I picked up this beautiful tintype on etsy. Written on the back of the pink paper sleeve that houses the image is “Annie Townsend, Mother of Nelle, Henry, Roy.”
Having no information about the photographer or location, I looked closely at the sitter’s clothing and hairstyle, and with the help of the 19th Century Card Photos Kwik Guide, dated the image to around 1872. The sitter appears to be in her early twenties, so I searched for an Annie Townsend, born about 1850, with children named Nelle, Henry and Roy. I found Annie Hicks, and she fit the bill!
Annie, born in Nova Scotia, immigrated to the US about 1870 and began working in a shoe factory in Danvers, Massachusetts. As many young women working in the shoe factories in Essex county, Annie came to town seeking work, and was boarding in a private family’s home. Also living in Danvers and working in the shoe factory was Francis Henry Townsend.
Prior to 1860, stitching machines in the shoe factories required great strength to operate. Upon the introduction of steam power, these machines could easily be run by women, and since women required a lower wage, the majority of stitchers were female.
Another shoe factory town in Essex county, just 10 miles from Danvers, was Lynn. In 1872, a serialized novel, “The Queen City! : or Life in the Shoe Factories of Lynn,” was published in the Lynn Record. It described the young workers who flocked to the streets on Saturday nights, where, away from the prying eyes of family, they flirted, drank beer and ran wild.
A poem, “The Stitching Girls,” published in the Lynn Transcript in 1869, captured the scene through the eyes and mind of an observer.
When walking on the crowded street,
A lovely lass attracts your eye,
And while you gaze your glances meet,
You smile – alas! you soon will sigh
For Cupid from her beaming eyes,
His shining arrows thickly hurls;
And hard indeed must be the heart –
The pleasing, teasing stitching girls.
…Again you meet her and she plys
And sings and smiles for you alone,
Charmed by her gentle, loving ways,
You hope to call her all your own,
But should you kneel and tell your love,
With cruel scorn her lip will curl:
And you’ll be left alone to sigh:
I’m jilted by a stitching girl.
The stitching girls, the witching girls –
The singing, clinging stitching girls
They break your heart and then depart
The naughty, haughty stitching girls.
Unlike the poem’s author, who it seems was cast aside by a stitching girl, Francis Townsend found love with one. He and Annie married in 1877 and went on to raise Nelle, Henry and Roy.
Massachusetts marriage records
Massachusetts death records
19th Century Card Photos Kwik Guide by Gary W. Clark
Men, Women and Work: Class, Gender and Protest in the New England Shoe Industry, 1780 – 1910, by Mary H. Blewett, published 1990
Women in Industry Vol. 5, published 1916