Women and Children during the Industrial Revolution

Women and Children during the Industrial Revolution

Life for Women and Children during the Industrial Revolution was quite different to the way they can live today. This page looks at some of the things that women and children were expected to do during the industrial revolution and provides source material to show what people thought of this at the time.

Children during the Industrial Revolution.

At the start of the Industrial Revolution there was little legislation about working conditions in mills, factories or or the industrial plants. As factories spread rapidly the owners of mills, mines and other forms of industry needed large numbers of workers. They didn’t want to have to pay them a high wage. Children were the ideal employees. They were cheap, weren’t big enough or educated enough to argue or complain and were small enough to fit between tight fitting machinery. Children soon ended up working in all types of industry.

You may wonder why these children were not at school. This is simply because education in the early 19th century was not compulsory. Many schools were expensive to send a child to, so working class families couldn’t afford to send children there. Parents were quite willing to let children work in mills and factories as it provided the family with a higher income. One consequence of this was a high birth rate.

While education had progressed much of it was similar to the school system outlined here.

Nowadays lots of children have Saturday jobs or part time work after school. These jobs are carefully controlled and the government has made laws saying how long children can work for. It regulates the types of job they can and cannot do and what the minimum age for working is. Consider the evidence below to see how modern conditions compare with the working conditions of the early 19th century.

There was no restriction on the age of workers, nor on the number of hours that they could work. This led to children as young as 8 or 9 being required to work 12 or more hours a day.

Example: Felling Colliery Disaster

The records of the Felling Colliery disaster show that many of the victims of the explosion were children. Look at the chart below:

Colliery Disaster
Oldest Youngest
Hewer 34 35 65 20
Putter 28 17 23 10
5 12 14 10
Trapper 14 14 30 8*

* Several children are recorded simply as being ‘a boy’. These children are not accounted for on the above table. The chart does not account for all types of employee at the colliery.

3. Alexander Gray, a pump boy aged 10 years old. Reported in 1842 Royal Commision into working conditions, said: “I pump out the water in the under bottom of the pit to keep the coal face dry. I am obliged to pump fast or the water would cover me. I had to run away a few weeks ago as the water came up so fast that I could not pump at all. The water frequently covers my legs. I have been two years at the pump. I am paid 10d (old pence) a day. No holiday but the Sabbath (Sunday). I go down at three, sometimes five in the morning, and come up at six or seven at night.

Women during the Industrial Revolution

Women faced different demands during the industrial age to those that they face today. Women of the working classes would usually be expected to go out to work, often in the mills or mines. As with the children and men the hours were long and conditions were hard. Some examples of work specifically done by Women can be found amongst the links at the foot of this page.

Woman miner. A dangerous job for women during the Industrial Revolution

Those who were fortunate may have become maids for wealthier families, others may have worked as governesses for rich children. The less fortunate may have been forced to work in shocking conditions during the day and then have to return home to conduct the households domestic needs (Washing, Cookng and looking after children etc.) Remember that housing for many of these people was quite poor.

Women also faced the added burden of societies demand for children. The industrial age led to a rapid increase in birth rates which clearly has an impact upon the physical strength of the mothers. It was not uncommon for families to have more than 10 children as a result of this demand: and the woman would often have to work right up to and straight after the day of the childs birth for finanical reasons, leaving the care of the new born child to older relatives.

Links to sites offering greater detail on aspects of this topic.

This section of the fabulous Spartacus Encyclopedia looks at the History of Women’s Emancipation (Freedom). Plenty of pages within this extensive unit covering a variety of aspects of life in the period 1750-1920.

A Report into the conditions faced by women miners in 1812.

The Matchgirls Strike. This page looks at the conditions faced by women working in the Match factory and shows how action was taken by a number of people to try and force reform on behalf of these women.

An evaluation of the life of Women of the lower classes during the Industrial Revolution. this site also details the type of work done by middle classed and wealthier women at the time.

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Working ConditionsDisease in the Industrial RevolutionChartists and the Peoples Charter
LudditesSwing RiotsRebecca Riots
Protests, Riots and Conspiracies of the Industrial Age
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