1 Burnley, James. The Story of British Trade and Industry.
The chief manufacturing industries of the colonies for many years were those carried on in the home, and women had comparatively little place in outside industries. A few were employed in shops, some in taverns, some in business enterprises, but the majority of those who had not a home of their own went out to service, and thus were employed in the industries of another household. The attitude of the early New England colonists towards women and children was very severe. They were not permitted to be idle, if they were poor, but were forced by public opinion and by law to do something for a livelihood. Children were bound out as apprentices. This meant to girls about the same thing as being bound out to household service, since the trades they learned were spinning and weaving and other household industries. The United States was much slower than England in developing power machinery. There was a long period during which spinning and weaving had in part gone out of the home, yet the later factory system had not come. In the cities societies "for the Promotion of Industry" were organized under private or public management. From these centers work in spinning was given out to women at home or at the manufactory. In some establishments many looms were operated; in others the yarn was sold for home weaving or to other factories. Thus, employment might be given to a whole community, or to the almshouses, and the poor kept busy. This was the first step in the great movement of women from the home to the factory. Small children from eight years up were employed in these establishments, and it was considered an excellent thing that children could thus be kept from idleness.
With the development of power machines and great factories for spinning and weaving, and later for garment making and the food industries, it was natural that women should follow the industry from the home and take their place in the mills.
The conditions under which women worked in the early days of power machinery were little better than they are today, for the commercial spirit developed early; but the attitude of women toward the conditions was very different, and the class of workers was different. Many women were in industry temporarily, to earn money to go to college or to earn spending money. The great rush of modern competition had not begun, and the factory town with all its squalor and ugliness had not developed. The century which has passed since has added these and has given a different face to the problem.
Factories grew much faster than laws for their regulation. The increase of child labor was so great that the results were soon visible in stunted adults; and yet long hours and night work for children, preventing proper physical and mental development and instilling in the minds of the children low morals, have been allowed for more than a hundred years by so-called highly civilized nations.
Crowded factories, with unprotected machinery, have meant death or the maiming for life of many thousands of men, women, and children. Bad sanitary conditions cause not only physical harm, but often moral degeneration.
Rapid immigration into America has helped to produce a system of manufacture which has been called a disgrace to the nation. The press of competition led men to employ these newly arrived immigrants at the lowest wages, herd them together in cheap workrooms, and work them long hours. As competition increased, it was found that money could be saved by letting these people take the work to their own homes, if homes they might be called. In the dark, foul rooms of the tenements, the sick and those too young to go to the factory might work at starvation wages, sometimes infecting the garments they were making with the germs of terrible diseases. Meanwhile the purse of the manufacturer grew fatter and fatter. Thus the sweat shop system grew and increased, and thus it still exists.
One might write on and on, of conditions around factories, of the hovels in towns and villages where workmen and their families are huddled together in filth, without a tree or a blade of grass, with not even fit water to drink, and with the very air they breathe made poisonous by the gases of hundreds of chimneys. Low wages, fire traps in which to work, no schools because the children must work long hours, all these things grind down the lives of men, women, and children who are the producers of the world.
Not only among producers have these bad conditions existed, but among distributers as well. It was the condition of women in the shops which first aroused the united action of women in New York City. There again, long hours, low wages, bad sanitary conditions, no provision for chance rest during working hours, no rest rooms, no decent places for lunch, inhumane treatment from employers, and the employment of child labor were the most striking evils.
That all of the conditions mentioned exist today in factory and in shop, in one place or another, is a well recognized fact, but the fact that they have been improved in many cases is also recognized. The first legislation in this country to regulate labor in factories was an act passed in Massachusetts in 1842 prohibiting the employment of children under twelve years of age for more than ten hours a day. In 1848 Pennsylvania passed a law forbidding children under twelve to work in cotton, woolen, silk, and flax industries; in 1849 this was made to include bagging and paper industries, and the age limit was raised to thirteen years.