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Effects on Women during The Industrial Revolution

Info: 3921 words (16 pages) Essay
Published: 10th Aug 2021 in History

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As women became more independent and involved with the society they inhabited, they began to take-part in protests and campaigns in which women fought for their rights, both inside and outside of the household. The industrialization no longer posed women as inferior to men, but as their competition. However, women were not paid nearly as much as men, this only worsening the effects for men. Now that women were performing many roles which were formerly done by males, men began to struggle with keeping their positions from the female labourers. They began to band together in the shape of unions in order to protect themselves from women taking their positions for a cheaper wage. [5] The lives of children in the eighteenth and nineteenth century were also impacted. With women leaving their homes to go to work, many children were left to fend for themselves and their siblings. This absence of the mother in the home greatly increased reported cases of neglect and infant death rates, while decreasing fertility rate. [6] Furthermore, many mothers began to encourage their children to join the workforce with them, thus introducing an epidemic of child labour. Finally, women who filled predominantly male job positions were seen as masculine and not adept to become wives or future homemakers. [7] This paper will argue that although the industrial revolution is recognized as having had a drastic effect on economic and production systems around the world, it had an undeniable impact on the role of women in all aspects. Therefore, the introduction of the female labourer drastically affected many aspects of society and caused permanent economical and societal structural changes.

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With the introduction of the female into the workplace many political changes were required to be put in place. Women began to fight for their roles in society, causing uprisings and movements which would result in political unrest and eventual change. [8] Women like Bessie Rayner Parks, one of the first women to initiate a women’s movement in England in 1848, made these dreams possibilities. They began to demand the reform of marriage laws, especially in terms of common law which was always harsh to women regarding property, and more rights for women in the workplace. [9] The ultimate goal for the movement was to grant women with an opportunity of independence away from their fathers or husbands. [10] By 1858 Parks, alongside many other recruits, created the English Woman’s Journal, a newspaper which raised several issues regarding inequality and women, and pointed to domestic ideology as the root of many social ills. [11] The newspaper gave them a communication portal in which they could spread their messages to women of the entire nation and political sphere. [12] Little by little, many women began to impact society with their cause. Though not all of the movements were successful, they were able to inform their communities and local politicians about the changes needed to be made. [13] 

Women all over England began to band together in order to ensure the expansion of women’s rights and opportunities, in the home and in the workplace, became part of the political agenda. By 1871, there were three major movements that took the nation by storm: 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. [14] All of these movements encouraged parents to educate their young daughters in order to protect them from the harms of “unskilled and cheap” factory occupations. [15] The women who were part of this movement believed that as long as there was inequality in the workplace, women would forever be dependent on their patriarchal fathers and husbands. [16] 

The participants of the Women’s Movement attempted to teach girls more of the trades in hopes of their inclusion in the trade and manufacturing industry. They attempted to teach “glass-painting, glass-engraving, illuminating, gilding, art-engraving, china-painting, plan-tracing and wood-carving” in forms of apprenticeships, lectures and classes. [17] Eventually, local political leaders began to take the many women who participated in the movements much more seriously and made the female cause a part of the administrative agenda. By the end of the eighteenth century many political changes had been made in order to facilitate women in the workplace.

Children were also greatly affected by the inclusion of women into the workplace as proven by the increasing popularity of child labour, which caused the demand for child labour laws and regulations. Furthermore, studies have shown the number of child deaths and reported cases of mal- and under-nutrition. The occupation of women in the labour force simultaneously eliminated the dedicated mothers who made themselves responsible for their husbands, children and homes.

The inability of a father to provide for his wife and children resulted in the mother finding employment. The children of these many families were often left to fend for themselves or each other while their parents made a living. [18] This was not the case, however, for the many children who joined the workforce with their mothers. Although the Victorian Era was characterized by the appreciation of the purity and innocence of children, child labour greatly increased during this time as a direct result of the industrial revolution and its provision of employment to women. [19] As mentioned in Child Labour and the British Industrial Revolution, the most probable way the industrial revolution caused child labour was by causing many parents to encourage their children to work. [20] 

The most likely way the industrial revolution could have increased the exploitation of children was by inducing more parents to exploit their children. That many parents did indeed greedily neglect the welfare of their children is beyond the question…There are many recorded instances of the economic exploitation of children during the first half of the nineteenth century. [21] 

