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Women and Work in the 19th Century

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Essay title: Women and Work in the 19th Century

During the 19th century, change was in the air. Industrialization, involving the movement of labor and resources away from agriculture and toward manufacturing and commercial industries, was in progress. As a result, thousands of women were moving from the domestic life to the industrial world. During the 19th century, the family economy was replaced by a new patriarchy which saw women moving from the small, safe world of family workshops or home-based businesses to larger scale sweatshops and factories.

Prior to these changes, career options were limited for women. The work of a wife was often alongside her husband, running a household, farm or plantation. “Indeed, a wife herself was considered her husband’s chattel, or personal property” (Cullen-Dupont 212). Cooking for the household took a major part of a woman's time. Making garments, spinning yarn, and weaving cloth also took much time out of the day. After the Revolution and into the early 19th century, educating the children became the mother’s responsibility. Widows and the wives of men off to war often managed large farms and plantations. Other women worked as servants or slaves. Unmarried women, the divorced, and women without property, might work in another household, helping out with household chores or substituting for the wife if there was not one in the family.

The Industrial Revolution was fueled by the economic need of many women, single and married, to find waged work outside their home. Women mostly found jobs in domestic service, textile factories, and work shops. They also worked in the coal mines. The Industrial Revolution provided independent wages, mobility and a better standard of living. “ For some middle-class women, the new jobs offered freedom from the domestic patterns expected of them” (Spielvogel 657). For the majority, however, factory work in the early years of the 19th century resulted in a life of hardship. Factory owners hired women because they could pay lower wages to women than to men. For some tasks, like sewing, women were preferred because they had training and experience, and the jobs were "women's work."

There were many problems associated with women joining the labor force in the early to mid 19th century. Industrial working conditions were often unsanitary and the work was dangerous to untrained and unskilled women. The education of children decreased due to the long hours the women had to work. Home life suffered as women were faced with the double burden of factory work followed by domestic chores and child care. Since employment was unpredictable and pay was low, prostitution became a way of life for lower class women. Women, considered less important in society, had to deal with men assuming supervisory roles and receiving higher wages. Also, the men began forming worker oppositions proposing that child and female labor should be abolished from certain jobs. “In the 1830s, America's first attempt to form a National Trades Union was motivated in large part by working men's desire to limit competition from female employment” (Woloch 126). All of these troubles made it difficult for women to find and maintain employment.

Later in the 19th century, some women held jobs in the domestic-service market and worked as maids or nannies. Expansion in industrial and retail areas led to an increase in the number of available white collar jobs. These jobs were filled predominately by women looking for better pay and working conditions. Big businesses and companies began to employ women as typists, secretaries, file clerks, and salesclerks. The development of government led

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