Women in the Industrial Revolution

Edmund Burke once said," Make revolution a parent of settlement, and not a nursery of future revolutions." This comical yet straightforward quote can be related to a time in history called the Industrial Revolution. Throughout history there has been a political, economical, social and cultural revolution.

These revolutions has had complex and long lasting impacts on people’s lives, one revolution that has forever changed history is the Industrial Revolution. The term revolution is defined as a drastic and far-reaching change in ways of thinking and behaving. The Industrial revolution was a cultural revolution that impacted people’s lives forever. The Industrial revolution was a change that was much needed and it had many factors that helped to bring it about.

One cause of the Industrial revolution was growing population by the mid-1800s the population of Europe and North America was on a high rise (Snooks). The rapidly growing cities of the industrial world attracted people of all social classes. Another cause of the Industrial revolution was the growing demand for textiles and other mass-produced goods. During the mid 1800s Europe and North American were slacking in products being made.

Growing demands for textiles caused a need for mass production therefore the Industrial revolution opened the doors to create more textiles at a faster rate using machinery and mass production (Snooks). Lastly improved technology was a cause for the industrial revolution. Improved technology lead the way to better machinery and better mass production.

The industrial revolution was the widespread replacement of manual labor by machines that began in Britain in the 18th century and is still continuing in some parts of the world today. The industrial revolution was the result of many fundamental, interrelated changes that transformed agricultural economies into industrial ones. Consequently, these rapid technological changes affected the lives of millions of people. The early industrial revolution lead to the exploitation of workers in factories and the conditions in the factories were ghastly. Moreover, these factories produced densely inhabited cities where many resided in atrocious living conditions.

Finally, not only were the working class families who dwelled in the cities affected, many agricultural laborers faced hard times during this era as well (Usher). The Industrial revolution had both immediate effects and long term effects on people’s lives. One immediate effect would be the rise of factories. Rise of factories was an immediate effect of the industrial revolution because mass productions of goods were done in poorly lilted, dirty factories therefore a rise in factories. One long term effect of the Industrial revolution is the increase in new relatively inexpensive products.

Products became inexpensive because of the mass productions of goods. With the mass production of goods, products could be made faster therefore making a decrease in products that would have been expensive if not for the machinery that the Industrial revolution offered. Before the Industrial Revolutions many families were living in small villages or towns or on farmland. Most of these workers were either craftsmen or farmers. The whole entire family lived and worked on the farm and contributed to the family’s farm.

The father and kids would work on the farm while the mother took care of the small kids. This was usually an extended family that all lived on one farm as well. Also just about everything was done by hand or with limited tools to work with. After the Industrial Revolution everything changed. The Industrial Revolution created a lot of factory jobs and shifted the focus away from there being primarily agricultural jobs. These factories would hire even the wives and kids because they were cheaper to hire and the kids had small hands to fix the machinery (Gilbert).

There was a shift from working for the better of the family to more working for the individuals. There were less and less extended families living together and more nuclear families (Mom, Dad, and kids) because of this new separation and focus on the individual. Also families were having fewer kids because instead of the kids being profitable and being able to help on the farm, financially they were more of a burden so the birth rate went down during the Industrial Revolution (Gilbert).

There is very good reason to believe that primitive families living in the pre-industrialization age suffered less from stress and frustration and were more satisfied with their ways of life than privatized families who were faced with the inevitable social and psychological problems as the Industrial Revolution evolved. In contemporary terms, the Industrial Revolution is viewed as a two edged sword. Despite the positive changes brought on by it, its impact on society at large and on families in specific has inspired many researchers.

The era of pre-industrialization focused mainly on agricultural production which was carried out by men, allowing family households to become self-sustained and more relegated to domestic life in the home.

The pre-industrial ways of life led to a type of familiar division of labor that left separate and independent spheres of control for both women and men. In the pre-industrial family life, the husband and wife had separate plots of lands, and separate crafts and trading enterprises whereby each spouse retained control over their own profits. Women's roles were confined to maintaining the moral and spiritual center of the family life and their opportunities outside of the family unit were much more limited.

