“Whose fault is it, in fact, that little or nothing has been done in a matter involving so much of life or death, health or disease, comfort or misery, as the dressmaking and millinery system of the West-end of London! .... There is certainly nothing in the making of gowns, mantles, caps, and bonnets which need blind, stifle, or kill anybody. These mischiefs are altogether gratuitous; and we ought not now, after so many years of talk and professed pity, to flare to ask whose fault it is. Yet this is the question still!” — Daily News

Who are those host of women
     Toiling from morn till night —
Working from eve till the stifling gas
     Pales ’fore the morning light?
Scarce need to ask that question,
     Gaze on the downcast mien;
Look at the words on the brow of each,
     “Only a Sewing Machine!

This might have been a wife,
     In some happy English home,
While her husband toiled in the harvest field,
     Or fought with the raging foam.
She dreams of her happy childhood,
     And weeps o’er the once bright scene,
Now only living in memory’s page ——
     She’s naught but a Sewing Machine.

That, as she sadly bends
     Over the wedding dress
Of some high-born damsel, sighs as she thinks
     Of a sacredly cherished tress—
Of whispered vows on the joyous morn
     When they hailed her the bright May Queen;
But the scene is changed, for now, alas!
     She’s only a Sewing Machine.

Only a Sewing Machine!
     That toils for a weekly wage,
That must stitch, and hem, and gather, and tack,
     For her bread from youth to age.
Only a Sewing Machine,
     A thing that can never faint,
That must work till the eyes are fdled with tears,
     And utter no complaint.

Only a Sewing Machine!
     What is her mission on earth,
Except to work at dresses and robes,
     For ladies of noble birth?
To stitch, unheeding the hacking cough,
     Though ’tis Death’s first warning call,
That her grace who is born to a title and wealth,
     May be the belle of the ball.

Only a Sewing Machine!
     What right hath she to complain,
Though her eyes be blind with scalding tears,
     And her head be racked with pain?
Doth she not get her wage?
     Saith the master for profit keen;
Should she fall and die, what matters that,
     She’s only a Sewing Machine.

Only a Sewing Machine!
     Though made in the image of God,
Daily do wives and daughters faint
     And fall ’neaththe terrible load.
Oh! ’tis a lasting shame
     That Society’s beauteous queens
Think of the women who make their robes
     As so many Sewing Machines.

Lady! the fault is thine,
     At thy door lieth the sin;
To please thee thy needy sister must slave,
     Her scanty meal to win.
Yes, lady, the fault is thine,
     Though, perhaps, the evil is wrought,
Not from a wish to oppress the poor,
     But merely from “want of thought.”

Oh! mothers, daughters, and wives,
     Hear your sisters’ agonized call;
Aid them, oppressed in the battle of life,
     Succour them, ere they fall.
Then shall they bless your name,
     As they think that you were the means
Of making your sisters women once more,
     And not mere Sewing Machines.

[Transcribed by George P. Landow
using ABBYY FineReader OCR software.]

Related material


“Only a Sewing Machine.” Fun. (4 February 1865): 209. Online version courtesy of the Suzy Covey Comic Book Collection in the George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida. Web. 17 March 2016.

Last modified 17 March 2016