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Photo credit: Deborah Forter

Alberta Simmons Brownell (1882-1918) used book knowledge and personal experience to write articles on the social problems of the day. Following her Wellesley College graduation, she found work in a cotton mill and immersed herself in daily life as a mill worker to document working conditions for women. She regarded this experience as invaluable to her writings.

Following up her Wellesley College graduation with work in a Lowell cotton mill, Alberta Simmons Brownell (1882-1918) used book knowledge and personal experience to write articles on the social problems of the day. Without disclosing her background, Alberta fully adopted the mill workers’ way of life to learn about their struggles and aspirations.

Born in New Bedford on May 11, 1882 to Charles T. and Emma Simmons Brownell, Alberta moved to Fall River when she was very young, after the death of her mother, to live with her great-aunt Elizabeth M. Boomer. Alberta attended public schools in Fall River and graduated from B.M.C. Durfee High School in 1901. She enrolled in Wellesley College, where she studied social, industrial and economic issues. After her 1906 graduation from Wellesley, Alberta left Fall River and moved to Lowell, where she found work in a cotton mill and immersed herself in daily life as a mill worker to document working conditions for women. She regarded this experience as invaluable to her writings on various social problems of the day. Alberta’s magazine articles were well-researched, open-minded and thoughtful. Her short stories included “Mazie’s Beau” published in the January 1908 edition of Short Stories as well as “A Borrowed Husband” published in the February 1909 edition of Gunter’s Magazine.

After the death of her great-aunt, Alberta returned to New Bedford to live with her father. Family lore has it that there she met Louis Rodman Kerr, “the boss” in a mill, as she frequented mills to surreptitiously corroborate working conditions. Alberta and Louis fell in love, and they were married on Tuesday evening, December 15, 1908, at the home of the bride’s parents at Mt. Pleasant, New Bedford. A wedding reception was held at the home of the groom’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. N. B. Kerr’s Seventh Street residence, where many guests were present. The second hands and loom fixers of the Butler Mill in New Bedford presented the couple with a silver service of 72 pieces as a wedding gift. Louis was a designer at Butler Mill. After a honeymoon through the South, the couple set up home on Park Street in New Bedford. Their early married life was spent first in New Bedford and then in South Carolina, where the young family moved to the foot-hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Louis became a cotton mill agent there.

Alberta and Louis had three daughters and one son before her untimely death of breast cancer at age 36 in Fisherville, MA on June 15, 1918. All of her children were under 8 years of age, with the youngest an infant.

Ann O’Leary, Emily Bourne Research Fellow

Information from

  • “Brownell, Alberta S.” The Wellesley Legenda 1906, p. 53.
  • “Brownell, Alberta Simmons.” 1906 Class Record Book. Wellesley College, 1916.
  • Forter, Deborah. “Photos of Alberta Simmons Brownell.” Received by Ann O’Leary, 2 Dec. 2020.
  • “In Memoriam: Alberta Brownell Kerr.” Fall River Daily Evening News, 19 June 1918, p. 10.
  • “Kerr-Brownell.” Fall River Daily Evening News, 16 Dec. 1908, p. 10.
  • Textile World Record, vol. 36, no. 4, Jan. 1909, p. 526/162.
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