Scarborough Writer Publishes "The Belles of New England"

A Book Review by Juliana L’Heureux

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Hard working women who labored in New England's textile mills, including the mills of York County, are finally recognized in a beautiful newly published book.

"The Belles of New England: The Women of the Textile Mills and the Families Whose Wealth They Wove" by Scarborough retired newsman William Moran, is just published in hard cover by St. Martin's Press in New York. Moran writes a fresh story about the French-Canadian and Irish immigrants who contributed to the success of New England's 19th and 20th century textile moguls, like Francis Cabot Lowell, founder of the mills in the town bearing his name, and others.

Northern New England cannot escape its industrial past. Miles of long, perfectly structured, red brick mill buildings, mostly empty or homes to shopping boutiques, are evidence of an industrial past. Women workers who manned the once busy mills helped build a middle class society in America. Their story, largely untold until now, is finally complete, thanks to Moran's research. The vital role women labor played in mills like the Goodall Mills in Sanford, the Pepperell Mills in Biddeford or the Bates Mills in Lewiston are included in the history.

Moran, 68, became interested in the mills while working as a newsman for CBS in New York City. "I would drive to Maine from New York and see the buildings across the Merrimac River, looking left going North," he said in an interview from his home in Scarborough. "I kept thinking about those buildings. Every book I read about the mills seemed to have a narrow focus. But, I thought, what the heck! I'll write about all of the mills," he said. When he retired from CBS in 1995, he began to research all the mill towns including the York County towns of Biddeford and Sanford. Also, Moran visited the Amoskeag Mills in Manchester, the Pacific Mill in Lowell, Mass, plus others.

Six years of interviews and writing resulted in an exceptional historic tribute to thousands of Franco-American, Irish and other ethnic women laborers. Indeed, women laborers supplied a substantial workforce, enough to make men like Abbott Lawrence, whose family built the mill in Lawrence, Mass., a wealthy and famous man. Although the mills demanded long working hours, the money women earned gave them rare financial independence. A poem written by a textile spinner proud of her labor status describes this liberation: "Despite the toil, we all agree; Out of the mill or in; Dependent on others, we ne'er will be; As long as we're able to spin."

Sanford's Goodall Mills get a small but favorable nod in "Belles of New England". "Five thousand people worked for the Goodall Mills, many of them for 40 or 50 years, and many of their children worked there, too," writes Moran. The labor problems with Goodall Mills were "few", says Moran. "The company built houses and sold them at cost to workers. The Goodall family helped build the Sanford town library, town hall, hospital, ballpark, the airport and a golf club. Goodall executives organized company parities, opened their homes…and summer cottages to their employees…,"writes Moran. Actually, Goodall's story might be an entire chapter because the mill owners differ from others of their generation. Instead, Sanford is just one long paragraph in the book.

But, Moran isn't thinking about a sequel. "I came back to Maine to retire," he says. Nevertheless, the book's publisher already has Moran on a speaking schedule to talk about "Belles of New England".

The Belles of New England was written by William Moran and published by Dunne Books; ISBN: 0312301839; (September 2002) . Available new and used at

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Copyright 1994-2002, Portland Press Herald, Portland, Maine and Juliana L'Heureux