Society during the Industrial Revolution
Women during the Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution’s Effects on Working Lives
The Industrial Revolution impacted the lives of women in various ways, both positively and negatively. Before the Industrial Revolution, the cottage system consisted of women working as part of the family (home-based business). Husbands and wives often worked cooperatively, and women were able to look after their families. Those who were unmarried women and elderly women could support themselves by working in the family business. However, new inventions required a source of energy that individual people could not provide. Machines such as Richard Arkwright’s Water Frame needed space and power to function, and cottages were too small for it to fit, and it couldn’t be powered by hand or foot. Factories were perfect to fulfill these needs for the new machines. Because of these factories, many home based-businesses were destroyed, forcing women to work elsewhere.
Women who lived in the country side had very few options, these included working as a servant for someone with money or look for work on farms. Often, large “gangs” of women laborers were used by landowners to do agricultural work such as weeding and harvesting. If failing that, women would have to work in factories. The work women did there consisted of pulling carts with coal through small underground mine shafts, as well as doing hard and dirty work in the textile industry. Working conditions were often very poor, there was also very little pay since so many women were available for work.
Societies Demand for Children
Women also had to deal with society’s heavy demand for children. Children were considered the ideal employees, since they were cheap and small enough to fit between tight fitting machinery. Eventually, there was a rapid increase in birth rates, which affected the physical strength of the mothers. It wasn’t uncommon for families to have 10 or more children. Because of financial reasons, women would have to work right up to and straight after the day of a child’s birth, leaving the care of the newborn to older relatives.
Positive Effects on Women
Some women definitely did benefit from the Industrial Revolution in certain ways. For example, women from the upper and middle classes were able to live very good lives, being pampered by servants. With millions of new jobs in factories, mills, stores, and offices, others were able to earn enough money to support themselves and their families. As a result, these women had their own cash money for the first time, giving them some independence. In addition, many women left their homes and began living independently. This did cause worry for the well-being of women, although it allowed them to become more part of social activism and labor movements which eventually began to improve dangerous working conditions.
The Middle and Upper Classes
Growing Number of Job Opportunities
The middle and upper classes were the two classes that benefitted the most from the Industrial Revolution, the middle class especially. People from the middle and upper classes were composed of those who did not work in manual labor. The growth of new businesses and factories created many new jobs for the middle class, such as factory owner, supervisor, manager, and clerk. In addition, the middle class’s population grew since jobs including merchant, shopkeeper, and accountant allowed the working class to move into a higher social class. Eventually, the Industrial Revolution formed a whole new professional middle class, made up of engineers and scientists.
Before the Industrial Revolution, England’s only universities were Oxford and Cambridge, although the creation of new jobs resulted in education becoming vital. People eventually formed new libraries, schools, and universities because of this sudden need for education. Educational and political privileges, which once mostly belonged to the upper class, spread to the growing middle class. Also, people from the middle class educated their children, so that their social standing would be maintained.
The prices of goods lowered even more during the Industrial Revolution, so those who could not afford them took advantage of the newly affordable products, giving themselves a more comfortable life. The Industrial Revolution created a tremendous new wealth, allowing the upper class to collect fine art as well as build huge mansions, libraries, and museums. With the explosion of manufacturing and trade, the wealthy who owned businesses became even wealthier. In addition, people from the middle and upper classes enjoyed better diets and housing was sanitary, leading to few diseases and longer living.
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