Farley, Harriet (c. 1813–1907)

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Farley, Harriet (c. 1813–1907)

American writer and editor. Born on February 18, 1813 (some sources cite 1815 or 1817), in Claremont, New Hampshire; died on November 12, 1907, in New York City; daughter and the sixth of ten children of Stephen Farley (a Congregational minister and school administrator) and Lucy (Sanders) Farley; attended Atkinson Academy in Atkinson, New Hampshire (where her father was the principal); married John Intaglio Donlevy (an engraver and inventor), in 1854 (died 1880); children: one daughter, Inez Donlevy; (stepdaughter) Alice Heighes Donlevy.

Major works:

Shells from the Strand of the Sea of Genius (1847); Operatives Reply to…Jere Clemens (1850); Happy Nights at Hazel Nook; or, Cottage Stories (1954); Fancy's Frolics; or, Christmas Stories Told in a Happy Home of New England (1880).

Harriet Farley was born around 1813, the bookish daughter of Stephen Farley, a Congregational minister, and Lucy Sanders Farley , the mother of ten, who was described as becoming "harmlessly insane." Harriet spent much of her childhood in Atkinson, New Hampshire, where her father had a parish and also served as principal of the Atkinson Academy. Although she was able to attend her father's school, she was also called upon to contribute to the family's income and from the age of 14 engaged in plaiting straw for hats, binding shoes, and various other home manufacturing jobs. In 1837, after a short, unfulfilling interval as a teacher, Farley left Atkinson to take a job in one of the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. Despite 13-hour days and the cramped dormitory housing provided by her employer, Farley felt liberated and spent what free time she had writing, reading, and participating in an improvement circle.

In 1840, Farley received some notoriety when the Lowell Offering, a journal published by and for the "mill girls," printed her reply to Orestes Brownson, who, in an attack upon the textile mill owners, referred to the mill women as suffering in "health, spirits, and morals." Answering Brownson's charges, Farley upheld the workers as intelligent and principled, and also pointed out that any restraints placed on the operatives by the mill owners were "voluntarily assumed." In 1842, when the Offering was purchased by a local newspaper, Farley left her job and took over the editorship. A year later, another mill woman, Harriot Curtis , became co-editor.

As an editor, Farley produced a conventional literary publication devoted to inspirational and principled pieces and avoiding the larger issues of wages, hours, and working conditions that were sparking heated debate all around her. Susan Sutton Smith points out that Farley's goal was simply to provide a little "cheer" for the operatives. Indeed, she virtually ignored any controversy. "With wages and board, etc., we have nothing to do," proclaimed the Offering. "These depend on circumstances over which we have no control." Needless to say, the more militant factions within the mills, including the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association, took Farley to task, accusing her of pandering to the mill owners. (Farley firmly denied that her publication received corporate funding, but her father and brother were known to have received financial help from mill-owner Amos Lawrence from time to time.) The best of Farley's essays and stories, most of which were criticized as "tiresomely inspirational," provided some insights into the lives of the young women who toiled in Lowell's mills. Smith points to "Letters from Susan," which was serialized in the 1844 issues of the Offering, as enlightening. Based on Farley's own experiences, the fictitious Susan relates her impressions of Lowell, describing the crowded, noisy working conditions but also rejoicing over new-found independence. Other stories, including "The Sister" and "Evening before Pay-Day," use a factory or boardinghouse setting to relate what Smith calls "sentimental homilies of self-sacrificing sisters or daughters."

The rise of the ten-hour movement in the mid-1840s, together with the emergence of the labor paper the Voice of Industry in 1845, signaled the end of the Lowell Offering, although it made a brief comeback in 1847 after the failure of the ten-hour movement. That same year, Farley published Shells from the Strand of the Sea of Genius, a collection of homilies, many of which had appeared in the Offering. By 1850, the Offering was defunct again, and Farley went to New York City to pursue her literary career. She contributed to Godey's Lady's Book, which was edited by a friend, and in 1853 published a children's book, Happy Nights at Hazel Nook. However, after her marriage to John Donlevy in 1854, Farley gave up her career, preferring obscurity over her husband's scorn. In 1880, seven years after her husband's death, Farley published her last book, Fancy's Frolics, a collection of Christmas stories. Harriet Farley died in 1907, at the Home for Incurables in New York City.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Mainiero, Lina, ed. American Women Writers. NY: Frederick Ungar, 1980.

McHenry, Robert. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1983.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts