Friday, July 01, 2011


According to historian Bruce Watson, when William Wood's massive textile mill on the Merrimack River in Lawrence, Massachusetts was completed, in the middle of the first decade of the 20th century, it was regarded, at least by the locals, as "the eighth wonder of the world":
The size of the building simply boggled the imagination. The mill had two parallel wings each 1,937 feet long, 500 feet longer than the Empire State Building if laid on its side. The mill's sprawling floors housed 1,470 power looms along sixteen miles of aisles... Enclosing thirty acres under one roof, employing a small city of six thousand workers, the Wood Mill was to textiles what Pittsburgh was to steel -- the very symbol of consolidation and power.
Its workforce, and the workforce of the city's other mills, included representatives from some 30 nationalities, among them Armenians, East European Jews, French Canadians, Germans, Greeks, Hungarians, Irish, Italians, Lithuanians, Poles, Portuguese, Russians, Scots, Syrians, and Turks. Many of the groups had their own newspapers, businesses, and places of worship.

On January 11, 1912, angered by a pay cut, workers at one of the city's mills walked out. The strike quickly spread, and over the next several months the city witnessed one of the most intense struggles between labor and management in 20th-century America, drawing in everyone from "Big Bill" Haywood and the Wobblies of the IWW to Harvard students assigned to serve in the local militia. (Watson's Bread and Roses: Mills, Migrants, and the Struggle for the American Dream tells the story in full.)

This postcard of the Wood Mill was mailed six years after the strike and four days after the signing of the armistice that ended the First World War. There are many other contemporary postcard views of the Lawrence mills; this one, published by L. L. Lester, a firm in nearby Lowell, is not the most aesthetically pleasing and in terms of lithographic technique it's pretty crude, but it does convey the vast scale of the mill. It was addressed to a Mrs. J. Liverman at "Suit 25," 888 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. The sender's name could be "Jos.," maybe her husband Joseph or Josef. He or she wasn't necessarily a mill worker, perhaps just a traveling salesman on business.

I have no idea even what language family this message belongs to (Slavic? Baltic?), but would love to hear from someone who does, and who could perhaps even transcribe and translate it. The only words I can pick out with reasonable certainty are "Malden Sq."

I'm told that the language is Russian and that the message is something like:

Dear Shura,

I'm thankful to say I'm alive and well, and wish you the same. Go tomorrow to the station at Malden Sq. and wait for me, I'll be there half past six or a bit later. Be well. See you tomorrow[?]

Thanks to the good folks at for identifying and transcribing this.

Postscript: According to federal census records from 1920, the Joseph Liverman at 888 Massachusetts Avenue was a sign painter, aged 35, who lived with his wife, Anna. He was born in Russia and had immigrated to the US in 1910. By September 23, 1923, according to U.S. Naturalization Records indexes, he had moved to 30 Upham St. in Malden, Massachusetts; here his date and place of birth are listed as May 6th, 1885 in Odessa, and his occupation as "sign writer." According to the 1930 census he was still living in Malden and working as a house painter; his wife's name is given as Adelia but since her age matches Anna's she was probably the same woman. It's interesting that although the 1920 census lists the couple's native tongue as "Russian," the 1930 census instead indicates "Yiddish."

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