Women in Industry Heading

 

   


Industrial Revolution (1800-1880)

Teaching positions were entirely reserved for unmarried, native-born women.  About 6% of young rural women in New England, predominantly from very successful farm families, worked as teachers in rural school houses.  Teaching was a very low-paid occupation (even worse than mill work), but it carried high prestige because it was one of the only professions open to women.  In general, female teachers worked for a few years in their late teens and early twenties before marrying and leaving the paid labor force. (12) 

Teacher and students at a one-room school house in Michigan
Teacher and students at a one-room school house in Michigan

Immigrant women working in a steam laundry
Immigrant women working in a steam laundry

In industrial cities like Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Chicago, and Minneapolis, women worked in similar occupations as they did in the countryside, such as laboring from home.  They sewed hats, did textile piecework, and made shoes.  As in the countryside, urban home laborers tended to be married women with children.  In contrast to the countryside, however, home laborers in cities were often poor immigrants.  Their extreme dependence on the income from home labor made them targets of exploitation. (13)

Women also did work that would do at home in factories, such as working in laundries.

Domestic servants in cities worked in private homes, took in laundry, and worked in hotels as chambermaids. They were almost entirely non-white.  The legacy of slavery in black women’s paid labor opportunities was not confined to the South: of the very small number of African American women living in Boston in the late 19th century, 87% of them were domestic servants. (14) Domestic service was also a major occupation for young immigrant women in cities, as it was in the countryside.

A small number of middle-class, native-born, Euro-American women found work in professional and white-collar occupations in industrial cities. They were mainly teachers and office clerks. During the Civil War, the number of women in these occupations increased because women replaced male teachers and clerks who had been drafted. (15) Almost a million men were killed and seriously maimed during the Civil War, leaving fewer men for women to marry. Thus young women were more able to enter the workforce without the stigma of being an "old maid."

c. 1900 nanny with children
c. 1900 nanny with children

Women working in the money drying room at the Treasury Department during the Civil War
Women working in the money drying room at
the Treasury Department during the Civil War

 

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Image from 1 Central Michigan University, Image 2 from Wolverhampton City Council Archives & Local Studies, Image 3 from The New York Public Library, & Image 4 fromthe Office of the Curator, Department of Treasury

 

(c) Copyright National Women's History Museum 2007