October 5th, 2020


Samantha Learns a Lesson

Still listening to the American Girls podcast they moved on to Samantha, a series I remember as having the coolest toys and books I liked a lot, so of course I'm reading along.

I VERY CLEARLY remember "Samantha Learns a Lesson". The book stars our "bright victorian beauty" Samantha, who lives with her rich Grandmother in a storybook house in 1904. Samantha befriends a servant girl next door, Nellie. When Samantha writes a school essay about progress in America, factories and industrialization, Nellie sets her straight with the truth about her awful life working in a thread factory. Nellie's experience in a factory consisted of kids climbing barefoot on dangerous machines, losing fingers and getting hair ripped out, never seeing the light of day and getting paid next to nothing.

This is a 60 page book for nine year olds and I'd never read ANYTHING LIKE IT, Samantha and I were shaken and WOKE together! I told my parents about the book, dad verified for me that it was all true, in fact a lot more kids were subjected to early industrial horrors in those days than sent to live with rich grandparents like Samantha. I told my best neighbor girl friend "YOU HAVE TO READ THIS PART ABOUT THE FACTORY!" - and she did, but sort of shrugged, clearly not as affected as me.

Re-reading it as an adult, I still think it's an awfully good book and I'm still very upset by the lack of safety concerns for child laborers in 1904. I seriously think the story contributed to my early activism/sense of some injustice in the world. It did not, however, draw any parallels to today. I think I left it with a "thank goodness that's over" attitude about factories and how things are made, having no awareness of conditions overseas when I read the foreign labels in my own clothes. Everyone around me was about the same economic class, except the kids from the urban core bussed in for our school desegregation program, but the book did not inspire me to bridge any gaps and learn from them.

Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised that my high schooler cousins have so much advanced, complicated knowledge to talk about political problems of the world... income inequality, women's rights, black lives matter. Kids can start being aware at a very young age. I KNOW I was age 11 or younger when I read "Samantha Learns a Lesson", and it gave me so many ideas.