Women and Work in the 19th Century

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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...
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