Nowadays, it is hard to believe that the rights and freedoms which people have used to be nothing resembling the reality even remotely in the recent past. However, before having obtained their rights comparatively not so long ago, women in the USA have had to go a long way to the independence from their employers and the recognition of their own freedoms.
Claiming that the response of the women working on the farms to the harsh conditions and the unbearable attitude from the employers has changed rapidly over several decades after women started gaining positions in the given sphere of employment, Thomas Dublin stresses that women in the United States finally started fighting for their rights and mad the while country recognize the fact that women working in the mills also had to have decent working conditions.
Despite the doubtless fact of the incredible change in the attitudes towards female workers, it must be admitted that at the very start of engaging women in the work on mills, the employees accepted the harsh and even brutal working conditions eagerly. The latter could be explained rather easily, since, according to Dublin, the rules on the mills were strict and even the slightest disobedience resulted in immediate dismissal (The Annenberg/CPB collection, n.d.).
It is worth mentioning, though, that women themselves first agreed to the moral restrictions which were imposed on every single one of them and followed them without a word of disconcert, which is a clear cut example of the model for women behavior in the given time period.
According to Dublin, the work on mills was supposed to be “a process in which young women are socializing their peers in which women are able to escape their families for a short period of time” (The Annenberg/CPB collection, n.d.), e.g., a kind of boarding school or college experience for women. What could be called as “corporate paternalism” (The Annenberg/CPB collection, n.d.) appeared to be the strictest set of rules for moral conduct.
Therefore, despite the expectations, young women obtained the same patronizing attitude as the one in their families. In addition, women followed these rules eagerly, which could be explained by the enthusiasm to work: “I was so invested in learning that I endured it very well” (The Annenberg/CPB collection, n.d.), one of the workers explained.
The given attitude towards rather cruel and extremely uncomfortable working conditions were caused not only by the prospects of learning certain skills and obtaining the rights and ability to work, but also from the poverty which seized New England then; as Bernstein (1991) states, “Dublin found that between 1830 and 1860, rural economic disasters predisposed young farm daughters to enter the mills” (221). Hence, it was the financial necessity that made women start working on mills.
However, according to Dublin, the working conditions started to become even harsher and the response did not keep the employer waiting. According to Dublin (1995), “The New England textile industry expanded dramatically between 1850 and 1900” (230).
Since more mills emerged and the productivity increased, the price of the cloth produced on the mills started decreasing rapidly, which meant more working hours and less payment per hour for the female employees in the mills; as Dublin explained, in 1830, female workers were to produce only 2 looms of cloth, while later on, the average amount of the produced material peaked to four looms (The Annenberg/CPB collection, n.d.).
Together with the same harsh working environment, low wages and the same sanctimonious morals which the employers still approved of, the above-mentioned facts triggered a logically negative response, which should have been anticipated.
Not only did women create their own associations, but also took even more decisive steps, like organizing strikes: “In February 1834, the women textile mill operatives of Lowell, Massachusetts ‘turned out’ (went on strike) when employers proposed a wage reduction” (Allan & DeLuzio, 2009, 67).
As a result of the inhumane treatment which they received in mills, women grouped in associations in the forties. As Dublin explained, “In the forties, a law of female labor reform association was formed with Sarah Bagley as its president. Under Bagley’s leadership, other female labor reform associations began to appear” (The Annenberg/CPB collection, n.d.).
Thus, it is obvious that the New England women did not respond to the harsh and cruel environment immediately, since the very fact of obtaining a working position meant solely a whole new world to the female population of the USA.
However, in a moment incredibly short from a historical point of view, women managed to gain practically the same freedoms and rights which men used to have on the given time slot; moreover, not only the recognition of women’s rights, but also the failure of the false morals which women had no longer to follow with after their breakthrough must be mentioned.
Indeed, it is clear that because of the change in the response to the unbearable working conditions and the creation of the unions which further on defended women’s rights in the sphere of employment, women in New England started being treated as human beings by their employers.
Allan, C. & DeLuzio, C. (2009). Women’s rights: People and perspectives. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
Bernstein, G. L. (1991). Recreating Japanese women, 1600-1945. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
The Annenberg/CPB collection (n.d.). American history I. The Annenberg/CPB collection, Annenberg, CA.