Just Teach One

Teaching Reflection-The Factory Girl

Michael S. Martin
Nicholls State University


Sarah Savage’s fictional works are not a known-commodity in American literature, so I first approached my 300-level ‘Survey of American Literature I’ course and its use of this text as something innovative, both for my own teaching and for the students’ experience with the literature.  Therefore, I first showed students the Just Teach One web site and emphasized the newness of this endeavor and of scholarship on Savage’s novel; I wanted them to know they, by reading and analyzing the novel, were a part of such important scholarship in early American literature. This reading came at the very end of the semester, and I sequenced the novel purposely to be a culmination of the course, this after having some prefatory readings on female domesticity and the novel, and male short fiction from Hawthorne and Poe.

For my course, I placed the novel in such a sequence with work/labor and religiosity as the defining dyads and emphasized that the latter takes precedent in Savage’s novel as it progresses. Labor takes a backseat to the family and marriage plotline for the majority of The Factory Girl. Despite this limitation, I found it fruitful to link Savage’s longer work with Harriet Beecher Stowe’s short fiction and therefore used “The Seamstress” for points of comparison with Mary and her labor in the cotton factory within the novel. Particular points of comparison could include the way that domestic space is one of sanctuary and the “hearth” for Savage, while Stowe depicts a sickly space of incessant working day and night. Stowe uses the analogy of “the candle goeth not out by night” in her depiction of a female, homosocial family. Meanwhile, as Ed White and Duncan Faherty mention, Mary uses her home environment as a site for “reflect[ion] [and] careful use of home and leisure time” (par. 1).

The Factory Girl’s opening is comprised of a monologue from Mary’s dying father, one where he implores her to be a “good” girl, among other final, sentimental pronouncements. In this respect, I framed Savage’s rhetorical device in light of ‘death speeches’ in 19th-century literature, particularly Little Eva’s godly one within Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In addition, I happen to teach at a university with a substantial amount of Catholic students, so I emphasized not only the religiosity of Savage’s novel, particularly the religious didacticism at its heart, but also the Protestant work ethic that informs her work and Stowe’s short story. On the final day, I had my students act out scenes of the book since so much of the work is composed in direct discourse; this exercise was a fruitful one. Other approaches that I took during this initial teaching of The Factory Girl included listing Savage’s novelistic shortcomings, including her lack of character development both with the sullen Mrs. Holden and Mary’s eventual husband, Mr. Danforth.


A New “Major Figure”? Incorporating Sarah Savage’s The Factory Girl in the American Literature Survey

Fiona McWilliam
Florida State University

This past Spring I had the opportunity to teach Sarah Savage’s The Factory Girl in my Major Figures in American Literature course at Florida State University. This 3000-level course, aimed primarily (but not exclusively) at English majors, centered around the theme, “Nineteenth-Century American Authors in Context.” My aim for the semester was for students to engage with cultural artifacts from the nineteenth century and thus develop a more nuanced understanding of our assigned texts and authors. More broadly, I wanted students to think about how and why an author becomes a “major-figure” and consider why we read some authors and texts but not others – Sarah Savage’s The Factory Girl seemed like the perfect opportunity to have students consider these questions. (more…)

Patching a Hole in the History Canon

Whitney Martinko
Department of History
Villanova University

The call for participants for this term’s Just Teach One text came at a fortuitous moment for me, just as I was struggling to put the finishing touches on a syllabus for an undergraduate History lecture course entitled “Building a New Nation, 1800-1850.” I had resolved to assign a reading load almost exclusively of easily accessible primary sources. But in scanning several piles of primary document readers, textbooks, and colleagues’ syllabi, I noticed a curious feature of what might be called the early American history canon: it seems to include far fewer sources from the years 1800 to 1820 than it does for previous and following decades. Though this feature appears as a thin spot in the fabric of a course covering colonial North America to the Civil War, or even the Revolution to Reconstruction, it became a series of holes when I stretched the material from 1800 and 1850 to fill an entire semester. The Factory Girl (1814), as prepared by Duncan and Ed, seemed to offer a patch for my syllabus that made the mended piece far more interesting than the original. (more…)

Roosters and other ways of waking up

Emily Ogden
University of Virginia

I taught Savage’s The Factory Girl in a course called “Sex and Sentiment.” The Factory Girl landed on the syllabus just after Catharine Sedgwick’s A New England Tale (1822)—”sentiment”—and just before the anonymous Ellen Merton, the Belle of Lowell; or, Confessions of the G.F.K. Club—”sex.” In general the course tacked back and forth between stories of seduction and stories of successful female bildung. The Factory Girl falls in the latter category about as squarely as can be, and before we started reading it I had gotten interested in something that was for me a previously overlooked element of your basic antebellum good-girl profile: time discipline. In Hannah Foster’s The Boarding School, the pupils wake up at 5 am, but for no discernable reason: “the young ladies arose at five, from which they had two hours at their own disposal, till the bell summoned them at seven” (139, in the recent Norton edition of The Coquette and The Boarding School edited by Jennifer Harris and Bryan Waterman). I lectured about scheduling for scheduling’s sake—timetables as a way of organizing the soul—and read to my students from the punishment of Damiens and the rules for the house of young prisoners at the beginning of Discipline and Punish. (more…)

Sarah Savage in Women’s Literature

Sarah Salter
Penn State University

This spring semester at the Pennsylvania State University, I was slated to teach “Women Writers,” a cross-listed English/Women’s Studies course geared toward a generalized undergraduate audience. Content requirements were minimal. The course catalogue’s broad account described for curious internet surfers a “wide-ranging study of works by American, British, and other English-speaking women writers” before providing a daunting partial list of authors: “Bradstreet, Wollstonecraft, C. Rosefti, M. Shelley, Austen, C. Bronte, E. Bronte, G. Eliot, D. Wordsworth, Dickinson, Wharton, Stowe, Freeman, Jewett, Fuller, H.D., Moore, Sitwell, Bishop, Brooks, Plath, Cather, Woolf, Stein, Lessing, Bowen, O’Connor, Welty, Porter, Oates, Olsen, Sarton, Gordimer, Atwood, Morrison, Kinkaid, McCarthy, and Churchill.”

Familiar or not as the writers on this list may have been to my incoming students or to me, it was certain that Sarah Savage, author of 1814’s The Factory Girl, was not among those suggested. (more…)

Deconstructing Binaries in Sarah Savages’s The Factory Girl

Leigh Johnson
Marymount University

The Factory Girl by Sarah Savage replaced Rebecca Harding Davis’s Life in the Iron Mills on my spring syllabus for EN 350, The American Dream, a liberal arts core advanced literature class for non-majors. Students found Mary’s story less than thrilling, but by the end of our discussion, we had mined the text to fascinating results.

Clearly, the story is didactic literature at its finest, and students grasped the values on offer. Breaking the text into the binaries helped students to structurally organize the elements of the text. Brianstorming such binaries as prosperity/debt, piousness/immorality, work/leisure, youth/age, and education/ignorance among others allowed students who had been confused by the nuances of Mark Twain’s Puddn’head Wilson (which we had just finished) to comprehend the ways that one half of a binary is often privileged in a text. Examining this underlying structure served to clarify the moral teachings of the text and opened up space for us to explore how these binaries might not be as stable as the text suggests. (more…)

All of the Didacticism, None of the Scandal: Questioning the Canon with The Factory Girl

David Lawrimore
University of Florida

I taught Sarah Savage’s The Factory Girl in “Digitizing Early American Literature,” a 200-level special topics course. The course’s major goal was to consider how standard conceptions of the early American novel shift when considered alongside non-canonical texts, a project that is made more accessible given the recent proliferation of digital archives of early American literature. We compared such works as The Power of Sympathy, Charlotte Temple, and The Algerine Captive to lesser-known works like The Factory Girl to see how the canon often offers a skewed perspective of the body of novels written in the early national period. Students also worked together to create a course website that offered information on some of lesser-known novels, including The Factory Girl. (more…)

Prison Boys Read The Factory Girl

Rachel Boccio
University of Rhode Island

I taught The Factory Girl to a select group of advanced students at John R. Manson Youth Institution, a maximum-security correctional facility for adolescence males in Cheshire, Connecticut. The “boys” of my title are part of a larger reading group I began facilitating in 2013 with former English students (those who’d graduated from our high school or credit diploma program). Typically we meet a few times a semester to read and discuss texts in the prison literature canon. Often these texts invite an engagement with topics of interest to Early Americanists: the origins of the penitentiary, authenticity and canonicity, and race and slavery.

Eight students joined me in reading The Factory Girl. (more…)

Thinking about Early Adolescent Literature

Zach Hutchins
Colorado State University

Teaching a course of my own design, about how eighteenth- and nineteenth-century texts make their way from the archive and into modern classrooms, seemed like the perfect opportunity to share a novel with students from the Just Teach One archive. In the three months preceding our scheduled consumption of Sarah Savage’s The Factory Girl, my students had transcribed a handwritten sermon, annotated and introduced a slave narrative, and written an essay assessing the challenges of reconstructing an incomplete novel. They had, in other words, participated in the scholarly work of recovering primary texts and preparing them for publication: work similar to, if less sophisticated than that performed by Ed and Duncan in this forum. (more…)

The Factory Girl as anti-seduction story

Sarah Hayes
University of Florida

The Factory Girl fit well in my lower-level early American women writers course. After reading Charlotte Temple and The Coquette, The Factory Girl seems to read like the same message in reverse; instead of cautioning young women on what can happen if you fail at virtue, The Factory Girl shows young women the rewards they will reap if they remain “good and virtuous” against all trials. My students seemed to agree that Mary is a much stronger woman than both Charlotte and Eliza, not only because she overcomes temptation, but because she sticks to her convictions despite lacking the support of a man. This led to an interesting conversation about privilege and why Mary lacks the luxury of giving up on life when it gets rough. (more…)

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