-class

sexuality, female textile workers acted to defend themselves. For example,

Grandfather Denby, the patriarchal father in Smith’s novella,

“The Mill Folk,” regards all women, including his faithful

wife, his daughters, and his daughters-in-law, as objects of his more or

less controlled lusts. (45) Indeed, courters had

free access to secluded woods and village lanes in the early nineteenth

century. James R. (1) Patrick Joyce defined class and gender relations in the

factory culture of Lancashire and of Yorkshire’s West Riding in the

late nineteenth-century as deferential, harmonious, and paternalistic ties, largely between employers and working men. They chase the lad as if they were

foxhounds and he the fox to be torn apart when caught for sport.

Galloping after him in a pack–hair tossing, skirts flying–they catch

him with anticipatory shrieks of laughter knowing what is to come. 149-53.

99. In early

nineteenth-century Yorkshire, villagers regarded “older

courters” as “man and wife. Lawson, Progress in Pudsey, pp. (28) One day

in 1915, now a full-time spinner working on yarn for Army uniforms, she

was dreaming of a different life while neglecting her machines, when a

co-worker asked her, “Nay Maggie, you were miles away. The antagonism between husband

and wife festered. Women, empowered by their sexuality,

acted as the potential or actual arbiters of power within the family.


87. (3) The same appraisal

reveals significant continuity between Yorkshire and the New England

immigrants, despite assumptions of rapid assimilation.

Yorkshire immigrant Hedley Smith (1909-1992) wrote novellas and

published short stories to preserve the West Riding dialect and homeland

customs in the early twentieth-century mill village of Greystone in the

town of North Providence, Rhode Island. W. And their judgments

denigrating the size of his penis are cutting indeed. 237-8.

49. 62-3.

Smith’s fiction both confirms Ittmann and explores the erotic

power of female physicality from the point of view of both sexes.

Yorkshire men idealized and naturalized the passionate eroticism of

their lasses. 60.

Hedley Smith sought to capture the culture of Yorkshire migrant

people in the early twentieth century, although his middle-class values

dictated many of his interests. For the quote and the general acceptance of paternalism along

the lines of Saltaire in the West Riding, D. Smith, “The Mill Folk,” pp. Knowles is referring to Minetta

Sweet, in “The Wise Child,” More Yankee Yorkshiremen, pp. Women weavers, such as his mother

and grandmother, were not welcome in Yorkshire trade unionism. For the dismissal of “book nonsense,” see the

characters of Joth Booth, “The Conscience of Mr. have debated

whether or not female immigrants represented the “arch-conservators

of tradition.” (84) If so, these Yorkshire immigrant weavers were

actively choosing which traditions to conserve and use for their own


46. 5, 12, 19, 26, Feb. (61) Some married women were experienced menders (burlers),

highly skilled but not highly paid needlework. 72-75.

92. 67-72.

Women’s work in the Yorkshire textile industry provides

another context in which to analyze material from Smith’s fiction

on the behaviors of Yorkshire lasses and lads who “had their

fun” prior to marriage. (62) Others like Hedley

Smith’s mother Alice Collins Smith advanced to skilled jacquard

weaving. 47-49.

72. These conflicts included sexually charged customs and

behaviors, such as the ritual humiliation of men by working women, and

new meanings for female agency in premarital sexual activities. A

young beginner was always fair game to his older mates, lads and

lasses alike, and the women were the worse of the two. In the paternalist ideology of

mid-nineteenth century Yorkshire, the working- class home and its

harmonious domestic arrangements were central to industrial order. B. Ethnic slurs mark the social

visibility of English immigrants, but these insults may also have been a

reaction to the vibrant trade unionism of English immigrants in both

cotton and woolen manufacture in southeastern New England. (14) The historiography of Yorkshire

working-class life and trade unionism provides another context within

which both fiction and observations can be interpreted. 65,

Emily Waddington, “Wedding Dress,” pp. Berthoff, British Immigrants in Industrial America,

1790-1950 (Cambridge, 1953) and Charlotte Erickson, Invisible

Immigrants: The Adaptation of English and Scottish Immigrants in

19th-Century America (Ithaca, NY, 1990 reprint of 1972 edition) and

Leaving England: Essays on British Emigration in the Nineteenth Century

(Ithaca, NY, 1994).

62. I

don’t bother wi’ t’ lads.” (29) Exhausted by the

war’s compulsory overtime, Maggie left the mill. Middle-class Yorkshire and

the trades unions widely condemned working wives. Historians of immigration to the U.S. (52) Both paternalist

employers and skilled unionists in worsted factories deliberately

perpetuated this situation by denying craft training and union activity

to women. (93) Yorkshire migrants working

in the early twentieth-century mill villages of Rhode Island found

themselves pitted against a hostile Yankee society, whose leaders ran

the state and most of its economic enterprises. Ittmann, Work, Gender and Family, pp. ix-xii and chapter 6. 69-72 and Patricia Knight, “Women and Abortion in

Victorian and Edwardian England,” History Workshop Journal, no. Insisting on his rights as master of the house in

the late nineteenth-century mill village of Wilsden, Yorkshire, he

spanks his impudent teenage daughter Martha like a child on her bare

backside in front of the family. Although his work focuses on migration

during the 1990s, Cohen explicitly questions whether the nation state

was ever historically able to contain “the wider socialities”

it sought to represent.

7. (21)

Priestley defended female mill workers who went about having their

raucous “fun.” As he put it: “There was nothing sly,

nothing hypocritical, about these coarse dames and screaming lasses, who

were devoted to their own men, generally working in the same mill, and

kept on ‘courting’, though the actual courtship stage was over

early, for years and years until a baby was due, when they married. 117-36.

29. diss., University of

Essex, 1986), p. Barrett and David Roediger, “Inbetween Peoples:

Race, Nationality and the ‘New Immigrant’ Working Class,”

Journal of American Ethnic History (Spring 1997): 3-44, esp. 163-5; Jacquelyn Dowd

Hall, et. However, the general shift in

women’s jobs and expectations during the interwar years of the

twentieth century resulted in new articulations of female sexuality and

the specifics of behavior. They shrieked with laughter as they gathered round,

and one of them, a big buxom lass … Busfield, “Skill and the Sexual Division of Labour”

in Employers and Labour, pp. E-mail, Portia Thompson, September 26, 2000.

42. Deirdre Busfield, “Skill and the Sexual Division of Labour

in the West Riding Textile Industry, 1850-1914,” in Employers and

Labour, pp. 112, The Yankee Yorkshireman.

45. It would seep through the lad’s pants; he cannot return

unwashed to the mill. III (Cambridge, MA 1996), pp.


98. Karl Ittmann’s study of declining

fertility in Bradford based on data between 1851and 1881 discussed turn

of the twentieth-century working-class knowledge of birth control and

abortion including the uses of “penny royal” and other herbal

substances and the general availability of information on sexuality

among female worsted workers, Work, Gender and Family in Victorian

England (New York, 1995), pp. (69) But women workers, whatever the degree of

their activism, could not vote for Labour Party candidates. P. (70) Gender antagonisms and marginalization could prompt

informal uses of female power.

