Sharon Hughes


Isaac Merritt Singer's life chronicles the rise of a common man who, while lacking wealth, linage, and education, was able to achieve tremendous success and fortune in nineteenth-century America. Singer is the archetypical self-made man or the perfect rags to riches icon. His wealth came from a machine that he skillfully perfected, cleverly marketed, and relentlessly promoted. Singer's machine made him a very wealthy man and placed him in command of his destiny. In telling the saga of this self-made man, another story is illuminated, that of the women of the nineteenth century. Singer's story is enmeshed with the stories of the women in his life--mothers, wives, mistresses, and the masses of women who stood to benefit from the sewing machine. The machine that Singer marketed had the potential to free women from hours of laborious sewing. It was heralded as liberating woman; however, the women in Singer's life illustrate that nineteenth-century women experienced little liberty and had few opportunities in their lives--they were not captains of their destinies. Singer lived in the heart of America as it transitioned from the nineteenth into the twentieth century. By tracing his life, this work shows that Singer was a self-made man who was strong, daring, confident, and was always in action. It also shows that the women that were to benefit from Singer's invention had little choice but to be diffident, unassuming, and suffering.

Date of publication

Fall 8-27-2014

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