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Effect of the Industrial Revolution on Women in the 19th Century

Info: 3096 words (12 pages) Essay
Published: 8th Feb 2020 in History

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How did the Industrial Revolution change the position of women in the nineteenth century?

The Industrial Revolution, that took place in Britain in the 18th century, was the ‘process of change from an agrarian and handicraft economy to one dominated by industry and machine manufacturing’. [1] This meant a significant change from basic machinery to ‘powered, special-purpose’ equipment, which resulted in mass production. [2]  The Industrial Revolution also marked the start of an ‘improved system of transport and communication… and manufactured good ’, which improved the lives of some upper class families. Traces of the Industrial Revolution are still evident in the 21st century, to the different models of cars and trains, to factories producing goods. Although men benefitted greatly from the industrial changes, women also gained some benefits and the position and status of women during the Industrial Revolution changed for the better. There were more rights given to women, more women were working and supported the family and it paved the way for women in politics. In terms of women’s freedom, traces of female liberation can still be seen in the 21st century, through the Equality Act in 2010 to the longest reigning female monarch Queen Elizabeth II and two female Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom. It could then be said that the Industrial Revolution acted like a stepping stone for female emancipation in Britain.  

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The Industrial Revolution changed the position of women in the nineteenth century as it paved the way for women in politics. Founded in 1897, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), who were better known as the Suffragists, fought on behalf of women to be in politics and positions of influence. In addition, middle class women like ‘Emily Davies, Jessie Boucherett and Adelaide Proctor founded societies’ to promote women’s employment’ in positions of power. [3] This indicates how the Industrial Revolution changed the position of women as it allowed them to set up organisations, which further enabled them to help emancipate other women. An example of this was a woman named Nancy Langhorne Astor who became the first woman to sit and be elected to the House of Common. This reinforces how the position of women changed as it showed that men started to recognise women’s right.  Another prime example of how the Industrial Revolution changed the position of women was through Elizabeth Garret Anderson. She was the ‘first women to qualify as a doctor in England’ and she became ‘the first female mayor in England in 1908’. [4] This shows how the Industrial Revolution gave a new found freedom for women as they were allowed to hold high and ministerial office. Despite the fact that Anderson became the first female mayor in 1908(after Industrialisation), it is symbolic in understanding the legacy and the impact that the Industrial Revolution had on the position of women as it helped facilitate women in high position. In addition, the fact that Elizabeth Garret Anderson was also a suffragist shows how the Industrialisation furthered political organisations by helped put women in power and in jobs. In conclusion, the Industrial Revolution helped change women’s position in the nineteenth century for the better as it allowed women to set up political organisations that enabled other women to be emancipated. It also helped women be in high and ministerial positions, as seen by Anderson and Astor, which then permitted men to appreciate women’s rights and liberties.      

As well as the formation of women in politics, the Industrial Revolution changed the position of women in the nineteenth century as more women were working and provided for the family. ‘Female employment in the 1850s, 60s and 70s appeared to be higher than any recorded again after World War II’ and it showed that ‘30-40% of women contributed to the household’ during the Industrial Revolution.[5]   It was indeed the ‘female, and not the male’ that counted for the ‘most important high productivity industry of the period-textiles’. [6] This could also be evident in the 1851 consensus, which showed that ‘49% of women were in the textile industry’ in comparison to the ‘661 thousand men’ who worked in textiles, whereas in the 1860’s and 70’s, women dominated the textile field. This exuberates how the Industrial Revolution changed women’s position for the good as it allowed women to be independent enough as ‘women entered the workforce in order to help support the family’.[7] Furthermore, the ‘industrial manufactures had female workforces exceeding male by four, and even eight, to one’, points out how more women were entering the field of work. [8] In addition, the fact that ‘both sexes were employed as powerloom operators’ also highlights how there was equality, to a small extent, in the work force as powerloom was seen as a man’s job because of the ‘strength’ and the ‘stamina’.[9] This demonstrates how the Industrial Revolution changed women’s position for the good as it showed that labour that were usually done by men could have easily been done by women. To conclude, the Industrial Revolution changed the position of women in the nineteenth century by giving the same jobs as men, which showed that women were capable of doing the same jobs as men. It helped slowly change societies mindset that show women are not just for the home, but for work life as well. 

