Women's Work in the 19th Century

The 19th century was the changing point in terms of the history of women, particularly in the workplace. This was the first time that women sought outside work and left the home to find employment and left all the work at home to be divided up amongst the family. There were changes in attitudes regarding marriage, education, politics, and a variety of other factors that made this possible. However while some women worked outside the home, a large number of women still stayed at home.

A large number of women worked as domestic servants, a job that required them to use the same skills they did in the home. For example, they raised children, cooked meals and did cleaning around the house. Factories were also opening up at this time, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, which made it possible for women to work on the assembly lines.

Work and Labor offers information on the types of jobs women had throughout history and information on the formation of labor unions for these groups. An in depth analysis of the type of work done by women during the 19th century is discussed at The Plight of Women’s Work in the Early Industrial Revolution.

Female Frontiers offers a basic and easy to understand guide on women’s work, while When Women Were Knights discusses the first labor unions open to women. There’s also Women in the Workplace, which discusses the jobs they held, Women Working, which has an emphasis on the 19th century, and Women in Union History which provides information on the roles of labor unions.

More comprehensive resources on women’s work in the 19th century include:

Women’s Roles in the Late 19th Century discusses the idea of women leaving the home to seek outside employment and 19th Century America shows different issues affecting women at that time. A few other good resources include Marriage in the 19th Century which shows how deeply ideas were changing, Women in the 19th Century which examines the different roles women held, and Working Women’s History Project which examines the changing roles of women.