Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is known for its natural beauty and severe winters, as well as the mines and forests where men labored to feed industrial factories elsewhere in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But there were factories in the Upper Peninsula, too, and women who worked in them. In We Kept Our Towns Going, Phyllis Michael Wong tells the stories of the Gossard Girls, women who sewed corsets and bras at factories in Ishpeming and Gwinn from the early twentieth century all the way into the 1970s.
As the Upper Peninsula’s mines became increasingly exhausted and its stands of timber further depleted, the Gossard Girls’ income sustained both their families and the local economy. During this time the workers showed their political and economic strength, including a successful four-month strike in the 1940s that capped an eight-year struggle to unionize.
Drawing on dozens of interviews with the surviving workers and their families, this book highlights the daily challenges and joys of these mostly first- and second-generation immigrant women. It also illuminates the way the Gossard Girls navigated shifting ideas of what single and married women could and should do as workers and citizens. From cutting cloth and distributing materials to getting paid and having fun, Wong gives us a rare ground-level view of piecework in a clothing factory from the women on the sewing room floor.
PHYLLIS MICHAEL WONG has held roles as a historian, an educator, and thirty-year member of the university level academic world, including as First Lady at Northern Michigan University (2004–12) and San Francisco State University (2012–19).
We Kept Our Towns Going: The Gossard Girls of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is available at msupress.org and other fine booksellers. Phyllis will be speaking in Gwinn, Michigan, on April 12. On April 13 at 6:30 PM at the Marquette Regional History Center in Marquette, Michigan. On Thursday, April 14, in the afternoon at Northern Michigan University. Please see the show notes for more information about these talks in the show notes.
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