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. Continue reading “Patching a Hole in the History Canon”

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. Continue reading “Roosters and other ways of waking up”

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. Continue reading “Sarah Savage in Women’s Literature”

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. Continue reading “Deconstructing Binaries in Sarah Savages’s The Factory Girl”

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. Continue reading “All of the Didacticism, None of the Scandal: Questioning the Canon with The Factory Girl”

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. Continue reading “Prison Boys Read The Factory Girl”

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. Continue reading “Thinking about Early Adolescent Literature”

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. Continue reading “The Factory Girl as anti-seduction story”

Reading Religion and Rights in The Factory Girl

Devin Zuber
Graduate Theological Union (GTU) at Berkeley

I taught Sarah Savage’s The Factory Girl in an advanced seminar at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) (, a consortium for different religious studies and graduate theological degree programs in Berkeley, California. Typical of such seminars at the GTU, “Trauma and Testimony: Literature, Religion, and Human Rights” ( had an extremely diverse student body: both those divinity students ostensibly pursuing an M.Div. degree for practical work as chaplains or ministers, as well as MA students from our Art & Religion program, in addition to several PhD students whose approach to religion or theology was wholly secular and academic. For some of the divinity students, thus, the ethics of how they were to instrumentalize biblical text, and use the words as a way for living in the world, was something they had spent time thinking through for themselves, and I was curious to see how they would contextualize the character Mary, and her consistent, didactic exegesis. As Duncan Faherty and Ed White’s excellent introduction so artfully brings out, The Factory Girl lies at a fascinating intersection between early American literature and the history of 19th century American Protestant theology, and I was looking forward to how this GTU seminar, with its various seminarians, might help me develop new perspectives on a text that inherently raises questions about the relationship between religion (and/or religious institutions) and literature. Continue reading “Reading Religion and Rights in The Factory Girl”

“She Really Wants to Dance!”

D. Berton Emerson
Cal Poly Pomona

In an upper-level seminar that the catalogue titles “Early American Literature” and describes as featuring “critical analysis of literature written in or about North American before 1820,” I selected readings appearing between 1789 and 1815 to examine the various ways Americans worked through the meanings of Revolutionary ideals played out in everyday life. Few of the twenty students were familiar with any of the texts in the course, so I opened the course with the general conceit that, amidst all the creative energies of social, political, economic, and cultural life after a successful military revolution, citizens and statesmen struggled to come up with a name for the new nation. Was this a minor issue, I asked, or emblematic of ongoing tensions between ideals, reality, and the narratives we weave to make sense of it all? To answer this question of naming and narrating, we would examine the ways a handful of early American authors grappled with the values, oversights, and paradoxes of theories and praxis in the new nation. Continue reading ““She Really Wants to Dance!””