The Impact of the Industrial Revolution on Women

In the analyzing of history, the Industrial Revolution stands out like a beacon of light among the vast amounts of revolutions before it. It can be argued that the most drastic events in history are stepping-stones towards the Industrial Revolution: the most affective revolution towards liberty, and equality. In the aggressive pursuit for goods, the roles women played towards their family and their working contributions had dramatically changed.

And although the change among women did not equalize them with men, it was the spark towards equality. The Industrial Revolution had a positive impact on women because it allowed women to move from a domestic sphere environment a public sphere environment, it allowed women to be more politically engaged, and due to independent wages, gave them a sense of independence.

Before the Industrial Revolution Before the Industrial Revolution the status of women was bestowed as the status of their husband (Ushistory.org). Women of the nineteenth century in fact, had no independent status of their own; they were seen as weak and fragile, and played little role in the public sphere. The public sphere consisted of lawyers, doctors, builders, etc, whom all were comprised of men. This was an environment that was seen as violent and full of temptations which women, seen as weak and fragile, could not survive in.

Therefore, the roles of women before the Industrial Revolution were placed strictly within the domestic sphere under her husbands’ protection, financial security, and social status (Ushistory.org). Although restricted to the domestic sphere, women played no little role in their domain. In which was later called the “women’s sphere”, women held all responsibilities within the house, which consisted of cleaning, cooking, childcare, and their womanly duties towards their husbands (Ushistory.org).

Before a higher demand of goods was needed, therefore before factories were built and before the Industrial Revolution approached, the productions of goods were dealt within the domestic sphere by women. Within an agricultural environment, women dealt with the bulk of the countries food supply (18).

The entire management of the dairy, including the milking of cows and the making of butter and cheese, was in women's hands, and the women were also responsible for the growing of flax and hemp, for the milling of corn, for the care of the poultry, pigs, orchards and gardens (18). It was also a woman’s responsibility within the domestic sphere to nit clothes and cloths with fabrics sent to them by stores (18).

A life within the domestic sphere was an ideal ideology for a woman in pursuit of “true womanhood” (Lavender). The ideal of true womanhood had four characteristics any good and proper young woman should have: piety, purity, domesticity, and submissiveness (Lavender). To be piety, one must have had to have a strong belief in God, to be pure, one must have had to be a virgin, to be domestic, one must have always been morally uplifting and contempt in their piety and purity, and to be submissive, one must have always been a passive bystander, and submit to fate, to duty, to God and to men (Lavender).

During the Industrial Revolution During the Industrial Revolution, as machinery was invented to replace hand tools and create a more productive means of the production of goods, women moved away from the domestic sphere and into the public sphere (Burnette). In the beginning of the Revolution, as factories first started to open, opening their doors to women due to their large demand for workings to run the factories; women for the first time had an opportunity to work outside of their homes in order to join the public sphere work force (Lastrina).

During the beginning of the Industrial Revolution women completely dominated the workforce. Even though they were untrained and inexperienced to this kind of labor, they worked productively and quickly even though they were getting paid half, or sometimes less than half of what men got paid while doing the same amount of work (Lastrina). For some women whom participated in domestic labor, experienced little change while moving from domestic to public sphere work forces, other than the change in environment; from working at home to working in a factory (Lastrina).

The differences between public work, factory work, and domestic work, mainly housework and hand spinning, proved to be a large and tuff transition for most women (Encyclopedia). Within the domestic sphere, while women did in fact participate in labor matching up to public sphere labor, the working conditions of factory work were substantially worst than the conditions of domestic work. Within the public sphere, women worked mainly within paper, pottery, and in textile factories, which was one of the more popular professions for women (Burnette).

These work places had brutal working environments, they were crammed, and in the summer, due to no ventilation, they grew extremely hot. With men, women and children working a regular sixty-eight hours a week, worker health and safety regulation were non-existent (Encyclopedia).