Children became yet another source of income, and presented the family with more economic freedom; especially with a son or daughter who was old enough to have a full-time employment. Parents and children would negotiate wages and responsibilities with each other in order to help one another as much as possible. [22] 

Furthermore, as a cause of women entering the workforce during the industrial revolution, many children had earned enough money by the age of thirteen to be considered independent and were given the freedom to spend their incomes as they pleased. Consequently, many young people began to develop a social life and would gather about the small towns on the weekends. This not only stimulated the economy in terms of small shops, eateries and music halls, it acquired disapproval from the clergymen who described it as mischief waiting to happen. [23] 

Women were soon considered the tangible explanation for the increase in infant mortality and decrease in life expectancy. The persistent death of young children under the age of seven was considered a product of the social ills caused by women entering the labour force. Because of the large influx of labourers from outside of urban areas, many mothers did not have reliable and accessible family with whom to leave their children while they were at work. As a result, the eighteenth century saw an increase in infant death rates. In hopes of decreasing these trends the government then made many alterations in order to establish a more sanitary drainage system in hopes it would result in a decrease in child death rates. [24] However, the attempt failed and death rates continued to increase; many cases demonstrated that children were often malnourished or starved. Factory owners and supervisors began to report many pregnant labourers who would work up to a couple days before giving birth and would return to work only a couple of days after. Physicians began to recommend the use of mid-wives in order to offer help to pregnant mothers take care of their newborns. [25] 

Women and their newly found involvement in the work force were blamed for the decrease in fertility rates across England in the early 18th century. Commentators claimed that the factory woman was selfish and preferred to be employed than to reproduce and create a family. [26] Doctors pointed out that women considered children as a symbol of their femininity and their biological maternal role, and many were not ready for either. With this being said, abortion rates were also increasing very quickly. In the 1880s the Medical Officer of Health concluded that women wanted to avoid the burden of having children, so much so that they were also blamed with the increase in the level of infanticide. [27] Doctors began to question whether malnourishment was due to neglect or due to a mother’s on purpose in order to get rid of a child. [28] In these many ways, women were increasingly held responsible for the many changes that were occurring in the new industrial society. The inclusion of women in the labour force, following the beginning of the industrial revolution, greatly affected many statistics regarding children and fertility.

Women beginning to work also challenged many of the accepted norms of sexuality and gender for women. Many clergymen and men in general, began to deem the workplace inappropriate for women and claimed it caused women to be unfit for domestic duties. Many establishments were set up in order to provide women with guidance. In 1846, a Vicar established lodging houses by the textile factories in order to try and help women, teach them how to be domestic and offer religious and moral direction. [29] Many of these establishments became government funded organizations and charities. By 1861, The Church of England began to launch associations including: The Female Refuge for Fallen Women, The Bradford Ladies Association, and The Ladies Association for the Care of Friendless Girls. [30] Association leaders began to worry that more and more young girls were spending their evenings in the streets amongst men and developing vices. Very often young women would pitch their wages together with women alike in order to afford a household, and travelled to visit family on the weekend. [31] 

Many women who worked in the mills and factories were looked down upon and accused of either being too masculine or a prostitute. Many reformers made a correlation between prostitution and factory life and concluded that the majority of reported prostitutes began their independent lives as factory workers, and that they were a mere product of their environment. [32] The increasing existence of brothels and whore houses seemed to justify this conclusion. Very soon, the middle class became very unstable as many marriages became to fall apart after factory men began to pursue these young prostitutes. [33] As mentioned in The First Industrial Woman, many other factory women were seen as masculine because of their rudimentary behaviour and inappropriate vocabulary:

Less sympathetic were the assessments of the independent factory girl, notorious for her promiscuity, coarse language, drinking, smoking, and sexual misbehaviour. The Victorian working-class woman became, in short, a problem, linked in a multitude of ways to the history of the factory. [34] 

Labouring women in the eighteenth century were regarded with a “tarnished image” and were often expected to be thieves, uneducated and rude. Because they performed the occupation of men and often laboured with males, women were seen as more masculine and vulgar. In fact, research shows that many women in the late eighteenth century would collect chips of wood, and other materials such as cotton and wool, from ship-buildings, and were often referred to as “chip-women”. [35] This resulted in British authorities establishing laws in order to decrease the amount of reported incidents of the kind. [36] 

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Women also became criticized for their inadequacy in the private sphere. Many commentators believed that factory women hindered the conditions of the family because of their lack of domestic skills. [37] This gave many political leaders the opportunity to transfer the blame for the ills of society on the private sphere, on mothers in particular; as opposed to blaming the political public sphere. [38] In this excerpt of Valenze’s The First Industrial Woman, a man is being asked his opinion on the domesticity of the labouring women in his society.

