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Book review: 'The Daring Ladies of Lowell'

Kate Alcott’s historical novel imagines the lives of mill workers in 1830s America.
Oklahoman Modified: May 23, 2014 at 6:50 pm •  Published: May 25, 2014

“The Daring Ladies of Lowell” by Kate Alcott (Doubleday, 287 pages, in stores)

The Daring Ladies of Lowell,” a historical novel, is based on the true story of the murder of a mill girl and the subsequent trial in 1833.

Alcott is also the author of “The Dressmaker,” a New York Times best-seller.

Alice Barrow moves to Lowell, Mass., in 1832 to work in a mill. She leaves behind the farm where she grew up and is excited to be in a position to earn her own living. The mill offers opportunity to many farm girls who want an independent future.

Alice enjoys the company of her co-workers and the opportunity to explore the intellectual pursuits of Lowell, including the mill’s literary magazine and lectures at the Lyceum. Her common sense and intelligence attracts the attention of Samuel Fiske, the mill owner’s son. The Fiske family asks her to become a liaison between them and the mill workers.

Working conditions become extremely dangerous after a series of accidents, and Alice carries the mill workers’ concerns to the Fiske family. Hiram Fiske, the patriarch, acknowledges the concerns but does little to change things.

When Alice’s best friend, Lovey, is found hanged, the Fiske family withholds crucial evidence during the trial, which allows the killer to go free. During all of this, Samuel Fiske and Alice have fallen in love, which brings complications to them both.

The story provides a good look at the Industrial Revolution, feminism and workers’ rights in the first half of the 19th century. The mill girls were a courageous bunch, and the book made for very interesting reading.

Betty Lytle, For The Oklahoman