NEW YORK FOLKLORE
Vol. 4, Nos. 1-4, 1978
WOMEN’S ROLES IN A COMPANY TOWN: NEW YORK MILLS, 1900–1951
Susan G. Davis
During the last European migration to Central New York, the
Village of New York Mills, a company town on the outskirts of
Utica, became a permanent settlement of Polish immigrants.
Among those who arrived in the textile town between 1900 and
1915 were many young women. Some travelled with their
parents, others came alone to board with relatives or friends.
These women, like other twentieth-century immigrants, came in
search of cash wages. They had heard that the textile factories in
New York Mills offered jobs for women.
The years since 1900 have seen the growth of a distinctive
Polish-American community in New York Mills. The immigrant
women and their daughters—the first and second generation, respectively—
played a number of essential roles in the establishment
of this neighborhood, shaping the life of its residents into patterns
which drew on the Polish ethnic heritage and sprang from the
conditions of company town life. The work of women in the mills,
as union members, food producers, landladies, storekeepers,
mothers, and wives, formed the base for the ethnic working-class
identity of the village—an identity which persists today.
The exploration of women’s roles and patterns of female life in
New York Mills is drawn from personal narratives of residents over
fifty, and treats the period from the arrival of large numbers of
Poles (1900–1915) to the end of the textile era there in 1951. In
the case of New York Mills, textile mill work and community
identity were inseparable for Polish-Americans; thus, this description
reflects the dominance of industrial labor over patterns
of life in the town. But work here includes all the roles performed
by women in the establishment of families and neighborhood networks:
Women contributed in a variety of ways to the sense of
community and the experience of growing up Polish-American in
New York Mills.
New York Mills was planned by textile industry investors and
constructed in the early nineteenth century. The A.D. Juilliard
Company became the twentieth-century owner of most of the
factories, housing and stores, and its management exercised considerable
control over life in the village. The textile industry provided
most of the jobs available to women, and this economic fact
was a powerful force shaping female life in New York Mills.
Polish-American women’s work for wages is best understood in
the context of the family....
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