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The first half of the 19th century brought many changes, with new opportunities for employment, modern ideas of work, and fluctuating economic cycles. It was a period when women’s roles changed greatly. The Industrial Revolution reinvented the role of women not only at home but also as wage earners.

Pre-Industrial Period and Women’s Worth

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, production was centred in the households. A vast majority of families lived in farms. The dynamic at that time was that every family member worked to produce goods to survive. Men and women had a relatively equal status under such context. On one side, men were the heads of households; while on the other side, women’s work as caretakers and in obtaining food and clothing made them equally as important.  Once the first stages of industrialization arose, the patterns changed.

Beginning of the Industrial Revolution period

Men begun working more outside the house, and the whole synergy in the typical household changed from selling the goods that they produced at home to workers selling their time to business owners. With this change, it was men who dominated the realm of work. Men earned the money to provide for the families. The value of a person’s worth was suddenly measured with how much money one could make and what they could buy with it.

On the contrary, women were not paid for work at home. The role of women took a complete turn, transforming into making sure home was a safe haven for men who faced all the pressures in the workplace. At the same time, it was also the women who were morally responsible for raising respectable children in a morally pure environment – and all of this without being paid.

Farming after the Industrial Revolution Period

With time, factory work grew. The people who stayed in agriculture had to completely alter their focus and make radical changes in their approach to livestock or cash crops that would be sold to national markets. Smaller farmers were devastated. The combination of failed crops and large families with little cash income were a deterrent to family stability. It is now believed that some of these factors drove many women to urban areas in search of factory opportunities. This meant that there would also be one mouth less to feed and a possibility of helping the family with cash wages.

The Beginning of Industrialization for Women as Wage Earners

The cotton mill industry opened the first doors for some women as wage earners. Nevertheless, the previous status quo resulted in the wages, working conditions and levels of control imposed on women to be less than desirable when compared to male workers. It also worked to confine others to a more narrowly defined role within the house. The Industrial Revolution saw thousands of women enter the workplace alongside men – but it was far from emancipatory. Women’s diminished visibility as wage earners during the early Industrial Revolution set a precedent, and it has endured in relevance ever since then.