The Industrial Revolution in part was fueled by the economic necessity of many women, single and married, to find waged work outside their home. Women mostly found jobs in domestic service, textile factories, and piece work shops. They also worked in the coal mines. For some, the Industrial Revolution provided independent wages, mobility and a better standard of living. For the majority, however, factory work in the early years of the 19th century resulted in a life of hardship.
The following selections are testimonies from England and Wales collected by Parliamentary commissions who began to investigate the industrial employment of women and children in the early 1840s. Inspectors visited mills, mines and shops taking evidence from workers to see ways in which the Industrial Revolution affected women and families. The sources, along with illustrations and a workforce chart, reveal the following points:
Working conditions were often unsanitary and the work dangerous.
Education suffered because of the demands of work.
Home life suffered as women were faced with the double burden of factory work followed by domestic chores and child care.
Men assumed supervisory roles over women and received higher wages.
Unsupervised young women away from home generated societal fears over their fate.
As a result of the need for wages in the growing cash economy, families became dependent on the wages of women and children
There was some worker opposition to proposals that child and female labor should be abolished from certain jobs.