In this lesson, we’ll learn about the impact the Industrial Revolution had on women and children. We’ll highlight key themes and developments surrounding this topic and place it in historical context.
The Industrial Revolution
Have you ever had a job that felt difficult? Maybe you moved lawns in the summer, babysat children that were a handful, or worked in retail. But chances are you worked under relatively safe and sanitary conditions. But imagine working some 80 hours a week without breaks or proper ventilation. Imagine working on heavy machinery that resulted in your peers losing an arm or a leg.
Working conditions during the Industrial Revolution were beyond harsh. This was especially true for women and children. The Industrial Revolution is a term that refers to the profound advances in production, manufacturing, and other fields of engineering that took place between the late 18th century and mid-19th century.The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain and then spread to the United States and other parts of the world.
Central to the Industrial Revolution were advances in iron and textile development, modern machinery, steam technology, and railroading. However, the Industrial Revolution was more than a revolution in industry and manufacturing; it had profound effects on society as a whole. Let’s dig deeper and see how this trend impacted the lives of women and children.
The Industrial Revolution afforded women new opportunities and at the same time exposed them to new dangers. Generally, women who worked during the Industrial Revolution did so out of necessity. During this time, many countries did not have welfare programs to aid the poor. Working was a matter of surviving. This was especially true for single women.While some women found jobs in domestic service such as being a maid or cook, many women worked in factories, mines, and other arms of industry.
Textile mills, where fabric was produced, were popular places of employment for women on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1771 in Derbyshire, England, the Cromford Mill became the first water-powered cotton spinning mill. Women workers were critical to the success of this mill and others like it.
Downside for Women
Women worked long hours – sometimes 80 hours a week – often under horrible conditions. Remember, this was before the days of labor laws.
The factories could basically set whatever policies they wanted, and workers were more or less powerless to do much about them. Conditions were often unsanitary and dangerous. Men typically held supervisory roles, and with that sometimes came sexual harassment and forms of discrimination and abuse. Women were usually paid less than men, and they were not treated equally.
Benefits for Women
And yet, there were benefits for women who worked during the Industrial Revolution.
In fact, there is considerable debate among historians as to whether some women may have experienced an improved quality of life due to their work experience.For many women, earning livable wages brought with it a newfound sense of independence and pride. They were able to learn real-world skills. Furthermore, Some women experienced higher standards of living in factory boarding houses than at home.For example, American businessman Francis Cabot Lowell fortified a textile empire in Massachusetts and developed a system known as the Lowell Factory System. A central component of this system was that it provided above average educational and cultural opportunities to the young women employed in Lowell’s factories.Commonly called Mill Girls: these women were supervised and held to a strict moral code.
They received a high-quality education, and they were given opportunities for recreation and leisure. They even had access to a library to encourage literacy. Lowell wanted his Mill Girls to have the opportunity to better themselves while being employed at his factories. He believed this would also increase productivity and job satisfaction. Of course, not all factory owners were as accommodating as Lowell.
During the Industrial Revolution, it was common for children to work in factories, mines, and other industrial occupations.
Children as young as four commonly worked. Among families in extreme poverty, it was expected that children work in order to help the family out.Children made for desirable employees partly because of their size: they were small enough to fit behind machinery parts and reach areas adults couldn’t. Working on dangerous machinery had its consequences as many children were injured in accidents. In fact, throughout the Industrial Revolution it was not uncommon to see children with missing limbs.
Their arms and legs had been cut off in machine accidents. This was the sad reality of child labor during this era.As the Industrial Revolution progressed, people became increasingly aware of the plight of child labor.
Charles Dickens, the famous British writer, labored as a child. He worked at the age of 12 and went on to become a vocal critic of child labor.Beginning in 1802, the British Parliament began passing a series of factory laws to improve working conditions for women and children.
However, true reform came too late. It was not until the Progressive Era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that child labor was significantly stamped out. During this time, the horrors of child labor were exposed thanks to the work of journalists, photographers, and other activists, and the practice was finally curbed.
The term Industrial Revolution refers to the major advances in production, manufacturing and other fields of engineering that took place between the late 18th century and mid-19th century;. Throughout the Industrial Revolution Many women worked out of necessity under poor conditions in factories and textile mills, where they were often treated unfairly.
The Cromford Mill, built in 1771, became the first water-powered cotton spinning mill. The Lowell Factory System developed by Francis Cabot Lowell was a program that sought to provide young female workers with educational and cultural opportunities.Charles Dickens was a child laborer who grew up to be a famous writer and vocal critic of child labor. It was not until the Progressive Era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that child labor was significantly curbed.