Rediscovering Our Century of Silk

The Northampton silk industry, now largely forgotten, is a fascinating chapter in New England history. The Northampton Silk Project is an interdisciplinary effort to rediscover its many facets (social, economic, scientific, technological, cultural) by engaging the expertise of a wide range of people and employing a variety of techniques (primary documents, secondary literature, oral history, the artifacts that were produced here, extant buildings and machinery, etc.).

This list of resources is just a beginning. Please send us suggestions! We plan to update the bibliography every six months or so.


Who (who were the industry's founders, successors, workers?)

Christopher Clark, The Communitarian Moment: the radical challenge of the Northampton Association, Cornell University Press, 1995

Oral history, interviews with former Northampton silk workers, by Professor Kiki Smith and students

Skinner's Silks and Satins: their romantic story, a booklet produced by William Skinner & Sons, 1936

The Corticelli Kitten (a company newsletter for employees, published regularly for some years)

Nell Irvin Painter, Sojourner Truth: a life, a symbol, W. W. Norton, 1996

Charles Sheffield, The History of Florence, Massachusetts, including a Complete Account of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, Florence, Massachusetts: by the Editor, 1895. Reprinted by the Book Committee of the Florence Civic and Business Association.

Alfred Lilly, The Silk Industry of the United States, New York: Jenkins and THomas, Printers, 1882; Forbes Library

Ruth Houghton, "The silk industry in Northampton", Smith College honors thesis, 1929 (in the Sophia Smith Collection in Nielson Library)

Agnes Hannay, "A Chronicle of Industry on the Mill River, Smith College Studies in History , 1935-36

Alice Eaton McBee, "From Utopia to Florence: the story of a Transcendental community in Northampton, Mass, 1840-1952", Smith College Studies in History , 1947

L. P. Brockett, The Silk Industry in America, published by the Silk Association of America for the Centennial Exposition, 1876

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What did the silk companies make? Who bought their products?
Who used them?

Artifacts at the Florence Civic Center, Historic Northampton, and Forbes Library

The Rose & Trumbull Co., American Silk Industry, The Silk Association of America, 1893

Peter Weis and Ann Feitelson, "The Silk Industry in Florence, Massachusetts", Piecework, January-February 1999, pp. 36-44.

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How is silk made? Techniques and technology.

Samuel Whitmarsh, Eight Years Experience in the culture of the Mulberry Tree and the case of the Silk Worm, Northampton, 1839; see also other sericulture manuals of the time (by Cobb, d'Homergue, etc)

Edwin Elmer, "A Lady of Baptist Corner", painting, Smith College Museum of Art; the machine shown here is in the museum of the Westfield library (Westfield Athenaeum)

Silk reeling machine and Jacquard loom, reconstructed by Smith College students, 1998-99

The Silk Grower and Farmer's Manual, 1831 - 1838; continued as Journal of the American Silk Society and Rural Economist, 1839 - 41

Silk: its origin, culture, and manufacture, The Corticelli Silk Company, 1911

Charles Dean, The Mills of Mill River, unpublished manuscript, 1935 (Forbes Library)

Ads for silk machinery in Rose&Trumbull (see above) and Brockett (see below)

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When (what contemporary records are available?)

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, 1832 - 1932

Hampshire Country and Franklin County Court Records, Northampton

Records of the Northampton Association for Education and Industry, The American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA

The Stetson family letters, to be published

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Where (did all this take place?)

Extant mill buildings and former mill sites, and the homes of the industry's founders, in Florence, Northampton, Williamsburg, and Leeds (a bicycle tour guidebook will be ready by the fall of 2002)

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Why (did the silk industry thrive but later fail? and why does it matter? economics, material culture, the role of the industry in the development of Northampton , etc)

First Annual Report of the New England Silk Convention, Northampton, September 28, 1842

Christopher Clark, The Roots of Rural Capitalism: Western Massachusetts, 1780-1860, Cornell University Press, 1992 (paperback reprint edition)

Agnes Hannay, A Chronicle of Industry along the Mill River, Smith College Studies in History, 1935 (see especially the section "The establishment of the silk industry").

L. P. Brockett, The Silk Industry in America: a history, The Silk Association of America,1876.

Corticelli company pattern books

Giovanni Federico, An Economic History of the Silk Industry, 1830-1930, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Grace Hutchins, Labor and Silk, New York: International Publishers, 1929

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This page was last modified on Monday, August 26, 2002.