As well as the new found freedom that women experienced, he Industrial Revolution changed the position of women in the nineteenth century for the better by giving more rights and control to women. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, women had no separate legal identity from the husband. Whereas, after the Industrial Revolution, legislations like the Divorce Act, the Child Custody Act and the Married Women’s Protection Act gave women much more freedom. At the same time as the Industrial Revolution, ‘women entered the workplace’ which also meant that the women ‘began to organise and protest and fight for equal rights in society’.[10] This could be viewed in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, which allowed a woman to obtain a separation from her husband as well as still have control of her own rights. This shows how men started to recognise women’s right and it gave women more freedom. This was also apparent in the Married Women’s Property Act in 1870, where the women were ‘allowed to keep earnings or property after marriage’.[11] The fact that women had started to get more freedom during the height of the Industrial Revolution shows how the women were slowly getting recognition and it shows how the Revolution really helped women’s position. Another example of how position of women changed for the better during the Industrial Revolution was through the creation of the ‘English Woman’s journal’, which was a ‘newspaper’ that raised social ‘issues regarding the inequalities that women faced’. [12] This received attention from women ‘of the entire nation’ and that allowed women to communicate with each other and ‘demand for reforms of marriage and divorce laws’. [13] This was successful as it shed light to the inequalities that women faced with the restrictions of legislations, so the Industrial Revolution was used as a platform to better the standard of life for women. An example of the success of the English Woman’s journal was shown in ‘1871, where three major organisations’ were created to give more rights and control to women. [14]  The ‘Society for Promoting the Employment of Women, the Committee for obtaining the admission of Women to University Examinations and the National Union for the Education of Girls of All classes above the Elementary’ were set up to protect and help women from ‘unskilled and cheap factory occupations’ as well as help women keep their autonomy.[15] To conclude, the Industrial Revolution helped change the position of women for the better as it allowed women to gain more rights and liberties through the creation of different social platforms, like newspapers, which brought awareness to the inequalities that women were suffering, which then sanctioned women to communicate with each other and press for reforms. This empowered women during the Industrial Revolution to fight for change, protection and to get more rights and freedom.          

In conclusion, the Industrial Revolution changed the position of women in the nineteenth century for the better. This is because it allowed women to have more rights, the event paved the way for women in politics and it increased women employment, which also lead to the women supporting the family. The Industrialisation allowed women to have recognition and new found freedom which also led to men recognising and appreciating women’s rights and liberties. In my opinion, the most important way in which the Industrial Revolution changed the position of women was through the creation of political and social organisations like the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). The organisations fought for women’s right and it brought awareness to the injustice faced by women. Without the organisational help, rights for women and the imbalance of women in the work place would have not been fought as it would have not been brought to light. The organisations not only helped with jobs and governmental positions, but they also helped with education. All the constant protest and work that the organisations had accomplished, then led to men recognising women’s rights and liberties.     1729

Bibliography:

Books:   

  • Pugh, Martin. State and Society: a social and political history of Britain since 1870.
  • The role of women in social politics. Chapter 3, pg 54.  First edition published in Great Britain 2012. 

Websites:

 


[1] Industrial Revolution. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/Industrial-Revolution (Last accessed 15th December 2018)

[2] Industrial Revolution. History.com Editors. Publisher: A&E Television Networks. 29th October 2009.  https://www.history.com/topics/industrial-revolution/industrial-revolution (Last accessed 15th December 2018)  

[3]  Martin Pugh. State and Society: a social and political history of Britain since 1870. The role of women in social politics. Chapter 3, pg 54.  First edition published in Great Britain 2012. 

[4] Jamie Wallenstein. 19th December 2012. Women’s role in society during the Industrial Revolution. https://prezi.com/sllsrh9yxdjk/womens-role-in-society-during-the-industrial-revolution/ (Last accessed 16th December 2018)

[5] Pat Hudson. Women’s work. The varieties of women’s work.29th March 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/womens_work_01.shtml (Last accessed 17th December 2018)

[6] Recent Findings of Research in Economic and social history. Women’s work and the Industrial Revolution. Women and Industrialisation. http://www.ehs.org.uk/dotAsset/03e09441-1fde-4aac-812a-79f18507fcc4.pdf (Last accessed 17th December 2018)

[7] Role of women in the Industrial Revolution. https://www.historycrunch.com/role-of-women-in-the-industrial-revolution.html#/ (Last accessed 17th December 2018)

[8] Women workers in the British Industrial Revolution. Factories. http://eh.net/encyclopedia/women-workers-in-the-british-industrial-revolution/ (Last accessed 17th December 2018)

[9] Ibid

[10] Role of women in the Industrial Revolution. https://www.historycrunch.com/role-of-women-in-the-industrial-revolution.html#/ (Last accessed 17th December 2018)

[11] Married Women’s Property Act 1870. http://www.intriguing-history.com/married-womens-property-act/ (Last accessed 16th December 2018)

[12] The effect on women during the Industrial Revolution- history essay. November 2013. https://www.ukessays.com/essays/history/the-effects-on-women-during-the-industrial-revolution-history-essay.php (Last accessed 17th December 2018) 

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid

 

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