Julia’s Occupation

20 Sep

Cover_Julia RiedIsabella Alden’s series of books about the Ried family were her most popular novels. In Julia Ried, book 2 of the series, the Ried family falls on hard times, and daughter Julia decides to strike out on her own. She takes a job as a bookkeeper in a paper box factory in the neighboring town of Newton.

In choosing Julia’s career, Isabella was on solid ground. She was able to write convincingly about Julia’s job and work environment, because Isabella’s father, Isaac Macdonald, operated a paper box factory in Gloversville, New York.

Page from an 1870 Fulton County New York Business Directory.

Page from an 1870 Fulton County New York Business Directory.

Gloversville, the little village where Isabella grew up, was celebrated for its glove-making industry.

A 1908 postcard of Gloversville showing the intersection of Main Street, with its many retail glove shops, and Fulton Street where Isaac Macdonald's box factory was located.

A 1908 postcard of Gloversville showing the intersection of Main Street, with its many retail glove shops, and Fulton Street, where Isaac Macdonald’s box factory was located.

Between 1890 and 1950, Gloversville supplied nearly 90 percent of all gloves sold in the United States.

1913 paper glove box; from Pinterest.

1913 paper glove box; from Pinterest.

Besides the many “skin mills” and glove manufacturing business in the little village, the industry spawned a host of supporting businesses, such as box makers, tool and die manufacturers, and dealers in buttons and threads.

Box for Silkateen brand ladies gloves. From Etsy.

Box for Silkateen brand ladies gloves. From Etsy.

Isabella’s father, Isaac Macdonald owned one of four or five box-making factories in Gloversville. While there’s no record that Isabella ever worked in her father’s factory, she had a good grasp of the working conditions, and she conveyed her thorough knowledge of the business in Julia Ried.

Women workers at a box factory, about 1890.

Women workers at a box factory, about 1890.

In Julia Ried, Isabella gave lively descriptions of the “shop-girls” who folded and pasted the cardboard boxes together. According to Frank Hooper, one of those shop-girls in the book, they worked ten hours a day, six days a week.

A 14-year-old girl at work in a paper box factory. From National Archives.

A 14-year-old girl at work in a paper box factory. From National Archives.

Pasting cardboard boxes together was a sticky, messy, exhausting job; but it was a job that was often performed by women and children.

A young girl working alongside a woman in a paper box factory, 1912. From National Archives.

A young girl working alongside a woman in a paper box factory, 1912. From National Archives.

Small boxes especially—like those that contained gloves for ladies and children—needed to be assembled and pasted by women or children with small hands.

From the Gloversville Daily Leader, March 12, 1900.

From the Gloversville Daily Leader, March 12, 1900.

Yet in the glove-making industry—and its supporting businesses—women and girls earned half as much as men.

The work could be dangerous. Accidents were common, and some injuries could be severe.

From the Gloversville Daily Leader, May 12, 1898.

From the Gloversville Daily Leader, May 12, 1898.

 

A young box factory worker after an accident with a veneering saw; 1907.

A young box factory worker after an accident with a veneering saw; 1907.

Isabella drew on her knowledge of the box-making business to create some of her most beloved characters. The characters of Frank Hooper and Jerome Sayles (whose father co-owned the box factory in the story) made return appearances in other books in the Ester Ried Series.

Women and girls working in a box factory, 1910.

Women and girls working in a box factory, 1910.

You can learn more about Gloversville, Isabella’s home town, by reading these related posts:

Helena’s Alexandre Gloves

Deerville, My Home Town

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The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Author Jenny Berlin

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Britt Reads Fiction

Reviews and giveaways for Christian fiction. Bringing readers information on great stories and connecting authors with their readers.

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