Do those women who have been brought up at mills make useful wives?’ ‘Not many of them,’ replied the man; ‘not useful wives with regard to housework.’ [39] 

Prior to the industrialization women were often confined to feminine duties such as organizing events within the private sphere and looking after their homes. [40] However with the arrival of the industrial revolution women became an active part of the workforce and were now performing many of the same jobs as men. Both men and women were faced with hardships regarding wages due to the competitive nature of factories and industries. Consequently, men were faced with their jobs in danger because of the many women who were hired for cheaper salaries. [41] In Valenze’s The First Industrial Woman, she mentions that in the spinning industry the female to male labourer ratio was eight to one. She continues by including that the spinning industry was heavily underpaid because of its association with its high amounts of women workers. [42] 

By the early 1800s, women made up one third of the workforce. However, women’s labour was often referred to as “cheap” labour because it was performed differently than men. By 1830, many men began to join organization and movements in order to protect themselves from the competition of female cheap-labour. [43] For example, the Ten Hours Movement was joined by many men in hopes factory and industry owners would decrease female hours in order for the male “breadwinners” to make enough money to support their families. [44] The Factory Act of 1844 is another example of the successes of such labour unions in which women were completely eliminated from night shifts in the factories. [45] Although union leaders claimed it was “in order to protect their safety”, it is obvious that the men of these unions formulated these acts and movements, as mentioned above, in order to safeguard their own positions.

The main goal of male unions was to marginalize women to the jobs that men did not want and hoped to increase labour market segregation. Unions did this by keeping tasks for men and women very separate, and would harass anyone of the opposite sex who would take up a task not accordingly. [46] Men managed to establish regulations on all-male apprenticeships, and refused to even consider female apprentice opportunities. [47] Finally, unions would often threaten to strike if any male workers were being replaced by females. [48] As mentioned in the following excerpt, women working in the manufacturing industry also caused changes in the form of labour recruitment and machinery selection.

But after the passage of the Free Trade Act in 1824, increased competition in silk manufacture encouraged the introduction of machinery that would cheapen production costs. At that point, factory owners could adopt machinery designed to be operated by women, which would keep labour costs down. [49] 

Factory owners became much more inclined to hire females over males because of how much money their enterprise would save. Many technically began to depend of female and child labourers in order to protect their businesses from “inevitable slumps in trade”, which clearly explains why many male workers were threatened. [50] Though the industrialization paved the way for women to gain independence, the position and status of many men of the eighteenth century was conversely jeopardized.

The industrialization that began in the eighteenth century revolutionized many, if not all, conventions of the preceding society. Whether it was in order to help their husbands support their families or to gain independence from their fathers, women became a large part of the manufacturing and factory industries introduced by the industrial revolution. Although this marked a stepping stone for the independence of women everywhere, women entering the labour force initiated a plethora of societal changes, which affected many other members of society. With the introduction of the female labourer came the introduction of the suffrage movement. Women began to band together to fight for equality rights, both in the workplace and at home, which eventually caused political alterations to many laws and regulations. Many children of the eighteenth century were left to fend for themselves when their mothers left for work, however many others were encouraged to begin working with their mother at a very young age, thus increasing child labour. Men were now in competition with women for their jobs, and therefore began to form unions in order to protect their employment from the influx of female labourers. In essence, though the women of the eighteenth century were able to enjoy a newly found sliver of independence, their inclusion in the factories and mines introduced by the industrial revolution challenged many traditional norms and caused intensive structural changes to society. To say that women changed the way in which society’s labour force conducted itself would be an understatement. However, to say that women revolutionized the very workforce industry and societal structure that is evident in present day society would be concluding fact that speaks to the perseverance of women during the 1800s.

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