This guide is intended to enhance your discussion of Kate Alcott’s The Daring Ladies of Lowell
From the New York Times
bestselling author of THE DRESSMAKER comes a moving historical novel about a bold young woman drawn to the looms of Lowell, Massachusetts–and to the one man with whom she has no business falling in love.
Eager to escape life on her family’s farm, Alice Barrow moves to Lowell in 1832 and throws herself into the hard work demanded of “the mill girls.” In spite of the long hours, she discovers a vibrant new life and a true friend—a saucy, strong-willed girl name Lovey Cornell.
But conditions at the factory become increasingly dangerous, and Alice finds the courage to represent the workers and their grievances. Although mill owner, Hiram Fiske, pays no heed, Alice attracts the attention of his eldest son, the handsome and reserved Samuel Fiske. Their mutual attraction is intense, tempting Alice to dream of a different future for herself.
This dream is shattered when Lovey is found strangled to death. A sensational trial follows, bringing all the unrest that’s brewing to the surface. Alice finds herself torn between her commitment to the girls in the mill and her blossoming relationship with Samuel. Based on the actual murder of a mill girl and the subsequent trial in 1833, THE DARING LADIES OF LOWELL brilliantly captures a transitional moment in America’s history while also exploring the complex nature of love, loyalty, and the enduring power of friendship.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. How is the treatment of the “factory girls” different from the way women are treated in today’s work place? How is it similar?
2. Did the descriptions of how much work went into creating simple piece of cotton cloth surprise you?
3. When Alice first meets Lovey, she doesn’t quite know what to make of Lovey’s frankness and her high spirits. What was your initial reaction to Lovey? Do you think she is reckless or a woman ahead of her time?
4. The Daring Ladies of Lowell takes place in 1832, ten years before the landmark decision in Commonwealth v. Hunt held that workers have the right to organize and strike, and more than one hundred years until federal law was passed prohibiting child labor. Why do you think progress has been so slow in protecting working people?
5. Discuss Delia and Ellie’s difficult situation and the many parallels with the challenges working mothers still deal with today: a troubled marriage, battle for custody of a child, and the difficulty working women can have in securing adequate child care.
6. Alice and her co-workers have a grueling schedule: thirteen-hour days, ceaseless physical labor, and only one day a week off. Could you make it through a “factory girl” workweek?
7. Discuss the role respectability plays in the novel, and the consequences of the secrets that are kept to save reputations (as in the case of Jonathan Fiske) and to maintain the status quo (Dr. Stanhope’s knowledge of the poor conditions and health hazards at the mill).
8. Alice forms a bond with a Samuel’s grandmother, who stands apart from the rest of the Fiske family. What does she represent and how has her influence shaped Samuel?
9. What is Alice’s most admirable trait? What is her least admirable trait?
10. What do you think the future holds for Alice and Samuel?
About this Author
Kate Alcott is the pseudonym for journalist Patricia O’Brien, who has written several books, both fiction and nonfiction. As Kate Alcott, she is the author of The Dressmaker
, a New York Times
bestseller. She lives with her husband in Washington, D.C.