Daughter of Stephen and Lucy Saunders Farley; married John I.Donlevy, 1854
The sixth of 10 children of a congregational minister and his wife, who became "harmlessly insane" after bearing the children, Harriet Farley began contributing to her family's support when she was fourteen. After plaiting straw for hats, binding shoes, and engaging in other home manufacturing, she made a brief and unrewarding attempt to teach, and then went to work in the Lowell textile mills in 1837. In Lowell, as the autobiographical "Letters from Susan" show, she felt free to attend lectures, sample different churches, and join an improvement circle. In spite of the 13-hour working day and the crowded corporation boardinghouse, she felt that the work offered the best economic rewards for women and didn't require "very violent exertion, as much of our farm work does."
When the two products of the improvement circles, the Lowell Offering and the Operatives Magazine, were bought by a local Whig newspaper in 1842 and combined under the name of the Lowell Offering, Farley and Harriott Curtis, assisted by Harriet Lees, became editors and, later, owners.
Under attack from Sarah G. Bagley and others, Farley denied that her magazine was supported by the corporations, but Farley's father and brother both received help from mill-owner Amos Lawrence, and the Hamilton Company bought up $1,000 worth of back numbers during the Lowell Offering's last year.
Determinedly genteel and noncontroversial, the Lowell Offering lost its audience as the 10-hour movement gained in strength, and its appeal waned even further when the well-written labor paper, the Voice of Industry, appeared in Lowell in October 1845. The Offering ceased publication in December, but after the failure of the 10-hour movement in 1847, it was revived as the New England Offering, with Farley as both editor and publisher. Her efforts, however, again proved unsuccessful with the operatives. After the failure of the Offering in 1850, Farley moved to New York City, where she became a contributor to Godey's Lady's Book. After her marriage, Farley gave up her writing, since her husband did not approve.
Farley's avowed intention in the publications she edited was to bring a little "cheer" into the lives of female operatives, and the literary nature of the magazines was, she thought, above sordid issues. Her first signed editorial said of the operatives: "We should like to influence them as moral and rational beings… .Our field is a wide one… .With wages, board, etc., we have nothing to do—these depend on circumstances over which we have no control." Farley assumed her readers were too ladylike to press for reforms by surrounding "City Hall in a mob, but, if wronged, would seek redress in some less exceptionable manner."
Farley's essays and stories, though sometimes self-consciously literary and "tiresomely inspirational," often provide insights into the lives and aspirations of the female factory workers. Her most interesting sketches—because most realistic and closely based on her own experience—are the "Letters from Susan," which appeared in the 1844 editions of the Lowell Offering. "Susan" gives her first impressions of Lowell, of the crowding and noise as well as the economic and intellectual independence. Such stories as "The Sister" and "Evening before Pay-Day" use factory and boardinghouse backgrounds for sentimental homilies of self-sacrificing sisters or daughters.
In "Abby's Year in Lowell," the dutiful daughter returns home with "some little books for the children, and a new calico dress for mother" and "a nice black silk handkerchief" for her father to wear around his neck on Sundays. All of the rest of her savings have been deposited in the bank, and her father bursts into tears over the bankbook—proud of her prudence, self-command, and filial affection.
Farley's poetry, like most of the poetry in her magazines, is undistinguished: lacking true details, it is more removed than her other writing from the real experience of the workers' lives.
Shells from the Strand of the Sea of Genius (1847). Operatives Reply to…Jere. Clemens (1850). Happy Nights at Hazel Nook; or, Cottage Stories (1854). Fancy's Frolics; or, Christmas Stories Told in a Happy Home in New England (1880).
Eisler, B., The Lowell Offering: Writings by New England Mill Women (1977). Foner, P. S., The Factory Girls (1977). Josephson, H., The Golden Threads: Near England's Mill Girls and Magnates (1949). Robinson, H. H., Loom and Spindle; or, Life Among the Early Mill Girls (1898).
DAB. NAW. NCAB.
—SUSAN SUTTON SMITH