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The Daring Ladies of Lowell

Cover of The Daring Ladies of Lowell

The Daring Ladies of Lowell

A Novel

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.



From the Hardcover edition.

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.



From the Hardcover edition.

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  • From the book

    Chapter One

    Lowell, Massachusetts

    March 1832

    Alice stepped gingerly into the darkened dormitory, holding her breath against the unexpected. An oil lamp flickered, turned so low she could see no more than a line of cots squeezed close together in a long, narrow room. The air was close, aromatic with the scent of warm bodies.

    "Who are you?" demanded a sleepy voice.

    "Alice Barrow. I'm from New Hampshire, here to work." It didn't seem enough, but she was worn to the bone from her long coach ride to this gritty, bustling mill town that promised so much.

    "Lordy, another one." This was a second voice, bouncy and light, with a hint of mischief. "Move over, girls. Here we go again."

    "They shouldn't be waking us. She's got to take the far bed, I'm not giving up this one," declared the first voice, now on the edge of indignation.

    "Calm down, Mary-o, there's one empty."

    Alice began climbing over the still, shadowy figures, unnerved by their smothered giggles and deliberate pokes from unseen feet. She counted: she had to crawl over five almost invisible people before she got to the last bed in this small dormitory. "What's your name?" she said into the dim light, in the direction of the most friendly voice.

    "I'm Lovey. Welcome to Boott Boardinghouse, number fifty-two, your new home. You're in Dormitory A; six of us now. They'd better not try squeezing in another bed."

    Then more gently, "You've come a long way to get here this late. Hope they fed you."

    "Parsnips and potatoes." Alice's stomach lurched slightly. She untied her green cloak and folded it carefully at the end of the bed. Her bandbox, more books in it than clothes.

    "Not feeling too good, I'll bet. The potatoes were turning black at breakfast." Lovey broke into giggles.

    "Don't listen to her," piped up a calm new voice. "She's a bit of a wag; sports with every new girl that comes along. There's nothing wrong with the potatoes, Lovey just likes to make trouble. Anyway, nice to meet you. I'm Tilda, hope you don't snore."

    Alice felt for the blanket covering her bed; it seemed warm enough. Her eyes were adjusting. The girl named Lovey was two cots down, sitting up now, her thin shoulders sheathed in what appeared to be a white muslin gown. The figure between them lay huddled under a gray coverlet, ignoring them as she whispered to herself.

    "That's Jane," Lovey said casually. "Congregationalist, you know. Always praying, for people like me, mostly. Maybe you do too, unless you're one of those revivalists who weep and sing all the time. Why are you here?"

    Alice replied with carefully rehearsed firmness. "To earn enough money to help my father with his bills and save so I never have to work on a farm again. At three dollars a week, I can do it."

    She must keep repeating that to herself. It was all that had kept her steady when she left home.

    "Get to spend any for fun?"

    "A little. Enough."

    "There's no such thing as enough, not with the starvation wages here," Lovey muttered.

    "Nobody's starving," said the one named Tilda, audibly smothering a yawn. "Stop grumbling, Lovey--let the girl sleep. You can complain in the morning." Her easy tone seemed effective, for Lovey said no more.

    Alice pulled back the covers, easing herself into bed. There was no use hunting for her nightdress; the girl named Mary-o would just complain again. And no use saying more to the one named Lovey, either. It didn't matter. She shivered, but not from cold. The most important day of her life was almost over, and she wanted now only to rest. She had done it, she had made the leap. No more cleaning up cow...

About the Author-
  • Kate Alcott is a journalist who has covered politics in Washington, DC, where she currently lives.

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