Season 3: Episode 10 –The UP Notable Book Club presents author Phyllis Michael Wong speaking about her book We Kept Our Towns Going: The Gossard Girls of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
PHYLLIS MICHAEL WONG says that oral histories provide the nuances help make history more vibrant. As a researcher who has spent much of her life listening, recording, and reacting to the stories of people’s lives, she has consistently proven this assertion. Among her early historical research was her graduate thesis focusing on the history of childhood in the United States during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Later, she would take oral history interviews of Great Plains residents for Barnes (N.D.) County Historical Society. Her latest book is about women working at the Gossard Company factories in the U.P. in the 20th century, and what impact they had economically and socially on their small, rural hometowns.
Phyllis, a native of the San Francisco Bay area, would follow her father’s sage advice of “listen, talk little, listen” in her roles as a historian; educator, including as a writing instructor and director of online learning; and 30-year member of the university-level academic world, including as First Lady at Northern Michigan University (2004-12) and San Francisco State University (2012-19). Among her favorite First Lady accomplishments is co-founding a One Book, One Community county-wide reading program at NMU.
“Wong’s brand-new book deserves to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Allan Koski’s comprehensive Empire Mine Cascade Range: Michigan’s Largest Iron Mine as a document of immense sociological and historical importance in U.P. labor history. Indeed, there is a fascinating synergy between the two industrial giants as many women signed up as Gossard Girls to manufacture corsets, brassieres, and foundation garments when their husbands were involved in strikes at Empire Mine and other CCI job sites. But let’s back up a bit first… Wong’s quest to document the working life of Gossard Girls began in 2008 when she was a researcher at Northern Michigan University and would crystallize a few years later at Women’s History Month lecture where the idea for a comprehensive history was born. Over the next 10 years, she would research primary sources, such as letters written by union organizers, but more importantly, she took a staggering number of oral histories from the surviving women—nearly 100 are preserved. As such, she has knowledge at a system level of how the assembly line worked from top to bottom to produce complex products with up to 40 assembly steps. But more importantly, she knows the unique human story behind the story—the motivations and trials of women who in the aggregate produced more than a million undergarments per year at the peak.
—Review by Victor R. Volkman. Read the complete review at the U.P. Book Review.
More information about the U.P. Notable Book list, U.P. Book Review, and UPPAA can be found on www.UPNotable.com
About the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association (UPPAA)
Established in 1998 to support authors and publishers who live in or write about Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, UPPAA is a Michigan nonprofit association with more than 100 members, many of whose books are featured on the organization’s website at www.uppaa.org. UPPAA welcomes membership and participation from anyone with a UP connection who is interested in writing.# # #