University of Massachusetts Press Books


Marla R. Miller



Download Full Text (19.5 MB)

Download Cover, Title Page, Contents, Acknowledgements, Introduction (2.0 MB)

Download Part 1, Chapter 1: Clothing and Consumers in Rural New England, 1770-1810 (2.0 MB)

Download Part 1, Chapter 2: Needle Trades in New England 1760-1810 (1.9 MB)

Download Part 2, Chapter 3: Needlework of the Rural Gentry (The World of Elizabeth Porter Phelps) (1.6 MB)

Download Part 2, Chapter 4: Family, Community, and Informal Work in the Needle Trades (The Worlds of Easter Fairchild Newton and Tryphena Newton Cooke) (1.3 MB)

Download Part 2, Chapter 5: Family, Artisanry, and Craft Tradition (The Worlds of Tabitha Clark Smith and Rebecca Dickinson) (2.7 MB)

Download Part 2, Chapter 6: Gender, Artisanry, and Craft Tradition (The World of Catherine Phelps Parsons) (1.2 MB)

Download Part 3, Chapter 7: Women's Artisanal Work in the Changing New England Marketplace (1.6 MB)

Download Part 3, Conclusion: The Romance of Old Clothes (1.4 MB)


Among the enduring stereotypes of early American history has been the colonial Goodwife, perpetually spinning, sewing, darning, and quilting, answering all of her family’s textile needs. But the Goodwife of popular historical imagination obscures as much as she reveals; the icon appears to explain early American women’s labor history while at the same time allowing it to go unexplained. Tensions of class and gender recede, and the largest artisanal trade open to early American women is obscured in the guise of domesticity.

In this book, Marla R. Miller illuminates the significance of women’s work in the clothing trades of the early Republic. Drawing on diaries, letters, reminiscences, ledgers, and material culture, she explores the contours of working women’s lives in rural New England, offering a nuanced view of their varied ranks and roles—skilled and unskilled, black and white, artisanal and laboring—as producers and consumers, clients and craftswomen, employers and employees. By plumbing hierarchies of power and skill, Miller explains how needlework shaped and reflected the circumstances of real women’s lives, at once drawing them together and setting them apart.

The heart of the book brings into focus the entwined experiences of six women who lived in and around Hadley, Massachusetts, a thriving agricultural village nestled in a bend in the Connecticut River about halfway between the Connecticut and Vermont borders. Miller’s examination of their distinct yet overlapping worlds reveals the myriad ways that the circumstances of everyday lives positioned women in relationship to one another, enlarging and limiting opportunities and shaping the trajectories of days, years, and lifetimes in ways both large and small. The Needle’s Eye reveals not only how these women thought about their work, but how they thought about their world.


ISBN I-55849-544-4 (library cloth ed.); 545-2 (paper)

Publication Date



University of Massachusetts Press




Women, Employment, Massachusetts, Hadley (Town), History, Needleworkers, Case studies, Women artisans, Social classes, Clothing trade


History | Women's Studies

The Needles Eye: Women and Work in the Age of Revolution