Women in Industry Heading



Industrial Revolution (1800-1880)

Domestic service was a major occupation for all lower class women throughout the 19th century.  In the early 19th century, women in their late teens and early twenties from New England farms often went to live with neighboring families as domestic “helpers” in order to take the burden of their support away from their families. 

Working as domestic servants allowed young women to earn money for doing the same chores they had always done at home: childcare, cooking, and housework. Many of them sent money home or saved money for their own school fees and marriage dowries.(6)  

Domestic service was also a major occupation of African American women in the South.  In addition to agricultural labor, female slaves had often been servants in plantation owners’ homes, and this practice continued as a very poorly-paid occupation for freedwomen after emancipation.(7)  

cooks and chambermaids florida 1860s NYPL
Cooks and chambermaids in Florida, 1860's

domestic servants
Domestic Workers

Hat Factory Workers
Hat Factory Workers

Glass Factory Workers
Glass Factory Workers

While domestic service remained the only available occupation for black women workers in the South besides agriculture, young northern and Midwestern women increasingly went to work in textile and garment mills. 

Factory owners sought women employees because they could pay them much less than men.
(8) Most employers assumed that men needed the income to support their families while women used their income to create a dowry if they were unmarried or to supplement their husband’s income if the were married and therefore, women did not need as much pay as men.

Women performed the unskilled jobs of spinning and weaving that were, like home labor weaving and shoemaking, extensions of their traditional work in the home economy.

Like domestic service, mill work offered young women an opportunity to be self-sufficient.  The workers lived together in boardinghouses, away from their family homes, and were able to save money for their own personal use.
(10)   In the 1840s and 1850s, an influx of Irish and German immigrant women in need of work entered domestic service and the textile mills, and fewer native-born women worked in those occupations toward the end of the 19th century. (11)  



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Image 1 from Canada's Digital Collection , Image 2 from the New York Public Library/Schomburg Center for Research, Image 3 from the Indiana Magazine of History, Image 4 from the BBC


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