[Report entitled ‘Shams’ on a lecture by John de Fraine, of Cambridge – talks about impoverished Manchester needlewomen dying young and asks: I want to know how many brave, struggling, hopeful young women who had resisted sin’s temptation seventy-times-seven had died at last in the struggle?]
“Oh men! with sisters dear!
Oh, men! with mothers and wives!
It is not linen you are wearing out,
But human creatures lives!
Stitch! Stitch! Stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
Sewing at once, with a double thread,
A shroud as well as a shirt.”
“But why do I talk of death?
That phantom of grisly bone,
I hardly fear his terrible shape,
It seems so like my own.
It seems so like my own,
Because of the fast I keep,
Oh, God! that bread should be so dear,
And flesh and blood so cheap!”
Title:[Oh Men with Sisters Dear]
Date:October 14th 1865
Keywords:gender, morality, poverty
This skilfully constructed poem was published shortly after the end of the Cotton Famine in the east Lancashire town of Bacup, situated in the Pennines just across from the Yorkshire border. It addresses themes of poverty in the textile district, but also attendant concerns relating to the sexual exploitation of young working-class women. The poem appears to have been inspired by journalistic reports of high mortality rates of female textile workers in Manchester 20 miles away, but Bacup was heavily industrialised at this time, so it would have strong local relevance. – SR