How were the lives of different classes of British women affected by the Industrial Revolution?

The Industrial Revolution in England was a potent factor that reshaped family relations, gender equation and position of women in society. Frederick Engels, writing in the late 19th century, thought that the Industrial Revolution increased women’s participation in labour outside the home and claimed that this change was emancipating. However, the story was not the same for all classes of women. The changes affected different classes of women in different ways. For some, the Industrial Revolution guaranteed mobility and independence but for most, it brought forth a life of hardship.

Poor women working in the factories suffered immensely.  Women had to work in the filthiest atmosphere for extremely long durations. For such hard labour, they were paid a meagre sum of money, usually much lesser than what was being paid to their male counterparts. Apart from the hard toil in the factories, women also had the responsibility of their households; raising the family and taking care of the household were the responsibilities of the women.

Condition of the women working in the mines was the worst. Females submitted to work in places where no man or even a lad could be got to labor in. Women worked up to their knees in water in passages eighteen inches high or less. They carried hundreds of pounds of coal in baskets suspended from their foreheads or pulled carts of coal.

Many poor women also took up the job of housemaids. There too, they had to work for more than 16 hours, and there was no job security. If they fell ill or were pregnant, they were immediately dismissed.

In contrast to this, the middle or rich class women enjoyed most benefits that the Industrial Revolution had to offer. The best and finest of goods were available to them. Maids were available for conducting the household chores. The development in the means of transport made their lives more comfortable. References also state that few women stepped out of their houses and began to work as typists and secretaries under the government, thus establishing their individual identity.

  • 1
What are you looking for?