Letters: What Do You Think?
No Lurid Graphics for Cigarette Packs
I hope everyone, especially policymakers, will read Tom Sturm’s piece “The Court of Appeal” (September 6, 2012) and think seriously about it.
I continue to be amazed that any young person would start smoking cigarettes. Since the evidence concerning the dangers of smoking is overwhelming, I have to conclude that facts and logic about health don’t figure into the decision. Clearly, these young people are thinking along different lines. Maybe Sturm’s insight gets closer to understanding it.
Too often our policymakers have come up with half-baked, misguided schemes that are mostly ineffective. I suspect that is because those who promote these ideas actually have a poor understanding of what is happening in the real world.
I think Sturm is to be thanked for pointing out another half-baked solution and insisting that we do a better job of understanding how things actually work.
The Child Laborer Who Was Scalped by a Loom
In your wonderful Labor Day issue on the Lawrence strike of 1912 [“For the Shame of Doing Right,” August 30, 2012], you mention a young girl who had been scalped when her hair had been caught in a cotton mill loom. Her testimony in front of a congressional committee helped to highlight the condition of child laborers in the country’s textile mills. Though unnamed in your article, she was Camella Teoli. In 1976, after reading the 1912 testimony, Village Voice reporter Paul Cowan traveled to Lawrence to try to find her.
Cowan found a cousin in the phone book who informed him that Camella had died a few years earlier, but he gave him the name of Camella’s daughter, with whom she had lived for many years. When Cowan called her, she thought him a crank until he mentioned the scalping. Day after day, year after year, Camella’s daughter had combed her mother’s hair into a bun to hide the bald spot, six inches in diameter, towards the back of her head. Now the daughter enthusiastically agreed to meet Cowan.
When they met, Cowan discovered that Camella’s daughter knew nothing of the 1912 strike, her mother’s trip to D.C. or the impact of her testimony. As historian Robert Forrant notes, after the strike the Catholic leadership and local elites verbally attacked the strikers, leading many in the community, including Camella, to repress those memories, never passing them on to succeeding generations. Cowan showed Camella’s daughter the transcripts of her mother’s testimony and they then traveled to the Lawrence library to read the two-volume record of the 1912 hearing. In what had to be a powerful emotional moment for both Cowan and Camella’s daughter, she responded, “Now I have a past. Now my son has a history.”
It’s good to know that the recent centennial celebration of the Bread and Roses strike continues to give the residents of Lawrence a community history. In the same vein, it’s good to know that the work of local historian Joe Manning continues to give the descendants of the child laborers that Lewis Hine photographed the full family history they deserve.
Towards the end of Paul Cowan’s article (which can be found as the introduction to William Cahn’s Lawrence 1912: The Bread and Roses Strike), he points out that Lawrence’s new mayor in 1977, Lawrence LeFebre, was committed to bringing Lawrence’s past out in the open, including oral history programs in the city’s schools. The mayor also planned to name one of the city’s streets after Camella Teoli. And with Camella Teoli Way in downtown Lawrence, that’s a promise that has been kept. It stands as a model, reminding us that more of our town and city streets should be named after the individuals and groups who struggled to bring us the gains we need to celebrate on Labor Day and throughout the year.