They were the child-bearers taking care of and raising their children while providing and producing goods for the family, and engaging in simple domestic activities such as farming, trade, craftwork, handling of money, saving and investment or even working alongside their husbands in all the household chores. One of the most common domestic activities carried out by women was weaving. Japan is a prototypical example of such a weaving society.

Weaving skills were seen as a necessity for women and were considered as a social requirement in order to live. It was the decisive factor in determining the value of women whom if lacked these skills were not acknowledged as being mature. Whether a woman was proficient or inferior at weaving determined her value as a wife to the extent that if she wasn't capable of weaving then she would get divorced. Moreover, even though women weavers earned a significant amount of money, they were still not perceived as established professionals but rather as housewives. This discrediting of women in their traditional roles led inevitably to a prejudice against them and in favor of manhood.

The necessity of women, both married and single, to find waged work outside the home fuelled the Industrial Revolution which gradually restructured the negative stereotypes revolving around women's traditional family and societal roles. The Industrial revolution paved the way for women's integration into society and the labor market, helping them find jobs in domestic services, textile factories and coal mines. In fact, for some it was able to provide independent wages, mobility and a better standard of living.

The Industrial Revolution propelled fundamental changes in agriculture, transportation, economic policies and social structure. As of any revolution it thoroughly destroyed the old manner and traditions of doing things, but also signified abrupt changes. Advances in agricultural techniques led to an increase in the supply of food and raw materials, changes in the industrial organization and new technology resulted in a massive rise in production, efficiency, and profits.

There were tremendous changes in the world of work; gone were the days of domestic systems yielding to the new ways of factory systems. Perhaps one of the greatest general statements to be made about the changes that resulted from the Industrial Revolution in New England is that families were no longer, if even by proxy, required to remain tight-knit and solely reliant on another.

Before this time children worked in fields, women, as their gender roles demanded in this pre- Industrial Revolution society and family structure in New England took care of the home and men worked in the fields. “The industrial revolution spawned great changes in family structure. Industrialization and urbanization prompted a marked change in life and working styles.

Many people, especially the young, left the farms to work in factories; this process led to the dissolution of many extended families” (Gilbert). With the shift away from the traditional modes of cottage industry in New England before the Industrial Revolution or highly localized familial production came a related shift of family values. Instead of being tied to the home because one was needed to assist with farm or family business tasks, young people were now freer to explore their own paths. Women, instead of being relegated domestic tasks were now granted an opportunity to earn an income, even if it was significantly less than that earned by male counterparts.

Entire communities, comprised of family units and networks, were split and the traditional bonds of inter-family support that arose out of necessity, particularly because of farm-related and family business tasks, was now quite as essential. In sum, the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in New England, despite some of its drawbacks, brought with it opportunity and the potential to move away from traditional family networks.

At the other edge of the sword, the Industrial Revolution caused drastic changes in all other aspects of society; changes which inevitably broke down traditional values which simultaneously broke down the bonds that hold together small scale groups in the community. These modern conditions dictated by the Industrial Revolution, required individuals to move flexibly to locations separating themselves from their communities and families.

Thus, for a technological society to function effectively, it unfortunately tends to weaken family ties and local community bonds. The negative result of industrialization led men to find their emotional focus outside of the home leaving the family farm and home shop and saving all their time, energy and attention for the factory and office (Chambliss). Working on farms and making hand goods was no longer enough to support a family anymore and sometimes families had to move to places where they could all work. It wasn't only the father working as usual now; instead the whole family had to work to live because wages were very low.

Children were sent away to work as slaves and earn money when there were too many mouths to feed in the family and there wasn't enough food to support them (Perusek). This was how child labor came around and women started to work. Suddenly, women were preferred over men for a variety of menial tasks, not however out of appreciation for their struggle to be recognized but rather because they were cheap and obedient and accepted doing the work men refused to carry out.

