Women In The Industrial Revolution

Stearns, Peter N.; Adas, Michael;Schwartz, Stuart B.
Date: 1992

Document: Women In The Industrial Revolution

The West's Industrial Revolution changed the situation of women in many
ways. Some of the changes have occurred more recently in other civilizations,
others were particularly characteristic of the 19th-century West.
Industrialization cut into women's traditional work and protest roles (for
example, in spearheading bread riots as attention shifted to work-based
strikes), but it tended to expand educational opportunities. Some new work
roles and protest outlets, including feminism, developed by 1914. Important
changes occurred in the home as well. New ideas and standards at once elevated
women's position and set up more demanding tasks. Relations among women were
also affected by the growing use of domestic servants (the most common urban
job for working-class women) and new attitudes by middle- and lower-class
women alike. The first document that follows sketches the idealization of
middle-class women; it comes from an American moral tract of 1837, anonymously
authored, probably by a man. The second document, written by a woman in an
English woman's magazine, shows new household standards of another sort, with
a critical tone also common in middle-class literature. Finally, a British
housewife discusses her servant problems, reflecting yet another facet of
women's lives. How could women decide what their domestic roles were and
whether they brought satisfaction or not?

Women As Civilizers (1837)

As a sister, she soothes the troubled heart, chastens and tempers the
wild daring of the hurt mind restless with disappointed pride or fired with
ambition. As a mistress, she inspires the nobler sentiment of purer love, and
the sober purpose of conquering himself for virtue's sake. As a wife, she
consoles him in grief, animates him with hope in despair, restrains him in
prosperity, cheers him in poverty and trouble, swells the pulsations of his
throbbing breast that beats for honorable distinction, and rewards his toils
with the undivided homage of a grateful heart. In the important and endearing
character of mother, she watches and directs the various impulses of unfledged
genius, instills into the tender and susceptible mind the quickening seeds of
virtue, fits us to brave dangers in time of peril, and consecrates to truth
and virtue the best affections of our nature.

Motherhood As Power And Burden (1877)

Every woman who has charge of a household should have a practical
knowledge of nursing, simple doctoring and physicianing. The professional
doctor must be called in for real illness. But the Home Doctor may do so much
to render professional visits very few and far between. And her knowledge will
be of infinite value when it is necessary to carry out the doctor's orders....

The Mother Builder

It is a curious fact that architects who design and builders who carry
out their plans must have a training for this work. But the Mother Builder is
supposed to have to know by instinct how to put in each tiny brick which
builds up the "human." The result of leaving it to "instinct" is that the
child starts out with bad foundations and a jerry-built constitution. . . .

When one considers that one child in every three born dies before the age
of five years, it is evident how wide-spread must be the ignorance as to the
feeding and care of these little ones. It is a matter of surprise to those who
understand the constitution and needs of infants that, considering the
conditions under which the large number of them are reared, the mortality is
not greater. . . .

The Risks Babies Run

To begin with, the popular superstition that a young baby must be
"hungry" because it lives on milk, and is on this plea the recipient of scraps
and bits of vegetables, potato and gravy, crusts, and other heterogeneous
articles of diet, has much to answer for. Then, the artistic sense of the
mother which leads her to display mottled necks, dimpled arms, and chubby
legs, instead of warmly covering these charming portions of baby's anatomy,
goes hugely to swell the death-rate. Mistakes in feeding and covering have
much to answer for in the high mortality of infants.

The Servant "Problem" (1860)

So we lost Mary, and Peggy reigned in her stead for some six weeks. ...

But Peggy differed greatly from her predecessor, Mary. She was not clean
in her person, and my mother declared that her presence was not desirable
within a few feet. Moreover she had no notion of putting things in their
places, but always left all her working materials in the apartment where they
were last used. It was not therefore pleasant, when one wanted a sweeping
brush, to have to sit down and think which room Peggy had swept the last, and
so on with all the paraphernalia for dusting and scrubbing. But this was not
the worst. My mother, accustomed to receive almost reverential respect from
her old servants, could not endure poor Peggy's familiar ways. . . .

Now, though I am quite willing to acknowledge the mutual obligation which
exists between the employer and employed, I do not agree with my charwoman
that she is the only person who ought to be considered as conferring a favor.
I desire to treat her with all kindness, showing every possible regard to her
comfort, and I expect from her no more work than I would cheerfully and easily
perform in the same time. But when I scrupulously perform my part of the
bargain, both as regards food and wages, not to mention much thought and care
in order to make things easy for her and which were not in the agreement at
all, I think she ought not only to keep faith with me if possible, but to
abstain from hinting at the obligation she confers in coming.

It is not pleasant, as my mother says, to beg and pray for the help for
which we also pay liberally. But it is worse for my kitchen helper to be
continually reminding me that she need not go out unless she likes, and that
it was only to oblige me she ever came at all. I do not relish this utter
ignoring of her wages, etc., or her being quite deaf because I choose to offer
a suggestion as to the propriety of dusting out the corners, or when I mildly
hint that I should prefer her doing something in my way. . . .

But if I were to detail all my experiences, I should never have done. I
have had many good and willing workers; but few on whose punctuality and
regularity I could rely.


 

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