Isabella 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.
Gloversville, the little village where Isabella grew up, was celebrated for its glove-making industry.
Between 1890 and 1950, Gloversville supplied nearly 90 percent of all gloves sold in the United States.
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.
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.
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.
Pasting cardboard boxes together was a sticky, messy, exhausting job; but it was a job that was often performed by women and children.
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.
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.
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.
You can learn more about Gloversville, Isabella’s home town, by reading these related posts: