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Industrial Revolution


History >> Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was a major turning point in history and changed the way of life for everyone. One major change was a shift in the roles of women. For the first time, a large number of women began to work jobs outside of the home. This newfound independence gave rise to other changes including the women's rights movement.
Mill Girls. Pacific Mills. Lawrence, Mass
Women Mill Workers
(1910) by Lewis Wickes Hine

Lowell Mill Girls

One of the first factories in the United States to begin hiring women was the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. By the 1840s, around seventy-five percent of the workforce at Lowell mills were women. These women became known as "Mill Girls" or "Lowell Girls."

Getting Away from the Farm

Most of the "Mill Girls" were the daughters of farmers in the northeast. They took the opportunity to get away from the farm and make some money of their own. Sometimes girls took the jobs to help out their family or to save money for a future family.

The women lived in large boarding houses with hundreds of other women. There were lots of rules that the girls had to live by. They typically shared a room with several other women, had to attend church on Sundays, and no men were allowed in the boarding houses.

Lower Wages and Poor Working Conditions

One reason that the factory owners liked to hire women was because they could pay them less. At the time, women made around half of what men made for doing the same job. It may sound strange now, but back then people thought that men should make more money because they provided for the family, while the money women made was considered "extra" money.

Spinner in a Cotton Mill
A Young Girl Working
by Lewis Wickes Hine
Working conditions in the factories were not great. The women worked long hours from early morning to late at night. They often worked over 70 hours a week. The factory rooms were crowed and very loud. Although the women did much of the work, the supervisors were generally all men.

Civil War

The Civil War took place during the latter part of the Industrial Revolution. With so many men gone to war or killed in battle, new jobs were opened up to women and even more women entered the work force.

Other Jobs

Besides working in textile factories, women began to work all sorts of jobs including jobs as teachers, office clerks, nurses, and seamstresses.

Women's Rights Movement

As women began to work together in large groups, they gained a sense of community. They joined the labor movement to improve working conditions and fought for the abolition of slavery. They also began to fight for women's rights. Leaders such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed groups to push for women's right to vote during the Industrial Revolution. It took a long time and a lot of work, but women finally gained the right to vote when the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920.

Interesting Facts about Women During the Industrial Revolution Activities

More on the Industrial Revolution:

How it Began in the United States

Alexander Graham Bell
Andrew Carnegie
Thomas Edison
Henry Ford
Robert Fulton
John D. Rockefeller
Eli Whitney
Inventions and Technology
Steam Engine
Factory System
Erie Canal

Labor Unions
Working Conditions
Child Labor
Breaker Boys, Matchgirls, and Newsies
Women During the Industrial Revolution

Works Cited

History >> Industrial Revolution

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