78. Jeffrey Weeks, Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of

Sexuality Since 1800 (London, 1981), pp. Also see

“jicki,” as used in southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island

textile centers in the 1930s and 1940s, Dictionary of American Regional

English, Frederic G. (89) While represented as high drama by Smith, the sunning

ritual of young lads joined other customs of initiation in late

nineteenth-century working-class culture.

100. 61.

89. (68) The participation of women

workers in the Manningham strike defied their marginalization and

subordination in trade unions, but the strike failed. 202-22, 234-5.

In choosing new lads to be sexually humiliated, women workers in

both Bradford, Yorkshire and “Briardale,” Rhode Island

challenged their marginalization in the textile factory, friendly

society, and the trade union. Yorkshire lasses and older women

used their sexuality to define their female adulthood through sexual

experimentation during courtship, to discipline male aggressiveness and

patriarchy, and to advance their status as working women.

88. 92-6, 108, 110.

76. Hedley Smith published two collections of short stories The

Yankee Yorkshireman (1970), More Yankee Yorkshiremen (1974) and one

novella, Yankee Yorkshirewomen (1978) at Harlo Press, Detroit, MI, which

published ethnic fiction. (27)

86. (49)

Priestley’s easy ascription of the “sunning” custom

to pre-industrial village customs or to “traditional female

bawdiness” ignored the long-term sexual antagonism within Yorkshire

mill life and trade unionism. Burnley, “A Day in the Mill,” Phases of Bradford

Life, p. 1997 interview.

19. James,

T. 75. Between fifteen and eighteen as they reached puberty, young women

became throstle or ring spinners, carders, and weavers. Yorkshire Factory Times, February 14, December 19, 1890.

Working-class Yorkshire immigrants both in Hedley Smith’s

Briardale stories and as labor activists in North Providence mill

villages regarded themselves as culturally distinct from and vastly

superior to American values and New England mill practices. 171-86.

40. (5) Smith, a naturalized American

citizen, lived and worked in a bi-cultural society, but his fiction

focused on the stubborn resilience of homeland culture. 72-5.

33. Also see, Weeks, Sex, Politics and

Society, pp. King,” p. (18) In Hedley

Smith’s unpublished novella, “The Mill Folk,” Martha

Denby bragged to her niece that as a mill lass she had also controlled

access to her body. 11.

30. (66) As former worsted workers, the

striking men and women weavers possessed special skills for producing

silk velvets and expected better wages, not the drastic cuts that

precipitated the strike. 60.

Studies of English working women, working-class leisure, the family

and its declining fertility, of motherhood and marriage, of divorce,

abuse, crime, and violence, of prostitution and purity movements, of

industrial paternalism and trade unionism offer little specific evidence

on female sexuality as agency. 9-10, 29.

47. In the course of an hour or two,

however, they seem to have so thoroughly possessed themselves of every

detail respecting you which could possibly interest them, that they

grow somewhat less attentive to your movements, and you recover a

portion of your natural ease. 3, 2005.

Lowell, MA 01854

85. Newbury, Picking Up the Threads, pp. 203, 209.

The history of sexuality has been primarily interpreted in a

middle-class context, often embedded in the private world of family

life. 60-61.

The symbolism of the sunning ritual as reconstructed in

Smith’s “The Mill Folk” is richly sexual and deeply

abusive. Ittmann, Gender, Work and Family, p. Historians find evidence on migrant working-

class female sexual agency elusive, for example, Christine Harzig,

“The Role of German Women in the German-American Working-Class

Movement in Late Nineteenth-Century New York,” Journal of American

Ethnic History (Spring, 1989): 87-107.

41. Also, e-mail, Duncan

Smith, Sept. 152, note # 56, 230-5. 176-7, 184.

COPYRIGHT 2006 Journal of Social History

No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.

51. Blackburn, In and Out the Windows, pp. 214-38, esp. At

twelve she worked half time as an unskilled doffer, excited at first,

then quickly exhausted and disillusioned. 22 and Ardis Cameron,

Radicals of the Worst Sort: Laboring Women in Lawrence, Massachusetts,

1860-1912 (Urbana, IL, 1993), pp. (90) Through the ritual of sunning, they may have been

renegotiating their position with male co-workers and especially with

the weaving overlookers upon whom weavers depended to keep their looms

in repair. Indeed the women did appear to

give out the worst. Meanwhile, the

issues of state suppression of the political liberties of free speech

and assembly during the last month of the strike galvanized English

labor politicians and trade unionists to establish a genuine

working-class political party. Daniel Bender, e-mail, Sept. (7)

Smith’s uses of village gossip overheard as a lad and cultivated as

an adult encouraged him to depict episodes of female sexuality through

his fictional fantasies and his descriptions of homeland sexual customs.

67. For a fuller analysis of Yorkshire

migrants in New England and the literature of Hedley Smith, see Mary H.

Blewett, Migration Lived and Imagined (Urbana, forthcoming).

95. In addition, the general decline of

apprenticeships in late nineteenth-century English industries created a

pool of undisciplined youths, eager to earn wages in semi-skilled jobs.

(92) Women weavers certainly wished to fend off disrespect from the

cheeky boys among whom the overlookers recruited their assistants. The once familiar faces of the weavers who now dominate

the situation are transformed. James Burnley’s

sentimental 1874 novel about Chartist activity in Yorkshire, Looking for

the Dawn, also depicted casual night-time courtships of lads and lasses

in the countryside.

2. (40) In the late nineteenth century, letters to the Yorkshire

Factory Times reported an incident of an overseer disciplining one young

female spinner by throwing up her skirts and smacking her with his hand,

which her family viewed as a sexual assault. Far fewer friendly societies that included women existed in

Yorkshire than in Lancashire, but some offered protections to women

workers. 153-170.

16. Lawson, Progress in Pudsey, “Courtship and

Love-Making” and “Old Time Weddings,” pp. (2) In this essay,

examples of female agency and voice from industrial Yorkshire reveal far

greater gender conflict within this factory culture than Joyce

recognized. 4.

[a] whole crowd of women and lasses same as a pack of fox hounds in

full scent, only noisier, [went] galloping across the field, their

skirts flying and their hair tossing and their scarves streaming in

back of them…. Joanna Bornat, “Lost Leaders: Women, Trade Unionism and

the Case of the General Union of Textile Workers, 1875-1914,” in

Angela V. A

textual and contextual appraisal of ethnic fiction about Yorkshire

immigrant life in New England set in the early twentieth century can

deepen an understanding of gender and class by providing glimpses of the

elusive world of female working-class sexuality. Also see Steven Vertovec and Robin Cohen,

eds., Migration, Disaporas and Transnationalism (Cheltenham, UK, 1999),

pp. Jowitt, Model

Industrial Communities in Mid-Nineteenth Century Yorkshire (Bradford,

UK, 1986).

