Since the dawn of time women have been working. They were the nurturers, the caretakers, the silent executives in a world of men. Early in the history of America, women have been the co-proprietors of the home taking care of the cooking, the cleaning, and the childrearing. Women who worked outside the home did it to the husbands and the family. The husbands were considered head of the household and therefore had the final decision concerning the work the wives did. Several factors caused the roles of women to change.
Single women, immigrant women, and mothers who wanted to provide a greater financial support to the household changed the history of gender roles. As the history of working women developed this paper will address the concept of the household economy, the importance of women to early industry and which concept-pre-industrial system or capitalist system-gave women a greater advantage. Women would contribute to the household by taking care of the home. The husbands would go outside the home to work and depending on the type of work it would keep the husband away for days or months.
To help with the financial side of the home, the wives would travel to open markets selling perishable goods such as milk and eggs. The men usually sold wheat, beef and pig skins. When money was low the women would barter and exchange goods for the home. This establishes the first system of a credit network (Kulikoff, 2000). If anything happed to the husband then the wife became the sole bread winner for the family. Certain changes made an impact on women history such as the cotton industry, tobacco industry and the rise of rice planters.
The increase in slave labor put more pressure on the plantation wives. She was in change in managing the estates. The plantation wife was responsible for providing slaves with food, clothing, and shelter. She was also required to provide the spiritual well-being of the slave (Clinton and Lunardini, 2000). If extra money was needed, the women would take work into their home such as sewing and cooking. Certainly, the needs of the family came first, but as the family grew so did the need to go outside the home for additional income.
Working outside the home was first seen with white, single women, then immigrants and then later in the 19th century married women with families begging to work outside the home. Women around the Civil War time were encouraged to join the labor force to earn money for them or to augment their income before they married (Clinton and Lunardini, 2000). Women made important contributions to businesses in early America. The pre-dawn of the industrial revolution gave women options and women were attracted to the labor force.
Most women saw this as a way to contribute financially to their household. These women also saw this as an opportunity to expand their education. Other women joined the workforce to challenge conventional wisdom of women’s roles (Clinton and Lunardini, 2000). The factory system contributed to women giving them options to their traditional roles. Men were engaged in waged laboring and women started to flock to factories. According to Clinton and Lunardini (2000), Francis Lowell recruited girls off of New England farms for his factories.
Thus women helped jump start the textile industry. In 1831, 70 percent of mill workers were women, despite the increase of males coming into the country. Women were 25 percent of the workforce just before the Civil War started. Mill workers in 1850 were the leaders of the textile industry. Women usually worked in mills for almost two years, but in 1860 women stayed in the mills for almost four years. The poor and the immigrant were attached to the factories once they got married or had children.