For women more than men, working conditions also culminated of violence; “Women mule-spinners in Glasgow, and their employers, were victims of violent attacks by male spinners trying to reduce the competition in their occupation” (Burnette). In fact, the majority of the working force comprised of women, fifty-seven percent of the factory workers were women, most of them under the age of twenty (Burnette).

Even though women had joined the work force in the public sphere, their responsibilities in the domestic sphere still had to be met (Wells). In cause of women working outside of the home, the Industrial Revolution changed the cultural and economical value of “unpaid” housework (Wells).

lthough women worked outside their homes, the work that women did in the domestic sphere was the same throughout the whole of the nineteenth century: cleaning, cooking, childcare, maintaining family social relationships, as well as managing the household economy (Wells). The cultural value of the “unpaid” domestic sphere work was lost, as well as the husband and wife, strictly public sphere and strictly domestic sphere harmony (Wells).

Aside from women achieving a victory by moving from strict domestic sphere environments to public sphere environments and therefore gaining the capability of acquiring their own, personnel status, women had now the role in society for more political engagement. With the demand for workers in factories, and women making up fifty-seven percent of those workers, women felt that it was within their power to protest for more factory regulations.

With the working conditions in the factories extremely poor, women developed new movements of the working class: they joined and formed unions, went of strike, and took part in industrial protests. Even though women did not obtain the vote at a parliamentary level until 1918, where they then had to be over the age of thirty, and not until 1928 women were able to vote at the same terms as men, women had still made an impact in regards to the “soft” issues of politics; the issues in concern of mostly women’s interests (Richardson).

The “soft” issues of the nineteenth century were around the politics of “lifestyle”, including diet, health and ethical consumption, as well as education, philanthropy, and child rearing (Richardson).

The hasty arise of the Industrial Revolution led for many factories being built in a sense of over night and little time for the development of health and safety regulations (Encyclopedia). Therefore men and women, including children of all ages were put to work in these factories for unreasonably long hours, sometimes up to nineteen hours under terrible conditions (Child). With the sudden involvement of women in the public sphere, they sought to better the conditions of factories.

Through protests, strikes and pamphlets, women contributed to the passing of the Factory Act of 1833, stating that there can be no child worker under the age of nine, child working hours are reduced for children from ages nine to thirteen, there must be two hours a day of schooling for each child, and four factory inspectors must be appointed (1833).

As time moves forward, and continuous demands are made through the protests of women, the Factory Act evolved, in 1844, 1847, 1867, and lastly in 1901, where a minimum age of twelve was required to work in a factory (1833). Bettering the conditions that are introduced in the factories, for the bettering of the conditions for the work force.

The Industrial Revolution was above all, the source of women’s independence. With women now receiving a salary, although very low considering the tedious and hazardous work that they are doing, it allowed them to depart from the reliance of their husbands. Through the Industrial Revolution women gained a status, independent wages, and the freedom of choosing where to work, freeing them from the captivity of the domestic sphere, women had finally had a choice in what they wanted to do, how they would get there, and how to live their lives.

After the Industrial Revolution After the Industrial Revolution, it is proof that if it were not for it, the segregations between men and women would still remain today. The Industrial Revolution, which was the sparked by other revolutions, was the spark of equality between men and women.

For if it were not for the higher demand in goods, than factories would not have been built, and if it were not for the construction of those factories, women would not have broken the segregation between the spheres and dominated the work force, and if it were not for the breaking of the segregation, than women political engagement would not have formed in order to abolish the brutal working conditions, and if it were not for women’s political engagement, than no push for women’s rights would have been made, no push for an equal voting systems among men and women, and therefore, women would not be anywhere close to where they are today.

If it were not for the freedoms given to all women, like the abolishment of the segregation between the spheres, political engagement, and independence, than the Industrial revolution could have never even taken place. The conditions surrounding women during the Industrial Revolution were unthinkable, but the outcome was indeed worth it.