Industrialization, especially nineteenth-century factory work,

challenged the patterns of working-class family life and the moral role

of women, which varied widely from region to region and from industry to

industry. On the racialization of Italian immigrants, Barrett and

Roediger, “Inbetween Peoples,” p. Hammerton used

dialect poetry and prose as well as newspapers and court records to

probe the nature of turn of the century marital conflicts based on male


Yorkshire lasses experimented sexually with various partners but

with a different purpose from working-class female behaviors in

Lancashire. (75) The novella also includes an account of

the sexual dismissal by his daughter- in-law Nance of the ageing

Grandfather Denby, greedily staring at her swinging breasts as she

washes herself in the kitchen. June Hannam, “‘In the Comradeship of the Sexes Lies

the Hope of Progress and Social Regeneration’: Women in the West

Riding ILP, c. According to sociologist Robin Cohen,

the “old country” for such migrants becomes a “notion

often buried deep in language, religion, custom or folklore” in

ethnic culture and literature. Sam Knowles, a weaving

overlooker, likened the experience of bedding them to cuddling so many

“razor blades.” (72) Often cast as moral hypocrites, Yankee

women were either prudish or sexually calculating, while Yorkshire

lasses embraced sexual encounters with men spontaneously, eagerly, and


Yet some lasses rejected contact with “t’ lads” for

fear of entrapment by marriage into mill life. Then, when they’d had their fun, they broke and

scattered same as a flock of crows, and went galloping off across the

fields, screeching and laughing like demons …,” leaving the lad

wretched and sobbing. Once well oiled, the women rub his

genitals with hard hands and rough movements until they judge the job

well done. Burnley, “The Dance Halls,” “Out in the Streets

All Night,” Phases of Bradford Life, pp. “Squire Widdop’s Wooing,” The Yankee

Yorkshireman, pp. Judy Giles suggests that “playing hard

to get” as a strategy for accommodating female sexuality with

respectability offered some English working-class women an active

measure of self-assertion and identification. My thanks to Felicity Harrison for this insight.

Department of History

60. 12-52.. King,” p. 1890-1914,” in Jane Rendall, ed., Equal or

Different: Women’s Politics, 1800-1914 (Oxford, 1987), pp. Elizabeth Roberts, A Woman’s Place: An Oral History of

Working-Class Women 1890-1940 (Oxford, 1984), p. 153-70, esp. Another letter from a woman

weaver, described the “tickling” of an overseer in a dark

corner of the weave shed, an intimacy required to get work. Cohen, Global Diasporas, pp. “Old Harriet,” who

taught the new girls, warned Maggie against the dangers of the machinery

and of the “cheeky buggers” among the mill boys. Priestley, Margin Released, p. Maggie went into domestic service, Newbury, Picking Up the

Threads, pp. 43-72 in J. Reynolds and K. (24) The courtship and marriage of Yorkshire union

leader Ben Turner followed this pattern, although as a respectable union

man his memoirs omitted any mention of pre-marital sexuality. 46-50, 55.

79. (67) Many other women raised crucial strike

funds and joined in crowd actions that led to the harassing and stoning

of members of the Board of Directors. Hedley Smith’s personal life shaped his erotic idealization of Yorkshire “lasses” and sensitized him to the social and

cultural chasms between the native-born and immigrants in Rhode Island

society. Priestley and other

autobiographical accounts confirm Hedley Smith’s depictions of the

courtship behaviors of mill lasses and lads. (17) Female subculture made

abortion an accepted part of working-class life. 216-8, 221, 228. She then boards with

another family and becomes sexually active to great village scandal.

Even worse, she lands herself an older wealthy husband and leaves

Yorkshire for Rhode Island. The

threatening power of female sexuality, exercised collectively, openly,

and dramatically, was a reminder to all that the private world of

sexuality and the workplace were deeply intertwined but not always at

the expense of women.

Despite the condemnation of working wives by the middle class and

trade unionists, older married women weavers in Yorkshire, beginning in

the 1870s, forged a direct connection between family limitation and

their subsequent return to the workforce. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

36. (31)

Hedley Smith rooted his Briardale stories in the immigrant villages

of North Providence but not inside the factories on which those

communities depended and where textile workers primarily experienced the

intersection of class, gender, and culture. In return

Yankee disdain for working-class English immigrants produced an ethnic

slur distinct to southern New England: “jick” or

“jickey.” (95) It demeaned both Yorkshire and Lancashire

immigrants in Rhode Island’s cotton and worsted textile mills as

ignorant, dialect-speaking vulgarians. Bradford Observer, August 14, 22, 24, 25, 26, 31, September 1,

2, 1882.

Women weavers were defending themselves against the condemnatory

scrutiny of strangers, such as Burnley, who characterized them to the

middle-class public. 88.

Copyright 2006, Gale Group. For example, Andrew Davies’s study based on early

twentieth- century oral history and other sources in Lancashire,

Leisure, Gender, and Poverty: Working-Class Culture in Salford and

Manchester, 1900-1939 (Buckingham, UK, 1992), ignores sexuality, while

Stephen G. 35-6.

31. 57-70.

23. As his

trousers come down and his genitals are exposed, the laughing women

gather around, evoking primal fears of castration. (58) But marginalization had consequences, intensifying gender


That oil can was close to hand. During early Yorkshire

industrialization, violent sexual antagonism between the growing female

factory workforce in Bradford, Yorkshire, and “attacks by men on

women operatives,” were commonplace. Despite some

largely ambivalent support for female suffrage, the ILP joined the trade

unions as another ground for the marginalization of working-class

females. (53) Thus they drove many

of the more experienced and skilled married weavers out of the mill

workforce. 20,

and Ruth Binns, “Squire Widdop’s Wooing,” pp. (35)

11. When

Maggie was nine in 1910, her father, a failed tenant farmer, relocated

his family of twelve children to Bradford where they could find work. Texts carefully

positioned in Anglo- American contexts provide new perspectives on the

sexuality of working women, not as victims or objects, but as active

players in gender and class conflicts. Busfield, “Skill and the Sexual Division of Labour,”

in Employers and Labour, pp. (48)

97. For condemnation of

“wedding” out of class, see Aunt Sarah Jane Denby,

“Wedding Dress,” p. Priestley, Margin Released, p. “Of course I had my fun with the lads in my

time. 57 and Jack Reynolds, The Great

Paternalist: Titus Salt and the Growth of Nineteenth-Century Bradford

(New York, 1983), pp. Laybourn, The Centennial History of the Independent

Labour Party (Halifax, 1992), pp. In retaliation and partly for his

refusal to let her continue her schooling, Martha threatens the family

welfare by withholding her wages as a weaver. Patrick Joyce, Work, Society and Politics: The Culture of the

Factory in Later Victorian England (Brighton, 1980).

34. For recent work on gender and the family in immigration,

Suzanne M. In response to declining wages

and recurrent depression in the worsted industry, a generation of

working-class wives who had found the means to control fertility largely

through abortion returned to weaving. Laybourn, “The Emergence of the

Independent Labour Party in Bradford,” International Review of

Social History 20, 3 (1975): 313-46 and Keith Laybourn, “The

Manningham Mills Strike, December 1890 to April 1891,” in D. In the reminiscences of a

“Bradford Mill Girl,” Maggie Newbery, from the rural East

Riding of Yorkshire, became a scared half-time mill worker in 1913. 90-6.

25. 224-5.

In the Lancashire cotton textile industry, even well-organized

women weavers and carders who reported sexual bullying and mistreatment to their trade union officials found them to be reluctant, problematic

allies. See “English Village in Rhode Island,” Providence

Tribune, Nov. Maria Bottomley, “Women and Industrial Militancy: The

Heavy Woolen Dispute,” in Employers and Labour, pp. Bornat in “Lost Leaders,” in Unequal Opportunities,

pp. (54) Male family members pressured young women to join unions

and often paid their dues but allowed them no role in union activities.

