Most studies of deindustrialization in the United States emphasize the economic impact of industrial decline; few consider the social, human costs. "I Was Content and Not Content": The Story of Linda Lord and the Closing of Penobscot Poultry is a firsthand account of a plant closure, heavily illustrated through photographs and told through edited oral history interviews. It tells the story of Linda Lord, a veteran of Penobscot Poultry Company in Belfast, Maine, and her experience when the plant—Maine’s last poultry-processing plant— closed its doors in 1988, costing over four hundred people their jobs and bringing an end to a once productive and nationally competitive agribusiness.
Linda Lord’s story could be that of any number of Americans—blue- and white-collar—effected by the rampant and widespread downsizing over the past several decades. She began working at Penobscot straight out of high school and remained with the company for over twenty years. Lord worked in all aspects of poultry processing, primarily in the "blood tunnel," where she finished off the birds that had been missed by the automatic neck-cutting device—a job held by few women. Single and self-supporting, Lord was thirty-nine years old when the plant closed. In part because she was the primary caretaker for her elderly parents, Lord did not want to leave Maine for a better job but did want to stay in the area that had been her home since birth.
The book is comprised of distinct sections representing different perspectives on Lord’s story and the plant’s demise. Cedric N. Chatterley’s gritty black-and-white photographs, reproduced here as duotones, document the final days at the poultry plant and chronicle Lord’s job search, as well as her daily life and community events. Lord’s oral history interviews, interspersed with the photographs, reveal her experiences working in poultry processing and her perspectives on the plant’s closing. Carolyn Chute’s essay reflects on her own struggles as a worker in Maine, and, more generally, on the way workers are perceived in America. Alicia J. Rouverol’s historical essay explores the rise and fall of Maine’s poultry industry and the reasons for its demise. Stephen A. Cole’s epilogue brings the story full circle when he tells of his most recent visit with Linda Lord. Michael Frisch (Portraits in Steel, A Shared Authority) contributes a foreword.
Lord’s story and the story of Penobscot’s closing brings into question the relationship of business to community, reminding us that businesses and communities are in fact integrally linked—or, perhaps more accurately, should be. Her narrative makes plain that plant closings have particular ramifications for women workers, but her experience also points to the way in which all individuals cope with change, hardship, and uncertain times to create possibilities where few exist. Perhaps most important, her story reveals some of the challenges and complexities that most human beings share.