by Kate Alcott
Reviewed by Ealish Waddell
America of 1832 doesn’t offer many opportunities for a girl to make her own way, so farm girl Alice is elated to snag a sought-after position in one of New England’s new cotton mills. For the first time she is truly independent, earning her own money and able to spend her free time however she likes. And she’s delighted to find a family in her fellow workers, especially the spirited Lovey, whose humor and boldness inspire all her fellow mill girls.
But mill work is hard and hours are long; dangerous machinery and even the scraps of floating cotton that fill the air constantly threaten life, limb and lungs. Forthright and outspoken, Alice soon becomes a voice for the rights of the mill girls. And for a while it seems like someone is actually listening: Samuel, the son of the mill owner, with whom she finds a surprisingly deep connection.
But tragedy shatters this life when Lovey is found dead, an apparent suicide that is quickly found to be murder. Intent on justice for her friend, Alice determinedly defends her against all the sordid accusations and scandalous revelations of the ensuing trial, especially once a prominent member of the community is implicated. But the longer the trial continues, the more Alice feels the pain of her divided loyalties, until finally she must make a choice between her conscience and her heart.
“The Daring Ladies of Lowell” delves into elements of a little-known chapter of American history — and a real-life murder trial — to create an enthralling fictional tale of life in the rapidly changing social and economic landscape of 19th-century America. Life in this era was difficult for girls like Alice and Lovey, but the courage and zeal with which they pursued their own destinies is still an inspiration nearly 200 years later.