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Mary Paul's Letters

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Essay Assignment: Market Revolution

During the nineteenth century, America went through a number of social, economic and political changes. Revolutions in manufacturing and commerce led to substantial economic growth. Several cultural movements reformed American society. Mary Paul, once just a normal girl from Vermont, led a life that was shaped by the changes of the 1800's. The information gathered from Mary Paul's letters to her father make it clear that Mary's life experiences turned her into anything but an average woman. However, in the scope of the economic and cultural reforms of the nineteenth century, Mary Paul represents the average American.

Before the Marketing Revolution, women had a very limited role in society. They were in charge of child raising and housekeeping. They were financially dependent on their husbands because it was simply not their place to earn their own wage. At this point in history, Mary Paul would have fit the mold of a typical American woman. It is safe to assume that although Mary may have dreamed of economic independence and the ability to buy what she wanted, she would have followed in the footsteps of women before her - getting married, raising children and keeping a home. When factories and new machines begin revolutionize the American economy, some women like Mary Paul are changed forever. In a letter asking her father's permission to work at Lowell Mills, Mary writes, "I think [working at Lowell] would be much better for me than to stay about here. I could earn more to begin with than I can any where about here. I am in need of clothes which I cannot get..." The Marketing Revolution creates opportunity for women to earn their own wages and buy things, like clothes, which they may not have been able to buy at their respective homes. In her first letter from Lowell, Mary writes, "I like very well have 50 cts first payment increasing every payment as I get along in work..." Mary is very excited to be earning her own money. These payments represent a liberation for women from the economic constraints of American society. Mary Paul was just one of many women who experienced these historic changes.

Eventually, Mary Paul's pursuit of success and happiness takes her in a different direction. She begins to show dissatisfaction with Lowell after working there for only a month. She describes the dangers of working at the mill, "one girl fell down and broke her neck... The same day a man was killed by cars. Another had nearly all of his ribs broken. Another was nearly killed by falling down and having a bale of cotton fall on him." Safety was one reason that Mary began to have doubts about working at Lowell. She also writes, "I am very tired tonight... If I thought I could make a decent living at C[laremont] I would come back there." The aspects of working at Lowell that once fascinated Mary Paul no longer fit her needs and desires. In a fashion similar to how the Market Revolution changed her definitions of happiness and success, a new revolution soon changed these definitions again.

During the nineteenth century several cultural reforms occurred in America. Some movement encouraged individualism, while others encouraged communalism.



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