They were paid half less than men and the little money they did make legally went to their husband or father if they weren't married. The situation was indeed grave; they worked 14 - 16 hours a day, six days a week doing work extremely hazardous to their health (Perusek). Lace makers wore wooden rods to support them from slouching over which resulted in deformed ribs and chests.

Women in textile mills got lung diseases from the dusty air they constantly breathed in, and women working in the coal mines operated under no protective laws that even pregnant women sometimes had to give birth down in the mines! Since women in the time of the Industrial Revolution in America and more specifically, in New England, even those were not married yet, did not make as much and those who were married were more focused on bearing and raising children, this specialization and “breadwinner” aspect emerged and gender roles began to take on even more distinct appearances.

In fact, from the very onset of the Industrial Revolution in New England and America, women, and even their children began to move away from the cottage industry and into new roles in the family. Before the Industrial Revolution in America, New England, or elsewhere, although there was certainly a gendered division of labor, men and women both contributed equal parts to their families, agricultural, or family-operated small business tasks.

The growth of paid labor during the Industrial Revolution in New England in America, especially as it became more specialized, led to gender roles becoming increasingly defined. In this way, gender roles were changed by the Industrial Revolution in America and New England, although not necessarily revolutionized. Interestingly, although women were obviously still rearing children, an important fact to understand is that while before the Industrial Revolution, this was a vital responsibility of women.

This was because large families were essential so that there would be plenty of free labor to go around—children would help their families work the land or would apprentice and/or take over the local family business or trade. “The presence of industry caused a growing separation of work from the household and the increasing specialization of skills. As this trend in families continued, children were no longer seen as primarily economic assets, but instead as dependents requiring education and nurturing” (Gilbert).

This was a dramatic revolution for women and children during the Industrial Revolution in New England in America, not only in terms of how children were going to be raised, but on the American family in general. In conclusion, the changes the Industrial Revolution had on family life were very disappointing. Many families broke up for survival; mothers had to leave their babies while they worked and because of the resulting poor child care, half of all infants died in their first years of life, and to avoid the risk of empty nest, mothers gave birth to 7 or 8 kids just to have 1 or 2 survive. This deteriorated their health and well-being.

Things finally did change for women and families as laws and legislations were enacted. These were successfully aimed at protecting workers, creating better working conditions, making life more equitable for women, and providing better wages and benefits.

In my opinion, the progress and severe changes fostered by the Industrial Revolution just came too soon for anybody's good. The progress was to improve the human race for the future, but unfortunately nobody looked at what they were doing to the human race then. This brings us to a very important and debatable question: "Has industrialization been a misery to family life?" Well...after all, the issue has been and will always be controversial, but we can surely agree that the progressive entry of females into the labor market has forever altered our community bonds.

We should thank women for making the industrial revolution roll on; they took the responsibilities of caring for their families while working 14 hours a day without any complaints. Despite however it's many drawbacks, if it weren't for the Industrial Revolution, women would have been an invisible and inferior subject in today's and tomorrow's world.

Reference

  • Burke, Edmund. Quotations. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2010. <http://theotherpages.org/topic-r2.html>.
  • Chambliss, William J. (editor), Problems of Industrial Society, Reading, Massachusetts : Addison-Wesley Publishing Co, December 1973. ISBN 9780201009583
  • Gilbert, K. (2009). Industrial Revolution's Effect on Family Structure and Life. In AP World History Wiki. Retrieved October 21, 2010, from http://apwhwiki.pbworks.com/w/page/363244/Industrial-Revolution's-effect-on-family-structure-and-life.
  • Perusek, G. (2004, December). Child Labor in the World Economy. In NewPolitics. Retrieved October 25, 2010, from http://newpolitics.mayfirst.org/node/331
  • Snooks, G.D. (2000), Was the Industrial Revolution Necessary?, London & New York: Routledge.
  • Usher, Abbott Payson (1920), online edition An Introduction to the Industrial History of England, University of Michigan, pp. 529, http://books.google.com/books? vid=OCLC00 224415&id=WiQEAAAAMAAJ&pg=RA1- online edition, retrieved 2009-07-26.