(55) The majority of low paid, young females in the spinning and weaving

departments remained unorganized, while skilled male workers such as

wool sorters and dyers had strong craft unions. Lawrence, Smith understood that

sexual attachments were the glue that bonded society, Gordon E. Smith’s mother Alice, a skilled worsted weaver

with little formal education, had made sure her two sons were educated

in Yorkshire and suffered the mill villagers’ scorn for it. Newbury, Picking Up the Threads, pp. These sources include James Burnley, Phases of Bradford Life: A

Series of Pen and Ink Sketches (Bradford, UK, 1871) and Looking for the

Dawn: A Tale of the West Riding, (London, 1874, reprinted New York,

1986); J. Elizabeth who entered the mills at thirteen in 1915 could

observe the mill at night because her father also served as watchman and

the family occupied housing on the mill grounds, Blackburn, In and Out

Windows, pp. (99)

Having been themselves racialized as “ignorant jickeys,” they

seemed able to step outside, at least in 1912-1913, the racial heritage

of British imperialism. 15, of Emma Briggs (perhaps based on Smith’s

mother), “Uprooted,” p. (43) Female cotton weavers in Lancashire feared losing their

jobs and turned to family and kin to confront weave room overlookers,

called tacklers, who sexually abused them verbally and physically.

Tacklers, usually brawny with rough language and manners, were however

regarded in Lancashire as skilled and respectable working men who

commonly bullied weavers and chose favorites. 10, 2002.

52. The Briardale fiction starkly contrasts the passionate

heterosexual eroticism of Yorkshire lasses with desexualized Yankee

women. Judy Giles, “‘Playing Hard to Get’:

Working-Class Women, Sexuality and Respectability in Britain,

1918-1940,” Women’s History Review, I (Spring 1992): 239-55.

82. Drew, leader of the West Riding Weavers’

Association, openly opposed the working wife. 36.

Rank and file weavers initiated Bradford’s Manningham Mills

strike in 1890-91 against the advice of W. The term appears as “the Jickeys” in Smith’s

“The Wise Child,” p. 4

(Autumn 1977):62-3.

… (73) Smith’s marriage to Carmen Fowler, a Yankee

schoolteacher with kinship ties to Maine and the “second”

Mayflower, fed the cultural and personal conflicts central to the

Briardale fiction. At

eighteen, Turner began courting his wife at the same mill where he

worked. 33-4, and “The Mill Folk.” “Middle-class

Yorkshire immigrants often expressed scorn for American ways, “King

George’s Idea,” in More Yankee Yorkshiremen, pp. Smith’s portrayal of

sexual tensions within the family extended to relationships within the


83. Ittmann, Work, Gender and Family, p. RI), November 28, 1974. 23-24, 1912;

Jan. Most female workers in the worsted factories would marry

and soon after drop out of the work force. (44)

Titus Salt, owner of the 1853 model paternalist village of Saltaire in

Bradford, regarded the pre-industrial village with its beer, lust, and

freedom of moors and fields as the source of riotous Chartist and

anti-factory agitation in the 1830s and 1840s. In nineteenth-century Yorkshire, young

females were systematically denied access to skills in the worsted

industry, resulting in a sexual division of labor, which relegated them

to poorly paid and unrewarding work. 7-9.

37. xxi. (77) He recalled his own public

encounters with female weavers in pre-1914 Bradford.

61. Ittmann briefly noted the ritual of sunning and female bawdy conduct as “sexual antagonism,” Work, Gender and Family, pp.

224, 232-3.

In Smith’s fictional version of sunning, he imagines

collective female action overpowering a new lad, displaying,

denigrating, handling, and dirtying his genitalia. In a 1907 case, the victim

slapped the face of the offender. 154-6.

74. See photograph between pp. Weddin is joyous,–its pleasur unstinted;

but coortin is th’ sweetest thing iver invented. Priestley, Margin Released, pp. Smith who had passed the eleven plus exams in Yorkshire was

refused admission to high school, 1997 interview.

65. Drew, leader of the

Bradford weavers’ union. “The Mill Folk,” depicts the

Yorkshire ritual of sexual humiliation reenacted by female immigrant

weavers who were challenging the foundations of emerging sexual

patriarchy in a North Providence mill village. Berthoff, have

represented nineteenth-century English immigrants to the United States as easily acculturated into American society and thus socially

“invisible.” (8) In contrast, Hedley Smith’s fictional

world of Briardale reflects an early twentieth-century cultural and

labor diaspora driven by specific late nineteenth-century economic

circumstances. Priestley, Margin Released, p. Such boisterous behavior in pre-factory mill villages occurred

only among men and boys except for women’s participation in

“Riding the Steng,” part of the Yorkshire charivari tradition,

Lawson, “Manners, Customs, Sports and Pastimes,” Progress in

Pudsey, pp. His stories also

drew upon close ties to his mother and grandmother, both weavers, and

their friends and neighbors in Yorkshire and Rhode Island. (64) A strike at the Manningham mills in 1882 that

foreshadowed the great strike in 1890-91 united female and male silk

plush weavers who opposed wage cuts and bad conditions. Typically “when young people had

fallen into sin,” their employers expected them to marry or quit.

Still, wives dependent on their husbands’ earning at Saltaire

stoutly refused to use the mills’ washing and bathing facilities as

inconvenient and an “invasion of their privacy.” (47) Strict

regulation of behaviors in both factory and dwellings, supported by

middle-class outrage at youthful activities in dance halls and outside

controlled “parks” and leisure grounds, indicated intense

anxiety about expressions of working-class sexuality. 10, 1974, possession of

author. But all this not unwholesome and perhaps

traditional female bawdiness–there was a suggestions of mythology,

ancient worship, folklore, about that queer “sunning” ritual–was far

removed from cynical whoring. 130-1.

14. They

may not have lived happily afterwards, but they saved themselves from

some unpleasant surprises.” (22) Priestley’s acculturated

observations of pre-World War I working-class female sexuality revealed

neither revulsion nor shame.

44. (78)

96. (6) His stories,

which are based both in the region around Bradford, Yorkshire and in the

exclusive ethnic enclave of fictional “Briardale” set in

Greystone and four surrounding mill villages, yield vignettes of the

historic experience of female heterosexuality among Yorkshire working-

class people. Smith, “The Mill Folk,” pp. 37-8, 42-8. For references to shoddy meaning adulterated worsted made of

cotton and wool, “Squire Widdop’s Wooing,” The Yankee

Yorkshireman pp. Sinke, Dutch Immigrant Women in the United States, 1880-1920

(Urbana, IL, 2002). In textile production, men

controlled all the machinery. All rights reserved. [F]rom now on I felt

that somehow I was stronger…. (16) Smith’s fictional

accounts are supported by historian Karl Ittmann who cited illegitimacy rates in Bradford as “fairly constant” between 1851 and 1881

averaging between 6 and 8 percent, while female-controlled networks of

sex information and abortion became the major means of family limitation

in late nineteenth-century Yorkshire. Smith, “The Mill Folk,” pp. This

“disorderly” public behavior by ordinary working women

transforms them into demons and crows, merciless and rending. (42) Such individual acts however were very risky.

