Nature's Aristocracy


Nature's Aristocracy

A Plea for the Oppressed

Jennie Collins
Edited and with an introduction by Judith A. Ranta

Legacies of Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers Series

260 pages
1 b&w photo


May 2010


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eBook (PDF)
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May 2010


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About the Book

In 1871 Jennie Collins became one of the first working-class American women to publish a volume of her own writings: Nature’s Aristocracy. Merging autobiography, social criticism, fictionalized vignettes, and feminist polemics, her book examines the perennial problem of class in America. Collins loosely structures her series of sketches around the argument that nineteenth-century U.S. society, by deviating dangerously from the ideals set forth in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, had created a corrupt aristocracy and a gulf between the rich and the poor that the United States’ founders had endeavored to prevent.
Collins’s text serves as a mouthpiece for the little-heard voices of nineteenth-century poor and laboring women, employing sarcasm, irony, and sentimentality in condemning the empty philanthropic gestures of aristocratic capitalists and calling for justice instead of charity as a means to elevate the poor from their destitution. She also explores the necessity of suffrage for female workers who, while expected to work alongside men as their equals in labor, were hampered by lower wages and lack of control by their exclusion from the voting process.

Author Bio

Jennie Collins (1828–87) began working at age fourteen in New England textile mills, where she labored for some years before becoming a domestic servant and later a garment shop seamstress. In the 1860s she began to speak publicly and write about labor causes and women’s rights. In 1870 she left garment shop work and founded Boffin’s Bower, a Boston charity to aid poor and working women. Judith A. Ranta is an independent scholar whose published works include The Life and Writings of Betsey Chamberlain: Native American Mill Worker and Women and Children of the Mills: An Annotated Guide to Nineteenth-Century American Textile Factory Literature.


"[Natures's Aristocracy] provides a window into the kinds of debates, arguments, and language that animated contemporary debates and discussions about the condition of the working class and more particularly the situation of working women."—N.B. Rosenthal, CHOICE

Table of Contents

Note on the Text
Nature's Aristocracy
      Chapter 1. Nature's Aristocracy
      Chapter 2. The Beggars
      Chapter 3. One Grade Above the Beggars
      Chapter 4. Crime and Nobility
      Chapter 5. Newsboys and Bootblacks
      Chapter 6. Shop-Girls
      Chapter 7. Journeymen Tailors
      Chapter 8. Servant-Girls
      Chapter 9. Then and Now of Factory Life
      Chapter 10. How Cotton Is Manufactured - Factory Friendships
      Chapter 11. Among the "Strikers"
      Chapter 12. Charitable Institutions
      Chapter 13. Natural and Unnatural Aristocrats
      Chapter 14. Labor Reform
      Chapter 15. Woman's Suffrage

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