Throughout the 19th century into the early 1900s, America lived out the transgression from the preindustrial domestic farm economy to the industrial one. Research has shown that women participated in goods production in no less degree than men. However, their role in national economic cycle was undermined due to the paternalistic social structure. In the run of technological revolution that started in America since 1820, farm women began to participate in cash flow at equal pace with men. However, women’s role in producing physical goods lessened.
There was also a shift in sales markets proportion in benefit of non-domestic manufacturing ones. Therefore, it is important to trace the shift in productive engagement, technological refinement and gender identification in relation to the women of mid- and northern America and, partly, Canada. Bearing these goals in mind, it makes sense to analyze the role that women played in farm economy of the 19th century, first; the changes that the mid-19th and 20th century brought into the rural communities in regard to women, second; to summarize those changes in technological, economic and gender aspects, third.
Up to the 1820s, as Dublin states, the American economy rested heavily on two pillars – agriculture and foreign trade (1979, p. 2). The former could boast nearly 75 percent of the national labor force (Dublin, 1979, p. 3). Farm economy units, being managed by families, concentrated in the Northeast and the West. There were several factors affecting the development or, better say, stultification of the national economy before the industrial revolution in the first decades of the 19th century – the weak market infrastructure, low level of technological innovations and high costs of long-distance land and water transportation.
So far as the gender factor in the early 19th century predominant economy is concerned, research has shown that women contributed to the goods production and farm economy supply in no lesser degree than men; however, their position was inferior to the men’s. All the researchers are careful in listing all the possible types of goods to have been produced by women. Dublin mentions natural food products (milk, eggs, butter, cheese as well as fruit and vegetables), maintenance supplies (soap, candles) and manufacturing goods (yarn and cloth).
According to Faragher (1991), mid-nineteenth century midwestern American women produced from one-third to one-half of all farm food (in Manton, 1999, p. 37). Manton also stresses that farm women were in charge for raising and caring for domestic animals either for home or for the market consumption. Jellison names “the farmhouse, vegetable garden, and poultry house” (1993, p. 1) as the most wide-spread production sites for the 19th century women. It is curious to categorize women’s assignments within the framework of farm economy. It is even more curious to analyze the wider trends of economy in regard to farm women.
In other words, since the discourse goes about economy, there are the aspects of “the level of technology, the organization of production, and management” (Dublin, 1979, p. 2) in regard to women’s farm labors. The aforesaid aspects took place under the laws of paternalism and gendered social system. Many researchers have observed the “male-provider female-domestic” assignment of gender and economic roles in the 19th century agricultural sector (Manton, 1999, p. 37). Despite the important role that women played in the production cycle, they were treated as inferior to men.
Faragher shows the difference between gendered assignments and organizational cycles in the following passage: […] neither the corn nor the grain was immediately consumable but required processing; the connection between production and consumption-the full cycle of work-was not embodied in a man’s own activity. The cyclical nature of farm woman’s work might allow her to see in a flowering field of blue flax the linen for next summer’s chemise. For men the fields would yield not usable, tangible articles – bread or hominy – but bushels; quantities not things. (Faragher, 1991, p. 131, qtd. in Manton, 1999, p. 38)