Smith’s fiction explores the controlling power of patriarchy

and resulting female rebellion as well as acquiescence. Certainly

this was the case in the Briardale fiction. 23, 30, April

12, 1913; and Rhode Island Commission for Industrial Statistics,

Twenty-Seventh Annual Report (1914), pp. On Bentley, Eric Ford, “Phyllis Bentley: Novelist of

Yorkshire Life,” Contemporary Review v. James Hammerton’s Cruelty and Companionship: Conflict in

Nineteenth-century Married Life (London, 1992) remains the best study of

English working-class marriage, see chapters 1, 2. When he tried to send her home, she

reported the incident to the office, and the overseer himself was

dismissed. Ittmann, Work, Gender and Family, pp. On labor conflicts, Providence Daily Journal, Nov. But I were smart enough to know when to keep the gate shut…. Projecting his sense of humiliation, Burnley denounced

in the strongest terms what he regarded as the vicious sensuality of

mill lads and lasses at local dance halls and in the streets at night.

(50) Frightened but fascinated, Burnley was observing the courtship

customs of the lasses and their lads.

18. In “A Day at the Mill,” published in 1871, he

described his humiliation during a visit to a Bradford worsted mill.

“On first entering [the weave shed], it seems as if some accident

would be sure to befal [sic] you…. Throwing

the terrified lad down and pinning his arms–one with her ample

bosoms–and holding his legs, they can do with him as they like. I would find

myself breasting a tide of shawls, and something about my innocent

dandyism would set them screaming at me, and what I heard then, though

I was never a prudish lad, made my cheeks burn. But Smith’s unpublished novella, “The Mill

Folk” also reveals an awareness by women of their sexual powers and

their willingness to use their eroticism as agency. (71) The men of Briardale scorned the sallow skin, long jaws,

sharp noses, and skinny bodies of Yankee females. 6, 141-2, 129, see note #

168, 232-3.

73. Smith, “The Mill Folk,” pp. These women thus sent

a message of female power to the whole working-class community: lads,

lovers, husbands, co-workers, and overseers: all of them once

“cheeky buggers.” In doing so, sexual harassment, “a form

of gender policing, a capturing of sex and sexuality in search of power

and control,” was turned on its head. Still,

her unsympathetic daughter-in-law Carmen disdained the Yorkshire

connection. (32) Classic oral histories, such as

Elizabeth Roberts’s 1984 study of Lancashire working-class

sexuality, emphasized repression and ignorance, reporting that “sex

was not fun” for working-class women. Smith explored the

themes of cultural and mutual class antagonism in his fiction. Reynolds,

“Reflections on Saltaire,” pp. Priestley’s mother,

who died after his birth in 1894, and grandparents on each side were

mill workers, “both men and women,” a “solid steady

sort.” His school teacher father “plucked my mother, my real

mother, about whom I know nothing except she was high-spirited and

witty, from the clogs and shawls ‘back o’t mill’, a free

and easy, rather raffish kind of working-class life, where in the grim

little back-to-back houses they shouted and screamed, laughed and cried,

and sent out a jug for more beer.” (20) At sixteen, Priestley

became a junior clerk with Helm and Company of Bradford, exporters of

wool tops to manufacturers on the Continent and “even as far as

Rhode Island.” He recalled avidly watching the “dressing-up,

display, showing off, pursuit and capture” during promenades of

“lads and girls” at Bradford’s summer concerts. 21, 29.

This ritual of male humiliation by working women constitutes

sexually charged “rough usage.” (83) Nonetheless, sunning was

performed within the context of a new lad being “fair game” to

his older mates, both lads and lasses. (79)

12. (59) Indeed, as Ittmann argued, “the pace of

fertility decline continued to increase in Bradford up to the First

World War.” (60) By the first decade of the twentieth century

married women represented between 10 and 15 percent of the total worsted

labor force. 15, 2003.

Female working-class sexuality as represented in Smith’s

ethnic fiction can be compared with and verified by working-class

memoirs and reportorial accounts of the social conditions in the

Yorkshire worsted industry. His wife’s refusal to leave her maternal home in

North Scituate, RI, and her threats to divorce him, prevented Smith from

getting better-paid, more interesting jobs in livelier locations. 74 in The Yankee Yorkshireman. 78-9, More Yankee Yorkshiremen, and as cited below in

the typescript, “The Mill Folk.” For calculating and prudish

Yankee women, see “The Lion and The Eagle,” typescript, pp.

92-94, 109-10, 114.

27. 17-18. Let’s see what he’s got; he’s “nobbut” half a man. 230-3. (96)

Historians James Barrett and David Roediger probe the contexts of ethnic

slurs and racialization and suggest that cultural insults [as in the

case of jickey] sometimes had “far more to do with class than with

ethnic identity.” (97) Briardale’s mill workers returned

Yankee scorn in rich measure by their contempt for American beer and

“shoddy” worsted cloth. (9) Forcibly dispersed by economic crisis in the worsted

industry, Yorkshire migrants in Hedley Smith’s

“Briardale” stories did not seek assimilation or a new life.

Rather, they maintained close connections with their culture in the West

Riding and returned when possible. Arguing that the family became “a

contested ground” as a result of late nineteenth- century economic

crisis, Ittmann cited incidents of working-class men engaged in nude

foot-racing and swimming that attracted groups of female mill workers,

scandalizing the middle class. Michael J. An overlooker is a foreman. See Ittmann, Work, Gender, and Family, pp. Joanna Bornat, “‘What About That Lass of Yours Being

in the Union?’: Textile Workers and Their Union in Yorkshire,

1888-1922,” in Leonore Davidoff and Belinda Westover, eds., Our

Work, Our Lives, Our Words (Totowa, NJ, 1986), pp. 46-50 and on middle-class views of female

working-class sexuality, Jane Lewis, Women in England, 1870-1950: Sexual

Divisions and Social Change (Bloomington, IN, 1984), pp. Jowitt, and K. (82)

71. Jones, Workers At Play: A Social and Economic History of

Leisure, 1918-1939 (London, 1986) equates “leisure” with

cinema, church, drink, gambling, holidays, sport, hobbies, magazines,

and clubs but does not discuss sexual activities in dancehalls or

courtship. 7, 1891; Turner, Short History, pp.


James Burnley, a reporter for the Bradford Observer, reflected the

anxieties of the middle classes in his depictions of saucy behavior by

factory women. 121-2.

28. (23) “Courters” hurried up their wedding day because

“a child was on the way,” but mothers who failed to wed in

accordance with working-class customs were commonly considered

disgraceful outcasts. For middle-class antagonisms, see Smith, The Lion and the

Eagle,” unpublished novella.

Chasing the terrified new lad out of the mill,

17. Female spinners, facing faster speeds and

additional frames to tend, cursed their young tormentors among the

bobbin boys but feared sexual harassment from overlookers or senior

foremen. Frank Mort, Dangerous Sexualities: Medico-Moral Politics in

England since 1830 (London, 1987), pp. Female weavers in Belgian cotton textile factories developed

more individual acts of sexual humiliation, which their male victims

called rape. Especially relevant for this paper is Monika

Blaschke’s exploration of the life experiences of farm maids, their

refusal to allow legal restrictions on marriage to control their

sexuality or emigration, and local rituals with sexual overtones in

“‘No Way but Out’: German Women in Mecklenburg,” pp.

