‘In the Mills, We Are Not So Far from God and Nature’

Industrialization and Spirituality in Nineteenth-Century New England


  • Jane Weiss Kingsborough Community College of CUNY




nature and organized religion, green urbanism, environmental history, industrialization


Beginning in the 1820s, industrialization wrought profound and violent disruptions in the culture of the northeastern United States. Lowell, Massachusetts, grew from a rural village of 1500 people in 1820 to a manufacturing city of 33,000 in 1850. Newcomers found crowds, buildings, and noise spiritually assaultive: one yearned ‘to find myself alone for a brief space, that I might hold communion with my own heart undisturbed’. In response to these yearnings, Lowell’s developers and laborers eschewed artful fabrications of pastoral countryside or wilderness. Instead, they incorporated greenery into canals, factories, and streets, weaving sacred space into industrial urbanism. Writings by Lowell’s ‘mill girls’ detail the spiritual rewards—some actively sought, some serendipitous—of their lives in the city. Although the hopes of the city’s founders and workers that balance could be achieved between mass production of material goods and harmony with nature were not fully realized, the gardens, green spaces, and human ecology of Lowell provide models for sustainable and spiritually fruitful industrialization and urbanism in the twenty-first century.

Author Biography

Jane Weiss, Kingsborough Community College of CUNY

Jane Weiss is an assistant professor of English at Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York, a college with one of the most diverse student populations in the United States. She is the author of “Visions of Eden Regardened: The Utopian Garden in Nineteenth-Century America,” which appeared in Communities and Connections: Writings in North American Studies, from University of Helsinki Press in 2007, and “This Pestilence Which Walketh in Darkness: Reading the New York Cholera Epidemic of 1832,” in Framing and Imagining Disease, edited by David Haycock and George Rousseau and published by Palgrave in 2003. She has also contributed articles on the Lowell textile mills, public health, Methodism, language, and labor to The Encyclopedia of the Age of the Industrial Revolution, edited by Christine Ryder for Greenwood Press in 2007. Her current work focuses on the relationships among nature, horticulture, religion, and domesticity in nineteenth-century American culture.


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How to Cite

Weiss, J. (2011). ‘In the Mills, We Are Not So Far from God and Nature’: Industrialization and Spirituality in Nineteenth-Century New England. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 5(1), 82–100. https://doi.org/10.1558/jsrnc.v5i1.82