Women in Need
Inside the Family
Making Ends Meet
" During these
times, she said to a neighbour: 'Bah! I say to myself: by sleeping
but five hours and working all the rest at my sewing, I shall
always succeed in nearly earning bread. And then, when one is
sad, one eats less. Well! what with sufferings, troubles, a little
bread on the one hand, anxiety on the other, all that will keep
Victor Hugo, Les
Misérables, Fantine Book V, Chapter IX
Industrial Revolution that swept through Europe during the 19th
century left a dramatic imprint on France as well. On a positive
note, the explosion of factories opened up more positions for unemployed
workers; however, this phenomenon also brought with it labor segregation.
Women were especially conscious of the division between women who
worked and those who did not, probably due to the stereotypes that
prevailed about the former.
century women hardly had access to a wide range of occupations.
The majority were involved in the garment trade, domestic servants,
seamstresses, laundresses, and, when necessary, prostitutes. Each
brought with it a distinct set of challenges. Seamstresses and those
in the garment trade generally were responsible for a great deal
of work at home. Given the high price of lamp oil, they would squint
at their needle and thread by candlelight; many lost their eyesight
as a result. Domestic workers, meanwhile, were constantly forced
to fend off advances from men of the household. Countless young
girls found themselves pregnant, in which case firing was imminent,
leaving them penniless and desperate. Negotiating their options-
dangerous and crude abortions, or complicating their lives by keeping
the infant- proved a difficult task.
(1878) . Most working women in the lower class found themselves
confined to menial labour, particularly in the garment industry.
police persecution of women seemed to target particular professions
more severely than others. Common allegations included public drunkenness
and, due to the burgeoning numbers of streetwalkers, prostitution.
Despite the odds against them, a number of working women managed to
devote the remainder of their depleted energy to social reform. They
were able to speak from experiences that upper class feminists could
only summarily comprehend; they railed against a society that denied
women equality and kept its people impoverished. Societies such as
the St.-Simonians relied heavily on
the efforts of working women to advance their cause.