35-42 in Christiane Harzig, ed., Peasant Maids–City Women: From the

European Countryside to Urban America (Ithaca, NY, 1997).

39. English historians, such as James Hammerton, have applied the

nineteenth-century term “rough usage” almost exclusively to

male actors.

9. 196-99, 105.

38. For the passionate, experienced nature of Yorkshire mill

lasses’ sexuality, see Emma Briggs in “Uprooted,” p. Reynolds, “Reflections on Saltaire,” in Jowitt,

Model Industrial Communities, p. pp. 7, 12, 17-19, 28; April

4-7, 15, 1913; Providence Bulletin, Jan 11, 13, 1913; Labor Advocate

(Providence weekly), Jan. 29-39,

especially p. (13) Observations by the state and private relief agencies

provide public constructions of the private lives of immigrant people.

More rare is evidence on sexual behaviors from within the ethnic

community, such as the fiction of Hedley Smith that portrays the

persistence of Yorkshire custom and behavior in New England mill


50. Rowland T. James, “Paternalism in

Mid-Nineteenth Century Keighley, pp. And I was! For that is the way Nature

plans it, making it up to women for all the spiteful things she heaps

on them otherwise. Phyllis Bentley to Hedley Smith, Oct. Mary H. candidate, University of Leeds, work in

progress, cited by permission, e-mail, March 16, 2005.


77. He will carry this lesson into the mill and the union where

he will face those same female weavers on new grounds of respect tinged

with fear. Laurence Gross, The Course of Industrial Decline: The Boott

Cotton Mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, 1835-1955 (Baltimore, 1993), p.

66; e-mail, September 5, 2005, Larry Gross to author.

93. Smith wrote over a dozen unpublished novellas,

including a three-part trilogy “The Millmaster,” “The

Tongue-Tied Town,” and “The Lion and the Eagle” set in

his fictional mill village of “Briardale.” The published work,

correspondence with his publisher, a transcript of the 1997 taped

interview with his children, and the cited e-mails are in the archives

of the American Textile History Museum, Lowell, MA. 59-60.

91. In a flash the lad is

alone, bewildered, and at their mercy. 128 and 129 in Ben Turner’s,

Short History of the General Union of Textile Workers (Heckmonewike,

Yorkshire, 1920) of the 1891 Manningham strike committee with sixteen

women and eleven men.

1. But men and women weavers shared the oiling of their machinery in

post-Civil War American cotton mills, and presumably also in Lancashire

and Yorkshire. Karen Majewski argued in Traitors and True Poles: Narrating a

Polish-American Identity, 1880-1939 (Columbus, OH, 2003) that Polish

language literature offered the possibility to the “community for

reading itself as Polish in an American context,” p. Also the

description of Cissie Petty, Yankee Yorkshirewomen, p. (65)

68. al., Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World

(Chapel Hill, NC, 1987), pp. 207-233, and Maria

Bottomley, “Women and Industrial Militancy: The 1875 Heavy Woolen

Dispute,” in Employers and Labour, pp. (33) In contrast, Jan

Lambertz suggested that in Lancashire cotton mills, working women

exchanged sexual information and tolerated “consensual sexual

play” between workers. Is it some

lad you’re thinking about?” “No it isn’t … 207-33.

58. Blackburn, In and Out the

Windows: A Story of the Changes in Working Class Life 1902-1977 in a

Small East Lancashire Community (Burnley, UK, 1978); Ben Turner, About

Myself, 1863-1930 (London, 1930); James Lawson, Letters to the Young on

Progress In Pudsey During the Last Sixty Years (Stanningley, UK, 1887).

10. For if they are right women they can always hold a

man by that he has between his legs, and make him dance to their tune

and follow to their leading for as long as they want. But Smith was never a textile worker; his

father had been an artisan craftsman. xiii-xxvi, especially p. 104-119, esp. His days of intimidating the women of his

family with his aggressive sexuality are over. Not a flaw in your whole being escapes

them. Also see, Ittmann, Work, Gender and Family, pp. B. 104, 108-110, Martha

Hobson and Emily Binns in “Squire Widdop’s Wooing,” pp.

31, 52, The Yankee Yorkshireman, Barbara Craven in “The

Partnership,” p. On Salt, Reynolds, “Reflections,” in Jowitt, Model

Industrial Communities, pp. “Coortin Days,” John Hartley, Yorkshire Lyrics: Poems

Written in the Dialect as Spoken in the West Riding of Yorkshire (London, 1898), pp. See his,

Witte boorden, blauke kielen: patroons en arbeiders in de belgische

textieInijverheid in de 19e en 20e eeuw, [Belgium]: Ludion: AMSAB:

Profortex, 1997.

4. Sian Moore, “Women, Industrialization and Protest in

Bradford, West Yorkshire, 1780-1845″ (Ph.D. English labor historians heralded the

Manningham strike as the catalyst for the formation of the Independent

Labour Party in 1893. 37-8, The

Yankee Yorkshireman and David Greaves, “The Wise Child,” pp.

56, 63-4, More Yankee Yorkshiremen. (37)

Historians Charlotte Erickson and Rowland T. [A]fter a while you are able to

watch the machinery … (81) They select a young

lad to be “sunned.”

This fictional bifurcation reflected in part the writer’s

troubled marriage. Rudolph Vecoli called for more clarification of the lived and

imagined culture of ethnicity in “Comment: We Study the Present to

Understand the Past,” The Journal of American Ethnic History 18

(Summer 1999): 115-25. pp. The young victim is dragged away from the patriarchal weave

shed and other men by a group of women workers, the mature and

newly-married teaching the younger how to proceed. delivering

[filled bobbins] to the women at the looms in the weave shed…. His intense embarrassment at the unseemly staring

and unheard comments on his person suggests a sexual shaming as well as

class impudence. Priestley described

“sunning” as a mythic ritual. 11.

Majewski’s analysis of “Love, Sex, and the State of

Marriage” in chapter 6 demonstrates that marriage and sexuality in

the “ethnic romance” is often a metaphor for sustaining

national authenticity, pp. And

it’s been a lot happier and more sensible life than tewing your

guts out at a loom all day, and then coming home to breed babbies all

night to follow on in your footsteps at the mill.” (19) Martha

Denby’s experiences as a weaver shaped both her sexual

experimentation and her rebellion.

The memoirs of Yorkshire-born writer J. Robin Cohen, Global Diasporas: An Introduction (Seattle, 1997),

pp. 11, 12, 14, 16-17, 21, 24-25, 28, 30; Feb. Childs, “Boy Labour in late Victorian and

Edwardian England and the Remaking of the Working Class,” Journal

of Social History 23, 4 (Summer 1990): 783-803.

