The industrial revolution swept through Europe and North America during the 19th century, affecting the class structure, economy, government, and even the religious practices of everyone who lived in or did commerce with these new "industrialized nations." It made the modern age possible, but it was not without its "growing pains." The position of women before the industrial revolution was often equivalent to chattel, and then as now, they were expected to take naturally to housework and child rearing. The history of working women in the Industrial Revolution is rife with accounts of abuse and tragedy, but overall it improved their position in capitalist societies. Below, I will explain the different positions women held in society, the home, and the workplace during the Industrial Revolution in Europe and America, and compare them to history and to contemporary women.
Women in Victorian Society
It is important to remember that the Industrial Revolution came to a close with the end of the Victorian era. The technology of the industrial revolution (and the economy of colonialism) made a large amount of surplus consumer materials available. Cheap food and clothing improved the average quality of life of the working poor, allowing them to have more children who lived longer, creating a larger labor pool. Larger families required mothers to work more hours in the home and out of it. This was reinforced in England and the US by the development of Victorian morality, which placed the ideal woman at the head of an ideal household, leading the moral life of the nation.
At the beginning of the industrial revolution, women suffered from decreasing job opportunities, as "cottage industries" like textiles, cooking, and small goods manufacture became the province of big industries run and staffed by men. But towards the end of the 1850s, the growing industrial world had developed a hierarchy of jobs that were...