Women & Industrial Workers During Industrialization

As new ideas form, the need for more efficient routines increases and the intensity for economical ways of conducting business swells; industrialization becomes inevitable in any country, society or even household. This craving for development changed agriculture, factories and mining excessively from 1877 to 1920.

Considering the different areas that were affected it is only logical that various groups were also changed. Since women were already hard working individuals in the home, they altered industrialism by taking on the workforce with literacy. While industrial workers shifted from farming, to mining, and eventually factories. The outright desire to grow, transform and produce engulfed the U.S. with force.

Industrialism kicked off with agriculture. Women contributed by maintaining the household. They also made money on the side by cooking, sewing, or doing laundry. Mary McNair Mathews, for example, “worked as a teacher, nurse, seamstress, laundress, and lodge-house operator.” (Roark et al. 524). As agriculture dwindled and factory work became all the rage, women were recruited to be textile mill workers.

Unfortunately this new occupation came with long hours and shameful pay. “In 1890, the average working woman was twenty-two and had been working since the age of fifteen, laboring twelve hours a day six days a week and earning less then $6 a week.” (Roark et al. 590). This is a perfect example of how industrialism may have given the working woman more employment opportunities, but still restricted them from equal rights.

By 1890 women transitioned from domestic work, to factory work and then to the office. This made industrial capitalism effortless because it expanded business and created more management, office and department store positions. With this the use of the typewriter and cash register became a main aspect of women’s work in the 1880’s. Being hired as secretaries, typewriters, cash girls, and stocks clerks, women were able to make more money for shorter hours. The industrialization of consumer culture and big business furthered the working woman’s career once again.

During 1880, the West began their industrialization with farming in North Dakota, and Minnesota, while mining took place in California. As revolutionary technology formed for commercial farming, farmers traded in their horse-drawn equipment for steam-powered machinery, and made way for mowers, seed drills, and threshers. With the use of these new tools, agriculture grew dramatically and the distribution of goods was able to reach additional countries. Since industrialism quickly eluded agriculture, farmers quickly left farms and moved onto factories becoming industrial workers.

After the Civil War, American industry grew spectacularly. Iron became steel, oil refining became electric light and power, and the railroad system seized the American economy. “The railroads became America’s first big business” and therefore sparked the creation of 55,000 jobs. (Roark et al. 542). With the need for railroads came the need for steel and Andrew Carnegie became the steel guru of the 1870’s.

His workers “achieved the output Carnegie demanded by enduring low wages, dangerous working conditions, and twelve-hour days six days a week.” (Roark et al. 547). This was the beginning of treacherous factory work that industrial workers would continue to endure in the future.

America’s need for expansion increased and new projects formed. The building of the Brooklyn Bridge became a symbol of the United Stated industrial power. Industrial employees worked around the clock enduring hazardous and frightening conditions which eventually led to a strike where they demanded less hours and better pay. Industrialization was coming at a costly price both economically and humanly. Superiors wanted to retain as much money as possible and pay out as little as possible, while workers continued to complete the necessary job, and risk their lives.

Industrial wageworkers grew to a whopping 17.4 million in the 1900’s. With this growth came a more diverse atmosphere. A kind of hierarchy formed amongst workers that began with the common laborers who built railroads and subways. While at the top of the food chain were the craftsmen.

The very skilled workers that became valuable to the enhancement of industrialization. Unfortunately history repeated itself and new machinery replaced workers just as it did with farmers. Instead of independent tailors, new sewing machines eclipsed and contractors hired workers to sew pieces of clothing. (Roark et al. 590). The more machines emerged, the amount of pay decreased and unemployment rose causing the average working family hardship.

When the need for industrial workers came to a new low labor organizations developed. The Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor gathered workers in order to fight rapid industrialization. They wanted “public ownership of the railroads, an income tax, equal pay for women workers and the abolition of child labor.” (Roark et al. 597). They wanted to stand up for all workers and demand what they felt was fair.

During the nineteenth century industrialization shaped the nation and caused prominence along with depression. It created countless jobs, but then took them away for the production of goods at a minimum cost and a maximum profit. Short cuts were taken to cut industrial workers while careers were created for women. The increase in jobs covered up the unequal pay, hazardous conditions, and money hungry authority. Although in the end industrialization immensely helped the United States, it did cause severe changes for both groups for the better and worse.