Accidents and Negligence
From fires to floods and machinery malfunctions, accidents occurred regularly in factories around the United States. While mill owners notoriously ignored shoddy conditions and overcrowding, the public was enthralled by stories of mill mishaps.
The articles in this exhibit are a small sampling of hundreds of such accounts, pointing to not only the poor conditions themselves, but also the reading public’s desire to peer into the tragedy. Yet, the pieces here are not exposés; they are brief blurbs usually reprinted from other newspapers. Details are salacious but scarce. These accounts usually depict the women as anonymous and, thus, replaceable, and often fail to report on the full extent of the fatalities. Tragedies such as the 1860 Pemberton Mills collapse, depicted here in an issue of Vanity Fair, were seen as indictments of greedy capitalists. The final stanza of a ballad published in the same issue shares these sentiments, but reserves them for sons and fathers, not mothers and daughters:
A curse on ye, ye Millionaires
Who sit at home in your easy chairs,
And crack your nuts and sip your wine
While I wail over this son of mine!
A curse on ye who laid the stones
That crushed my darling husband’s bones!
A curse on you who made the plan
You more than devil, you less than man!