Women weavers in Yorkshire and in North Providence mill villages

used sexual humiliation to discipline their male co-workers in the weave

shed through a late nineteenth-century custom called

“sunning.” In his memoirs, J. Some of

that courting occurred on the mills’ loading docks with overhanging

roofs. 19, 23, Mar. Some of these lads may have

had uncontrollable partial erections during the sunning ritual, another

measure of being “nobbut half a man.” (87) Satisfied, the

screeching women romp off, finished with their prey and having “had

their fun.” (88) Bewildered by the cruelty and wanton mistreatment,

the lad will never forget what ordinary women in his mill village are

capable of. (11) Karen Majewski’s

study of ethnic fiction explores the uses of sexuality in the shaping of

a Polish-American identity. 74-85.

57. (56) Between 1851 and

1881, only about 20 percent of all married women in Bradford with one

child under the age of five worked outside the home. But with the outbreak of World War I in 1914,

Yorkshire migrants shifted their energies to homeland mobilization,

fierce patriotism, and the assertion of a more exclusive

“English” identity. 163.

43. Cassidy, ed., v. 141-64.

53. 8.

Hedley Smith’s fiction represents sexual and emotional ties as

the primary bonds of social life. 86, 89.

70. Girls as young as eleven entered the worsted

mills. (39) Young factory lads

developed nineteenth-century rituals of sexual humiliation and

“shouted naughty and pert obscenities,” when

“lassies” in textile mills removed their stockings before

work, and then pulled up the clothes of female sleepers during rest

periods. (30) Hedley

Smith’s short stories captured situations like these to reveal the

dilemmas and character of Yorkshire women, and they won the praise of

Yorkshire novelist Phyllis Bentley. 19 (Spring

1985): 48.

21. only just recently wed, flung

herself across his chest. 57-9, 61.

Sometimes, when I finished earlier than usual at the office and walked

home, the route I preferred took me past one of the largest mills in

the district, often just when the women were coming out. See the descriptions of Bessie King, “The Conscience of

Mr. (80) Smith probably absorbed

accounts of this sunning ritual over pork pies and pints of bitter at

the Greystone Social Club. I’d learned a lesson unknown to myself…. 122-44.

Smith’s narratives reveal the social scripting of sexual

behaviors among the “lads” and “lasses.” His fiction

also portrays conflicts and tensions among working-class men and women

and the uses of patriarchy in controlling working women and unmarried

lasses. 84-106.

3. Smith acquired his knowledge of women weavers, courtship

customs, and working–class sexuality from village gossip and from his

connections among men at the Greystone Social Club. There were some

old traditions and customs that he’d have to go through before he was

accepted as one of them, that would hurt him in body and spirit alike

…, like being ‘sunned’….

15. (46) Mid-nineteenth-century paternalists in the West Riding

provided domestic training to mill lasses who were expected to drop out

of the workforce once married. (36)

These lasses embrace sexual encounters with men without hesitation or

shame, a reflection of Yorkshire views on their “essential”

female natures. Joanna Bornat’s concept of the marginalized lives of

Yorkshire working women offers an explanation for the sexual activities

of these mill lasses. and to feel that life and limb are not really in

peril. She forced her husband into a “serious rupture”

with his mother, breaking from his immediate family, depriving

Smith’s children of contact with their nearby grandparents, and

distancing Hedley from his brother Sam. In fact such were wed, except

[for] the outward ceremony at church….” (26) As late

nineteenth-century Yorkshire dialect poet John Hartley wrote:

… Priestley, Margin Released, pp. 29-61.


8. 39 and Sally Greaves in “The Wise

Child”, pp. (85) No woman weaver was

supposed to touch or adjust her looms, although many did to speed their

work. Employed

as an accountant and business manager, Smith’s fiction explores

class structure but not outright class conflict or labor activity. Still

the Rhode Island data on strike activities in 1906-1913 suggest that the

migration of Yorkshire worsted workers loosened the strict sexual

division of labor, increased the age of female workers, and opened new

opportunities for them in labor protest. 42-3, 54-61, quote, p. Memo of personal conversation with Bart De Wilde, participant

in Global Textile Workers conference, Amsterdam, November 2004. These overlookers, always men, had once been weavers and

usually enjoyed lifetime employment at one mill. One young

Yorkshire-born Briardale lass contemplated the power relations between

the sexes.

54. 60, More Yankee Yorkshiremen. (25) Some of these Yorkshire

customs had deep roots in pre-factory mill villages. Tony Jowitt, “The Retardation of Trade Unionism in the

Yorkshire Worsted Textile Industry,” J. “Reach

us the oil can here.” They all have agreed. But for a

lass to use sexuality to climb out of her class or for her to be

educated beyond village norms led to public denunciations of the upstart

as a whore or of her family as “uppity.” (15) Mill lasses

learned from each other ways of countering conception, for example with

herbal abortificients such as pennyroyal. Even if forewarned by his more

experienced mates, the young victim could scarcely believe the actuality

of the ritual. 16, 19, 2002.

64. For a mill lass with

little future for advancement in the workforce, sexual experimentation

seemed the next logical step on the road to marriage and female

adulthood, while she turned over her Saturday wage packet to her family.

Indeed pregnancies among brides in mill villages were commonplace in

Yorkshire and Lancashire, but in the cotton industry wives worked and

joined in union activities.

The weavers, one and all, have their [mostly female] eyes upon you;

they are taking notes of and commenting upon your personal appearance,

and the cut of your garments. Reynolds, “Reflections,” in Jowitt, Model Industrial

Communities, pp. Sinke, Dutch Immigrant Women, p. (98) As labor activists in North

Providence, they seemed not only indifferent to American racialized

ethnic distinctions, especially the extreme racialization of Italian

workers in New England, but demonstrated their willingness to join with

these and other immigrant groups to achieve mutual class aims. Many women cotton weavers,

who feared public shaming as victims of sexual violation or blacklisting

as troublemakers, responded by changing jobs and warning other women.

Lancashire working women apparently did not confront abusers directly or


66. (76) As a “right woman,” Nance

uses her physicality to show that she minds him no more than a

“bairn” or a puppy. Women weavers also faced intensifying work loads, arbitrary

fines, and pressure from overlookers eager for higher output to win

bonuses. But no sooner have you recovered from one embarrassment than you

are thrown into the midst of another.” Burnley described the female

weavers as cheerful, spirited, and some of them good-looking.

22. The published and

unpublished work remain the property of Portia Thompson, Wakefield, RI

and of Duncan Smith, Professor Emeritus, Department of German Studies,

Brown University, Providence, RI and are quoted with their permission,

e-mails, Nov. Maria Bottomley

argued that female strike leaders in 1875 won wage increases and

organized a weavers’ union for men and women in Batley and Dewsbury

near Huddersfield, Yorkshire. On Lancashire immigrants in Rhode Island, Paul Buhle, “The

Knights of Labor in Rhode Island,” Radical History Review 17

(Spring, 1978): 39-73; Mary H. Thompson, “Homage to Tom Maguire,” Essays in

Labour History, Asa Briggs and John Saville, eds., (London, 1960):

276-315; J. E-mail, Portia Smith Thompson, Feb. “It was pretty early, but I haven’t a single regret,

except that I might have started sooner.” After three years, they

married, and his wife left her mill job. 35-6. In fictional Briardale, heavy breasts, big hips, ample

“bums,” long, luxuriant hair, and fair, rosy “peaches and

cream” complexions define the male ideal of female beauty. Labor activist Ben Turner’s account of the

Manningham strike in which he played a key role included his keen

appreciation of the “brave” but nameless women who outnumbered

men on the strike committee. Some young women in Bradford, however,

confronted abusive overlookers individually. (51) Their marginalization from skilled work and

union activity prompted them to move actively toward female adulthood

and marriage, preparing them to leave the paid workforce unlike their

counterparts in Lancashire. (91) Women weavers

confronted overseers every day over the assignment of warps which

determined their weekly wages. Blewett, Constant Turmoil: The Politics

of Industrial Life in Nineteenth-Century New England (Amherst, 2000),

Chapter 7.

