The Industrial Revolution: Opportunities for Women
The end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century were changing times for America. Tension between the north and the south was building and new states and territories were popping up all over America. The most significant changes in
American culture occurred because of the switch from merchant to industrial capitalism and the Industrial Revolution, where American society switched from a more home based economy to an industrial based one. Before the Industrial Revolution, women did not usually have jobs outside of their home. The wives of families stayed home and tended the house or raised their children. After the Industrial Revolution, new factories and workplaces were popping up all across America. Large cities grew larger, and new cities and large factories were beginning to appear along the coasts of rivers. Thousands of new jobs were required to fill all of these new workplaces appearing across America, primarily large fabric factories.
Since most women did not have formal jobs, and living after the Industrial Revolution required more revenue in families, many began working in factories and other jobs that became more common in America. Women in America were able to find new jobs and reach new heights in society after the Industrial Revolution, but the most significant changes in women’s society depended on the marital status and class of the women.
Before the Industrial Revolution occurred, the primary focus in a woman’s life was finding a husband to support a family, but after the revolution, new job opportunities were appearing across America and the only women who would take these jobs were those who were not married. For American history up until this point, most of a woman’s life depended
on whether or not she was married. Before the Industrial Revolution, married and unmarried women had similar roles within the family. Both married and unmarried women spent their time tending the house. They cooked, cleaned, and raised and educated the children. Women also made clothing and cloth for the family, so when the industry switched from a home based economy to an industrial based one, the first jobs that interested women were the ones in large cloth factories and mills. Before the factory system of mass producing clothes and other materials was introduced to America, the puttingout system was one of the first ways women could make money while working at home. Companies would give women contracts to make a certain amount of products, and in return they would be payed. Women who worked these contracts could be kept very busy, which took away time for women to find husbands. Instead of finding a husband, women could simply work at home and make money. Nancy F. Cott writes about a woman by the name of Amanda Elliot who was a hired worker for these contracts. Cott writes, “Within six months in 181617 she devoted considerable time to splitting straw and braiding hats; noted five new boarders; taught school; and mentioned binding shoes, in addition to usual domestic needlework, knitting, washing, and ironing” (Cott,
235). After the switch to the factory based industry, many women found jobs in huge clothing mills. They worked very long hours in very unsafe working conditions, and they only made fractions of what men made. Since women were not able to go to school, they only jobs that they could have were ones that required low skill. Married women usually did not work because they already had too much on their plate without a job. It was a woman’s job to raise the children and educate them at young ages. Mothers in families were also the only ones who could have time to raise the children, because, as Nancy F. Scott puts it, “The expansion of nonagricultural occupations drew men and grown children away from the household, abbreviating their…