Phyllis Wong and Anne Marie Murphy
Discussion and book signing with Phyllis Wong, author of We Kept Our Towns Going: The Gossard Girls of Michigan's Upper Peninsula
and Ann Marie Murphy, author of the forthcoming book: City of Corsets
Wednesday, October 26, 2022 at 5:30pm
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. 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 to 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, Phyllis Michael Wong’s We Kept Our Towns Going 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.
This book reminds us of all of the work women have done and still do and how important it truly is.
—From the foreword by Lisa M. Fine
This is a brilliant presentation about the cultural and economic history of women in the garment industry in the UP of Michigan. These are important and moving stories, very well researched.
—Douglas B. Roberts, former chair, board of trustees, Northern Michigan University; former director, Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, Michigan State University; and former State Treasurer of Michigan
Relentlessly researched, beautifully written, and chock-full of intimate life stories from some of America’s most impactful glass-ceiling breakers, We Kept Our Towns Going is an engaging yet poignant reminder that our nation’s battle for gender equity, immigrant rights, and labor unions is replete with unsung heroes. Unsung no longer, the Gossard Girls profiled in these pages are worthy of study and celebration as our nation aims to finally and fully eradicate the inequities they so courageously faced. —Framroze M. Virjee, president, California State University, Fullerton
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).
About the upcoming book, City of Corsets, by Anne Marie Murphy
In the small New England city of Worcester Massachusetts, an outsized industry first moved in before the American Civil War then flourished for decades, continuing through the latter years of the 20th century: corset production. The 130 corset-related businesses in the city were factories, sole proprietor "corsetieres," suppliers, and even a training school. This book presents the stories of some of the many women who made those corsets. In many of the profiles we see a woman arriving in Worcester after leaving a small town, looking for opportunity; her story illustrates a shift in America from farm to factory, from country to city. We see women who are often the sole family bread-winner gaining essential skills at big factories then bringing those skills to decades of self-employment as corsetieres, paying the rent -- even owning a house -- without a man under the roof. We even see a midwestern farm town girl make her way across the country to her eventual position as renowned corset designer and factory owner. We see a vibrant industry of early 20th century female entrepreneurs in stories filled with accomplishment, disappointment, and hard work.
For over thirty years Anne Marie Murphy has been a small business owner, running a company in Canada and the U.S. that provides legal research services to the film & television industry. She has written many articles on topics related to that work -- some of them collected in the ebook Script Clearance 101 -- and she speaks at filmmaker training programs throughout the year. Anne Marie now finds herself in Worcester, Massachusetts, which she has discovered is the city of corsets. The material at her website www.cityofcorsets.com is in the process of joining many other chapters to become a published book … stay tuned!