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women in the factories during the early industrial revolution

Posted by Michelle Lastrina on March 3, 2003 at 15:33:45:

Women in the factories during the nineteenth century

During the industrial revolution, the emergence of factories opened many doors for women in the working world. It gave them opportunities for work outside of the home, mostly in factories. During the early years of the industrial revolution when a multitude of factories were emerging, between the years of 1780 and 1840, women dominated the labor forces. Even though these women were unskilled laborers, they worked quickly and productively yet were paid half or less than half of what men received. However, in the long run it did not change the female work force as much as initially was expected.

Although a lot of stress and hardship surfaced as a result of the conditions in which these women were working- long hours, little food, crowded factories, overall unsuitable conditions- for many women it was only a small change. Women had been doing large amounts of labor existed pre-industrial revolution. The only difference was that they were now working outside of the home, instead of out of the home, which they had become acquainted to while working in the cottage industry.

Many of the working conditions that they were put into were quite unhealthy for them though. For example, they were thrust into the coal mining industry to work in a similar fashion as mules. This can be seen in the illustration on page 601 in the fourth edition of the Spielvogel text. Some of the factories they worked in were also unhealthy in many ways.

Often, supporters of reform movements exaggerated the conditions quite a bit to make them seem utterly unbearable to outsiders. They would make claims such as they were put in danger of being beaten and/or having some of their pay taken away if they worked too slow or were late. They were surrounded by dust and dirt all day long. Their eating habits suffered as well. With little chance to eat breakfast so early in the morning (many women began work at 5 or 6 am), only half an hour or so for lunch in the middle of the day, and little or no time for dinner they were forced to eat little or nothing on a daily basis. This, in combination with the strenuous work they did on a constant basis, resulted in most of the women becoming very weak and sick, often resulting in death. But these are just exaggerated conditions. In reality, there were many factories with rather comfortable conditions that were obviously healthy to work in. [If you wish to see various illustrations that depict positive and negative working environments you can refer to the link below to Professor Schwartz’s Industrialization and Railway web site]

Overall, this surge of women workers in factories had little effect on the working patterns of females at that time in history. Most of the working women continued to work in the domestic industry. The majority of female factory workers were single women, and at the same time married women obtained day to day control of the household while their husbands were the ones to venture out into the working world. While single women working on their own provided a sense of independence for them, many of them still had obligations to give a portion of their earnings to their families. [For more on this read the article on the Victorian Web entitled Victorian Working Women: Sweated Labor at the second link below]

Luckily, changes were eventually made to help improve the conditions under which the working women spent so much time in. it did take some time for these changes to occur, though. The reforms and changes mostly did not begin until after 1850.


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