6. (94)

5. (41) On the

whole, sexual tensions during nineteenth-century industrial change

seemed to victimize females. (101) Yorkshire working

women, who became far more organized into textile unions by 1914, may

have experienced this shift.

26. A perceptive reviewer of Smith’s second collection of

short stories suggested that like D.H. (100)

13. Their

daughter Portia once slipped into the house, declaring that she had

located evidence of her mother’s English roots in Yorkshire to

which her father replied dryly: “I always knew that I had married a

Yorkshire lass.” (74)

59. A. Studies of

specific Yorkshire strikes in 1868, 1875, 1876, and 1891 indicate that

women textile workers led by older, married weavers worked together to

resist wage cuts in spite of community disapproval. (10)

Analysis of working-class female European immigrants to the United

States at the turn of the century based on ethnic fiction set in that

era offers some glimpses of female sexuality. J. Rowley,

The Observer (Scituate. And it was still the

custom, in some mills if not in that particular one, for the women to

seize a newly-arrived lad and “sun”‘ him, that is, pull his trousers

down and reveal his genitals. These older, experienced women workers provided the female

leadership during late nineteenth-century strikes.

81. Ittmann, Work, Gender and Family, pp. His vision of Briardale is a

rich deposit of the persistent uses of Yorkshire dialect and social

customs to counter the traditional “invisibility” of English

immigrants and provide evidence on the experiences of courtship and

sexuality in ethnic culture. Karl Ittmann, Work, Gender and Family in Victorian England (New

York, 1995), pp. 63.

In Smith’s Briardale tales, mill villagers in Yorkshire

expected working-class lads and lasses to have “their fun”

until a mutually desired pregnancy led to a chapel wedding. H. Customs involving assertive female

sexuality among the Yorkshire working class, such as the sunning ritual,

represented a response to specific circumstances in the turn of the

twentieth century worsted industry that reflected the antagonistic

relationships of class and sex. E. He is soiled. During the “Great War,” the

political allegiances of migratory Yorkshire people, who either left to

serve in the British military or stayed in Rhode Island and sent

donations, strengthened their connections to the Old Country. 28-37.

84. “The Wise Child,” pp. The “safe

period” in the female fertility cycle was however misunderstood and

useless for birth control, Knight, “Women and Abortion,” p.


My thanks to Carol Morgan, Suzy Sinke, Peter Blewett, Felicity

Harrison, Joanna Bornat, and the two anonymous reviewers for valuable

suggestions and helpful comments. Female agency involved in Anglo-American sexual customs and gender

conflicts, reenacted in the fictional Rhode Island mill village of

“Briardale” and verified in Yorkshire memoirs, provides

suggestive evidence on the historic experiences of working-class

sexuality. H. (12) Daniel Bender used ethnic fiction and

working class memoirs to probe the varied responses of immigrant garment

workers in the Northeast to sexual harassment by bosses and male

workers. 87-94, 158-165.

101. Priestley, Margin Released: A Writer’s Reminiscences

and Reflections (London, 1963); Maggie Newbery, Picking Up the Threads:

The Complete Reminiscences of a Bradford Mill Girl, edited by James

Ogden (Bradford, UK, 1993); Elizabeth K. 107, and R. Unmanly tears streak his face, his flesh wincing from the

pain and the public humiliation by females. The behaviors and customs of Yorkshire working-class women

reveal their uses of individual and collective activities to define

their female adulthood and to confront on their own terms both gender

and class conflicts in the family, the workplace, and the trade union.

Literary texts carefully interpreted within appropriate primary sources

and historiographical contexts may reveal additional behaviors among

other marginalized workers, under-represented in formal labor activities

and hidden from view.

32. (57) As Joanna

Bornat pointed out, the opposition to and disapproval of occasional

female militancy from the General Union of Textile Workers (although

unionist Ben Turner supported female suffrage), from local union leaders

and male co-workers, and from working-class communities resulted in

“lost leaders” among women textile workers in the worsted

industry. 59-63, 66, More Yankee

Yorkshiremen; Yankee Yorkshirewomen, pp. B. 195. 57-66, 136-7, 153.

20. Cotton Factory Times, August 2, 1907, courtesy of Alan Fowler.

94. 58,


Labor historian Tony Jowitt, comparing the robust labor activity in

the Lancashire cotton industry with late nineteenth and early twentieth

century Yorkshire, ascribes the “retardation” of union

organization largely to the vast numbers of low-paid, young female

workers who dominated weaving and spinning. 31-3, and as the major theme of

the novella “The Lion and the Eagle” and “The Tongue-tied


35. (4) As a lad of fourteen, Hedley

Smith arrived in Rhode Island with his family in 1923, twenty years after the rebuilding of Greystone by a Yorkshire-based worsted firm.

Without classes to attend, the teen-aged Hedley with his brother Sam,

who was not allowed to enter the local mills, listened to “front

porch stories” about the bitter regrets and experiences of parents,

friends, and neighbors forced to relocate to New England from an

economically declining Yorkshire. Smith, “The Mill Folk,” pp. A Jowitt and A.J McIvor,

eds., Employers and Labour in the English Textile Industries, 1850-1939

(London, 1988), pp. In 1851, of married women who

worked in textiles 29 percent were over the age of thirty-five, while in

1881, 63 percent of women working in textiles [presumably as weavers]

were over thirty-five. It is not a mere passing examination that you are the victim of,

but an unmitigated, unblushing, microscopic stare, which you are not

likely to forget to the last moment of your existence; and the worst

of it is you are unable to retaliate. Lambertz, “Sexual Harassment in the Nineteenth Century

English Cotton Industry,” pp. 170-1.

24. Working wives with families in

Burnley, Lancashire, practiced similar family limitation, Diana Gittins,

The Fair Sex: Family Size and Structure in Britain, 1900-1939 (New York,

1982), pp. Blewett, “Diversities of Class Experience and the

Shaping of Labor Politics: Yorkshire’s Manningham Mills Strike,

1890-1891 and the Independent Labour Party,” forthcoming in Labor

History 47 (November 2006): 511-35.

The first thing he’d [a new lad] be doing would be … 127-8, 184-93.

University of Massachusetts, Lowell

69. Daniel Bender, “‘Too Much of Distasteful

Masculinity’: Historicizing Sexual Harassment in the Garment

Sweatshop and Factory,” Journal of Women’s History, 15

(Winter, 2004): 91-116.

90. 15, 1912.

55. ix-xii.

Memoirs of working-class life in early twentieth-century English

textile centers recount as a matter of course the weddings of pregnant

brides as a result of sexual experimentation during courting

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