Author Brings History HomeBy Susan Bush
12:00AM / Monday, May 08, 2006
Pownal, Vt. - History took center stage on May 6, as dozens of people crowded into the Solomon Wright Library and met Elizabeth Winthrop, an author whose diligent research positively identified a child laborer and whose imagination created and put to page a "might-have-been" saga titled "Counting On Grace."
|Award-winning author Elizabeth Winthrop and a poster of the postage stamp bearing the image of Adeline Card, formerly identified erroneously as "Addie Laird."|
The book is a fictional account of a young girl who works in a cotton mill during the early 1900s.
Winthrop generated local newspaper headlines recently after announcing that she, with assistance from writer Joe Manning, had discovered the true name of a child who was photographed by famous photographer Lewis Hine. A girl identified as "Addie Laird" was photographed while standing at a spinning machine at a North Pownal cotton mill in 1910. The girl's waif-like yet world-weary image became an icon in 1998, when the U.S. Postal Service issued a postage stamp focused on child labor during the early 1900s. The Reebok company also used the image in an advertisement.
Winthrop learned that "Addie Laird" was really "Adeline Card," and she also discovered that "Addie" lived to be 94 years old. Adeline Card died in 1993 as Adeline LaVigne. Several relatives of Adeline "Pat" Card Hatch LaVigne attended the book signing.
Zoey,age 2, who will not spend her childhood working in a mill, thanks to the efforts of people such as photographer Lewis Hine.
Then And Now
Prior to speaking during the library event, Winthrop spoke about the book.
"I hope it will find an audience in all ages," Winthrop said.
Child labor remains rampant in other countries, she noted.
"This is a problem that hasn't gone away," she said.
Hosting a book sales/signing event at the library located so near to the former mill site "shows how far we've come," Winthrop said.
"There was no such thing as a library [in Pownal] at that time [when Addie worked at the mill]," she said. "You got up at six in the morning and you went to work. You get up, and you don't get on a school bus, you go to a mill and [in Winthrop's book] the woman in charge of the machine you are on is your mother."
Addie Card was reared by a grandmother; her mother died when she was a toddler, according to Winthrop and Manning's research.
The Faces Of Child Labor
The town library is in the midst of celebrating its' 40th anniversary. Pictures, national census information, and other documents focused on the town, the cotton mill and the children who toiled there covered wall and table space during the book event, and Winthrop said that one hope is to identify other children captured by Hine's lens.
Winthrop was surrounded by people who sought her autograph.
Hine most often had to sneak into mills to document and expose the child labor conditions, and the noise made by the machines and the covert nature of his work most likely contributed to child misidentifications or no identification at all.
"It would be wonderful if we could give them all a name," Winthrop said of the children in the photographs.
"My Life Is Very Easy..."
Contrasts between Addie Card's childhood and the lives of the children who attended the event were unavoidable. As Winthrop offered passages from the book and the slides delivered visual emphasis of the past, clean, appropriately attired children of all ages moved through the library aisles, pulled books from library shelves, were cuddled in parental arms, whispered, giggled and were patiently "shushed."
Winthrop wasn't the only author present, nor was "Counting On Grace" the only book on sale during the event.
Several Pownal Elementary School students who were involved in writing "The ABC's Of Pownal," a town history book, attended the event and copies of the book were available for purchase.
John Gijanto, 10, was among the fourth-grade students who researched and wrote the book. His life is much easier than that of the real-life Addie Card and the fictional Grace Forcier, he said.
Gillian and John Gijanto, both 10, who agreed that their lives are much easier than the life of Addie Card or her fictional counterpart "Grace Forcier."
"My life is very easy compared to [theirs]," John said. "[They] didn't get to go to school like I can. "
His twin sister Gillian Gijanto agreed.
"[Addie] couldn't learn as much as we do," Gillian said. "She was really poor and didn't have enough to eat."
John noted that some child labor laws did exist during the years that Addie worked in the cotton mill.
"But people didn't obey [the laws]," he said.
Emily Held and Taylor Gerow, both 10 years old, reflected on their lives. Emily and Taylor enjoy attending school, being with their friends, and experiencing a social life that includes celebrations such as birthday parties, they said, and noted that those pleasures were denied children whose childhoods mimicked Addie's mill-driven youth.
Town native Verna Goodwin attended the event. Goodwin said that as an adult, she worked for several years at the former Pownal Tannery.
"I love history and I think it's wonderful for young people to learn about [child labor in the United States,]" she said. "Kids really don't have any idea about how things once were."
Emily Held and Taylor Gerow are among the Pownal Elementary School fourth-grade students who created a town history titled "The ABC's Of Pownal."
Town librarian Linda Hall noted that the library is an excellent, thrifty resource for adults and children.
"Your tax dollars support us," Hall told the large crowd. "Use our books and save your money for gas."
Winthrop has written over 50 books and is considered among the best modern-day writers of youth fiction. Her accolades include the Dorothy Canfield Fisher and the Pen Syndicated Fiction awards as well as the California Young Reader's Medal. Her writings include the popular "The Castle In The Attic" and a sequel, "The Battle For The Castle," as well as "In My Mother's House" and "Belinda's Hurricane," which is based on Winthrop's real-life girlhood experience with a 1954 East Coast hurricane.
Additional information about Winthrop and her books is offered at a www.elizabethwinthrop.com Internet Website.
Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or at 802-823-9367.