Women and Children

During the time of the industrial revolution, the roles of women and their children changed dramatically, transforming them from stay at home mothers and wives to wage-earning workers. This was due to a number of factors, most notably the need to support the large families that were a result of the booming birth rates and a much higher life expectancy than ever before. As industrialisation set in and factories were being built all over the country, the possibilities of jobs in agriculture lessened, resulting in many young women flocking to towns and cities in search of work (www.bbc.co.uk/history, 2009).Many households, particularly those of widows, were dependent on the earnings being brought in by the women and children of the family. Both took on low-paid, monotonous work that most skilled men would not take on themselves. Children would often do the small but dangerous jobs such as “scavenging”, retrieving excess materials from moving machinery in cotton mills. Other jobs included work in coal mines, a very dangerous environment where there were no health and safety rules.They did the jobs no one else would, such as being “trappers”, which involved sitting in an often damp and cold space pulling the strings which opened the trap doors for which coal wagons could pass through, or “coal bearing”, which was carrying the baskets of coal through the mines on their backs (www.nettlesworth.durham.sch.uk). A lot of the time the work was so casual and low-profile that it was not even declared, with women regarding it as less important than their appearance as wives and mothers. Sometimes it was just because they wanted it to be kept a secret from their husband, or because their line of work was quite simply illegal, such as prostitution (www.bbc.co.uk/history, 2009). This is why the evidence of women’s work from censuses and wage books is not entirely accurate.With men generally employed in the more highly skilled areas of work such as shipbuilding, engineering and transport, the women were quite often left to the more domestic jobs that men felt were not suitable for them to do themselves. In 1851, the majority of the women worked as maids for wealthier, middle class families. This was often a difficult job due to the lack of freedom they had within their employers household, with interference in their personal lives and sometimes even sexual harassment, as well as being left to fend for themselves should they be dismissed as a result of pregnancy or sickness (Bartley, 1996, p. 53). A large number also worked in factories, doing a range of petty trade jobs from sewing hats and clothes to crafting pottery and metal.Some historians offer an optimistic approach to the womens’ work during this time. They thought that the emancipation of women was a good thing and led the way for plenty of opportunities for the future. Others argue that it was simply exploitation and that forcing women to do the lower paid, longer hours was lowering their already inferior position in society, not gaining them respect (Bartley, 1996, p. 47).In conclusion, both women and childen had to show incredible strength and work hard to support themselves as a result of industrialisation, dramatically changing their role in both their families and in society. I believe the change from house wife to working woman is something has influenced Britain in a positive way and has changed it for the better, not only liberating women but helping them set a positive example for their families.