2.2 Women’s Roles in mechanized industry

The Industrial Revolution impacted different social classes of women in numerous ways.  Throughout this time period, the working class citizens were most significantly impacted.  Many women who did not belong to wealthy families would often be forced to enter the workforce just to provide enough for their families to survive. 1 Gender was a major influence on worker salaries, and industrious Women tended to receive between one-third to one-half of a man’s average salary.  As the manufacturing industries began to grow, they would take advantage of these low salaries, and the employment of women and children for little pay proved to be very beneficial to these companies.  Many industries exploited the need for money, as they would turn a major profit in exchange for very cheap labor.  Tasks such as printing, spinning, and other duties commonly learned at home were easy jobs to learn and were some of the most profitable.  The formation of larger-scale production systems thrived with these conditions and were revolutionized throughout this time period.2

T Allom i n History of the cotton manufacture in Great Britain by Sir Edward Baines,A Roberts loom in a weaving shed in 1835. Note the wrought iron shafting, fixed to the cast iron columns
T Allom, History of the cotton manufacture in Great Britain by Sir Edward Baines, – A Roberts loom in a weaving shed in 1835. Note the wrought iron shafting, fixed to the cast-iron columns

Working-class Women worked during the Industrial Revolution with lower wages than men, and they often started working as children. Women during this time also had to be the caretaker of the house, so they might have worked all day and night to keep up their daily routine. Not only did the women suffer physically because of the strain of their workday, but they would often be abused by their employers. The middle working class did not have the same standard of working conditions we have today. They had 11-hour days, worked in a dangerous environment with dust covering them from head to toe without masks or safety equipment; the quality of food offered to them was poor and almost inedible, children under the age of 16 were working in these environments; some starting as young as 6 years old, and breaking rules or being late was met with harsh punishment. This is only one example of how the women in the working class lived and worked in the factories.3

Women who worked in the coal mines were often placed in positions called trapping, hurrying, filling, riddling, tipping, and getting coal; these positions were some of the same that men would hold and were very difficult on the body. In some cases, women would work in the pits with men who were often naked or close to being naked, which often gave way for sexual assault within the workplace. Women that had to work in the coal mines worked in harsh conditions and did a lot of hard labor for little pay but were considered equal to the men in the coal mines because they were working the same tasks as them.4 The working class in the Industrial Revolution had many hardships they had to go through including poor workplace, hours, and punishments. These conditions are the reason that we have the labor laws that are currently active today.

Edited by Jennifer Lorraine Fraser from the source: http://foundations.uwgb.org/

Hester Bateman – Jennifer Lorraine Fraser

Hester Bateman Teapot 1779-1780 – In the Collection of Harvard Art Museums

Hester Bateman was a working-class woman who ended up becoming a well-respected silversmith. She inherited her husband’s business in the 1760s, and with 6 children relying on her, she proceeded to create well sought-after products due to innovations in goldsmithing and manufacturing. She was able to register her goldsmithing mark, which was not typically allowed for women. According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, “The key to Bateman’s success was the integration of modern technology with classical design, which attracted a solid middle-class market. Using cost-efficient manufacturing processes, the workshop produced domestic items—coffee pots, tea urns, cruets, teapots, salvers, goblets, salts, sugar tongs, and flatware, Bateman’s specialty.”[1] They also received commissions from city guilds, private homes, and public institutions like the church. “She was one of the first silversmiths to use steam to power machinery which enabled her to use thinner silver for her work and this, in turn, meant that her items were less expensive and thus accessible to many more people.  Using easily worked sheet silver, the Bateman workshop decorated items with simple yet elegant patterns, such as a thin, precise line of beading or bright-cut engraving.”[2] Two of Bateman’s sons and 1 daughter-in-law also joined her in the business, and it was in business into the 19th century. Bateman’s business was at the forefront of the industrial revolution. [3]

For further research, you can read an ebook about her life here: Hester Bateman Queen of the Silversmith https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015043547994 



1. Wiesner, Mary E., Andrew D. Evans, William Bruce Wheeler, and Julius R. Ruff. Discovering the Western Past. Vol. II. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2015.

2. Berg, Maxine Dr. “Women’s Work and the Industrial Revolution.” ReFresh, no.12 (1991): 1-4

3. Hellerstien, Hume and Offen, “Victorian Women: A Documentary Accounts of Women’s Lives in Nineteenth-Century England, France and United States.” Internet Women in World History, Accessed 29 March 2016, http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/seamstress.html

4. “Women Miners in English Coal Pitts,” 1842. Internet Modern History Sourcebook, Paul Halsall, ed., 29 March 2016, http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1842womenminers.asp.


Edited and new works by Jennifer Lorraine Fraser

Top of page: Edited from: Foundations of Western Culture II, Spring 2016 by foundations.uwgb.org is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Urban Case Studies

Choose to read one Case Study from the two articles below: 

Case Study 2:


Compartment Couture: New York City Department Stores 1850-1930



  1. https://nmwa.org/art/artists/hester-bateman/
  2. https://www.ascasonline.org/ARTICOLOAGOS197.html
  3. https://www.nts.org.uk/stories/hester-bateman-british-silversmith-and-entrepreneur


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Origins of Contemporary Art, Design, and Interiors Copyright © by Jennifer Lorraine Fraser is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book