The beginning of the 19th century saw the onset of industrialization in America. This presented an opportunity for the development of mill towns and industrialized cities implying that there was an opportunity for the men and women to participate in paid labor offered by the factories. The beginning of women labor during the 1820’s marked a significant part in the history of the United States; because working and providing for the family was basically the responsibility of men during the times. The women task was to look after the homes through domestic labor; they were subject to the authority of men. The women’s involvement in non-domestic labor marked an important aspect of the American Revolution. The women roles during 1820- 1830 in the United States underwent a great transformation from the domestic set up to the non domestic labor that first earned the women salaries and wages to make them economically independent. Contrary to the traditional American setting, the onset of the women labor in the 1820’s was major advancement in the women roles in the American Revolution. The women’s participation in non-domestic work presented a shift in the gender roles of the traditional America. It was during the 1820’s that saw a larger proportion of women getting involved in factory labor in the same capacity as their male counterparts.
The first working women
With the emergence of manufacturing industries, many young and single women from the rural America during the early 19th century particularly from 1820-1830, left their families and went to work in the factories. Women’s participation in the non-domestic paid labor was primarily centered in the manufacturing factories such as cotton and pulp mills. The availability of cheap labor from the women during the beginning of industrialization in the United States facilitated the expansion of the manufacturing industries. Majority of the young women in the US were ready and willing to work in the factories while the men preferred to work on the farms. These represented the first generation of working women in America who received income outside their homes from doing non domestic labor. The primary reason that led to these women working in the factories was that they were seeking economic independence despite the work being viewed as dominated by their male counterparts and being a risky affair.
Majority of the women factory workers of the 1820s were mainly involved in jobs such as paper processing, factory cleaning and packing services. Other areas that involved women participation included seasonal jobs on the factory farms and forest plantations that were owned by the pulp mills. By the end of the 1820s, the proportion of women in the factories labor force was almost 50 % with majority being employed in the pulp mills and cotton mills. Most of the women who were working in the mills were young in age; ranging from 18 to 20 years with most of them being unmarried. In 1826, 20 percent of the workforces in Jamansoski pulp mill were women. This indicated that women were preferred in provision of labor that did not require a lot of technical expertise such as in the machinery domain. Women were also employed on the office whereby worked as secretaries and office messengers.
Through women’s participation in paying labor, the gender roles of the women were shifted from the traditional way of life of a woman; getting married, looking after children and housekeeping to the working woman, who had the same financial ability and independence as the men. When the women returned to their homes during visitations, they were able to show the attestation to their earning power. This marked some form of independence among the women. The shifting in the roles of the women presented an independence from the bondage of the societal norms that they were not supposed to earn money. The rural women probably had no deeper understanding and the significance of money and the contentment it would offer them. Their working at the factories resulted to savings and bank deposit accounts. The women who went to work at the mills were primarily after gaining financial independence. Initially before the establishment of the factories during the industrial era, majority of women depended on their husbands for financial support because it was not their role to earn money or participate in any activity that involved paying labor. Working in the factories meant that they were at least entitled to wages which would result to their economic independence; contrary to the traditional women who completely relied on their husbands and parents for financial support.
Women labor was preferred by the factory owners compared to men labor because it was readily available and cheap; because women were being paid a lesser amount compared to what their male counterparts in the same domain would be paid for. As a result of this, there was exploitation of the women in the factories in terms of poor working conditions and small amount of wages which were as a low as $1. From the letters the women at Lowell wrote back home, one female worker named Mary Paul quotes she was being paid 1$ and eighty cents for a whole months work, with long working hours and poorly conditioned boarding houses. Despite these hardships, the women viewed their participation in paid labor as liberating through the earning of their own money and living on their own. One of the benefits that accompanied most of the women who worked at the factories is that they gained freedom; this was ultimately the best of all reasons for working at the factories. This made the women pride themselves in the work and their nation which offered best motivation for the women working in the mills.
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