Conditions in the Factories: Women & Children

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Conditions in the Factories: Women & Children

The Industrial Revolution, in part, was fueled by the economic necessity of many women, both single and married, to find work outside of their homes. Typically, women found jobs in domestic services, textile factories, and piece workshops. They also worked in coal mines. For some, the Industrial Revolution provided independent wages, mobility and a better standard of living. For the majority, however, factory work in the early years of the 19th century resulted in a life of hardship.

Textile Workers in Wilson's Mill, Nottingham: (Source A)

Hannah Goode: "I work at Mr. Wilson's mill. I think the youngest child is about 7. I daresay there are 20 under 9 years. It is about half past five by our clock at home when we go in....We come out at seven by the mill. We never stop to take our meals, except at dinner.

William Crookes is over-looker in our room. He is cross-tempered sometimes. He does not beat me; he beats the little children if they do not do their work right....I have sometimes seen the little children drop asleep or so, but not lately. If they are catched asleep they get the strap. They are always very tired at night....I can read a little; I can't write. I used to go to school before I went to the mill; I have since I am sixteen."

Mrs. Smith: "I have three children working in Wilson's mill; one 11, one 13, and the other 14. They work regular hours there. We don't complain. If they go to drop the hours, I don't know what poor people will do. We have hard work to live as it is. ...My husband is of the same mind about it...last summer my husband was 6 weeks ill; we pledged almost all our things to live; the things are not all out of pawn yet. ...We complain of nothing but short wages...My children have been in the mill three years. I have no complaint to make of their being beaten...I would rather they were beaten than fined."

[Source; Factory Inquiry Commission, Great Britain, Parliamentary Papers, 1833. Found in Hellerstein, Hume & Offen, Victorian Women: A Documentary Accounts of Women's Lives in Nineteenth-Century England, France and the United States, Stanford University Press]

The Coal Mines: (Source B)

Women and children at first worked alongside men in the coal mines, although there were differences in jobs they did. Before 1842, there were no protection laws, nor limits for the age of child labor.

Testimonies from South Wales Mines

Six year old girl:

"I have been down six weeks and make 10 to 14 rakes a day; I carry a full 56 lbs. of coal in a wooden bucket. I work with sister Jesse and mother. It is dark the time we go."

Jane Peacock Watson:

"I have wrought in the bowels of the earth 33 years. I have been married 23 years and had nine children, six are alive and three died of typhus a few years since. Have had two dead born. Horse-work ruins the women; it crushes their haunches, bends their ankles and makes them old women at 40. "

Maria Gooder:

"I hurry for a man with my sister Anne who is going 18. He is good to us. I don't like being in the pit. I am tired and afraid. I go at 4:30 after having porridge for breakfast. I start hurrying at 5. We have dinner at noon. We have dry bread and nothing else. There is water in the pit but we don't sup it. "

Mary and Rachell Enock, ages 11 and 12 years:

"We are door-keepers in the four foot level. We leave the house before six each morning and are in the level until seven o'clock and sometimes later. We get 2p a day and our light costs us 2 1/2 p. a week. Rachel was in a day school and she can read a little. She was run over by a tram a while ago and was home ill a long time, but she has got over it."

Isabel Wilson, 38 years old:

"I have been married 19 years and have had 10 bairns [children]:...My last child was born on Saturday morning, and I was at work on the Friday night... None of the children read, as the work is no regular. When I go below my lassie 10 years of age keeps house..."

Children in Mills: (Sources C, D, and E)

Source C:

An extract from the Memoir of Robert Blincoe; Blincoe was an apprentice from the age of seven.

This describes his first day of work:

“They reached the mill at about half-past-five in the morning. The moment he entered the doors the naois appalled him and the smell seemed unbearable. His first task was to pick up the loose cotton that fell upon the floor. He set to it eagerly although he was much terrified by the noise of the machinery and half-suffocated with dust. Unused to the smell, he soon felt sick by constant bending. He therefore sat down but soon found out this was strictly forbidden. His overseer used his whip to prove this point. He stayed on his legs until twelve o’clock. Blincoe suffered greatly with thirst and hunger.”

Source D:

Elizabeth Bentley was questioned by Parliament. She started work at the age of six.

“Q: Explain what you had to do.

A: When the frames were full, they have to stop the frame, and take the flyers off, and take the full bobbins off, and carry them to the roller, and then put the empty ones on.

Q: Suppose you slowed down a little, what would they do?

A: Strap us. The girls had black marks on their skin many a times, and their parents dare not come in about it, they were afraid of losing their work.

Q: What part of the mill did you work?

A. In the card-room. It was very dusty. The dust got upon my lungs, I got so bad in health. When I pulled the baskets all heaped up the basket pulled my shoulder out of its place and my ribs have grown over it. I am now deformed.”

Source E:

Mr. John Moss, an overseer, was questioned by Parliament.

“Q: Were any children employed at the factory?

A: There were 111. All apprentices from London between the ages of seven and eleven.

Q: What were the hours of work?

A: From five o’clock in the morning until eight at night.

Q: What time was allowed for meals?

A: Half an hour for breakfast and half an hour for dinner.

Q: Would the children sit or stand?

A: Stand.

Q: Were they usually tired at night?

A: Yes, some of them were very tired. I have frequently found some asleep on the factory floor.

Q: Were any children injured by machines?

A: Very frequently. Very often their fingers were crushed and one had his arm broken.”

Conditions in the Factories: Women & Children

Questions for Source A:

1. According to the reading, what do you believe would happen to younger children when the family was away at work?

2. How was work done at home different from work done in the factory?

Questions for Source B:

1. What do you think coal was used for in this period? How crucial was it to the Industrial Revolution?

2. Generally, how many hours did these women and children work each day?

3. What health problems were generated by mine labor?

Questions for Sources C, D, E and F:

1. After reading sources C, D, E and F, what were conditions like for children working in Nineteenth Century factories? Support your answer using specific examples!

Child Labor Today: Ali’s Story


Ali lives in Souf Camp. It is one of six emergency camps built in Jordan since 1948 for Palestinian refugees. Through the years, over 1.8 million people have arrived in the camps.

Hard at Work:

Every day, Ali works at a falafel restaurant. He fries chickpea patties, makes sandwiches, and cleans up. He works 8 hours a day during the school year and 12 hours a day during his summer break. While Ali works, he can see his friends laughing as they kick a soccer ball on the dusty streets. He wants to join them, but cannot. Ali knows that he must work to help his family make ends meet, because severe back and eyesight problems prevent his father from working. For Ali, working long hours every day means more than having less time to play and be a teenager. Working has also been dangerous—two years ago Ali nearly lost his hand when he dozed off while grinding chickpeas. Luckily, he was rushed to the hospital and his hand was saved.

A Dim Future:

The situation of the 17,000 people living in Souf is difficult. Job opportunities are limited, and most refugees take temporary jobs at neighboring farms—picking olives and working the land. For the 3,400 teenagers in the camp, there are few places to meet and socialize. Their prospects of getting a good job when they become adults are bleak. Boys and girls rarely mix, and many girls marry before they turn 18.

A World of Young Workers:

Ali is one of the more than 40,000 working children between 7 and 18 years old who live in Jordan. Worldwide, an estimated 246 million children are engaged in child labor. Nearly 70 percent of these children work in hazardous conditions, including working in mines, working with chemicals and pesticides in agriculture, and working with dangerous machinery. Although working children are everywhere, they mostly remain invisible—toiling as domestic servants in homes, working behind the walls of workshops, and hidden from view in factories. Some 73 million of them are less than 10 years old.

Answer the following question:

Based on Ali’s story & your readings about child labor during the Industrial Revolution, how is child labor today comparable to child labor during the 19th century? Have conditions in child labor improved? If you could change one thing about child labor today, what would it be? (5-7 sentences)



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