Industrial and Social Revolutions

In light of America’s Industrial Revolution beginning in the 1800’s, the country was exhibiting features of social reform in schools, the workplace, and traditional society. The allowance of white, middle- class women to attend college along with the development of social science prompted a dynamic shift orchestrated by women who wanted revised laws in favor of fair treatment for women and children. And yet, despite the rise of opportunities for women, the issue of unfair wage work persisted. In addition, it was considered the norm for men to act as the wage earners and not the homemakers which contributed to the gender constructs that still exist to this day.

One of the most prominent figures during this time was a woman named Florence Kelley who consistently created goals throughout her life to utilize her college education and social status for the advancement of women, particularly those in the work force. After forming and being a member of many feminist groups, coalitions and campaigns, Kelley was appointed by the Governor of Illinois to the position of Chief Factory Inspector to work directly with the new statute she had created for anti-sweatshop legislation.

Florence Kelley pictured as the Secretary of the National Commerce League

At this time, it was still assumed that women relied solely on men for financial and familial support, even if the women were employed, due to their low wages. In the late 1880’s more than 85 percent of female wage earners were between the ages of fourteen and twenty-five and only about 5 percent were married (Sklar, 354.) 

Because of this, Kelley argued that women should receive minimum wage in order to support themselves, which she proclaimed through the statement, “So long as women’s wages rest upon the assumption that every woman has a husband, father, brother, or lover contributing to her support, so long these sinister incidents of women’s industrial employment are inevitable” (Sklar, 358.)

This “industrial feminism” (Orleck, 373,) a term coined by scholar Mildred Moore in 1915 used to describe the spirit of working women’s cause for economic freedom and equality, also presented difficulties within relationships between men and women; particularly within marriage.

A magazine article written by Crystal Eastman described the issue of gender constructs during the 1920’s. Eastman recounted:

It must be womanly as well as manly to earn your own living, to stand on your own feet. And it must be manly as well as womanly to know how to cook and sew and clean and take care of yourself in the ordinary exigencies of life.

She continued to explain that while women were allowed to work they are also expected to retain the role of the homemaker while their husbands live under the delusion that they are supporting their families despite their lack of participation with the workload on the home-front.

Eastman challenges the idea that the present nature of man deprived women of economic independence and instead burdened them with “motherhood endowment” (Eastman, 382.) This refers to the expectation of women to have and raise children while taking care of the home and simultaneously to balance her work life; and yet they are not granted adequate economic reward. Because of this, she insists that birth control and family planning are just as essential to the movement as equal pay.

This idea still exists in our present decade as women often experience the decision to attempt to balance home life with work life or chose between them. Women also face discrimination by employers who consider their potential for pregnancy to become an issue for the company in the future. Though many may try to refute this, the realities of corporate blockades against career women persist in subtle ways disguised as concern for mothers and their families. While in reality, companies who judge applicants on the ground of their potential for maternity leave violate civil rights that are in place to protect women and minorities.

In conclusion, the labor movements and industrial revolution had significant impact on feminism and the movements to come by setting the foundation for women to recognize their worth as human beings and equals in a patriarchal world. As well as this, the urge for traditional masculine and feminine roles to be renounced is becoming more prominent due to the revolutionary impacts that industrial feminists provided.  During these times of social reform many brave women came together with support of their male allies who allowed their voices to reach those in power and presented conceptions that we continue to benefit from to this day.



Sklar, Kathryn K. Florence Kelley and Women’s Activism in the Progressive Era. Women’s America, 2016.

Ellis, William S. Mrs. Florence Kelley. Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911; Scrapbook 8; page 25. Accessed February 2018.

Orleck, Annelise. From the Russian Pale to Labor Organizing in New York City. Common Sense and a Little Fire: Women and Working- Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965, 1995.

Eastman, Crystal. Now We Can Begin. The Liberator, 1920.

21 thoughts on “Industrial and Social Revolutions

  1. Florence Kelley is a very influential figure no doubt about it. When you say that women had to relay solely on the men for financial stability back then that’s all they had and i agree with you 100% like women hardly had jobs back then so no doubt had to relay on men. I think that women somewhat have to relay on men a little bit today not as much as back then but equal pay is still not where it should be which is wring but women’s rights are coming around in that and how it gets accomplished soon.

    1. I felt the same way in reading this post, it must have been so exhausting to have to rely on another person like that back then, especially if they were incompetent. I could not imagine having a full-time job and returning home only to have to do all the housework, cooking, and taking care of children and a husband, thankfully there have been improvements in this and I am excited to see what the future holds for women.

      1. I agree with this. Having to rely on another person is also not good for your own well-being. Being able to accomplish things on your own and make your own hard earned cash is good for a persons self-esteem, and just good for their health. In this day in age, there are women now who are the bread winners of the household and the men stay home and help with taking care of things. Times have changed since then and will continue to do so!

  2. Yes, I agree the industrial revolution was a great start for women to be able to portray that they are more than capable to sustain jobs and compete with males. It’s great to see today that people are being equally compensated in the work force for the efforts they provide to companies.

    1. It’s crazy to think how much more effort it took for women to prove their capability. To even begin the journey of pursuing a higher education, the women had to decide to go down that path already knowing full well that they probably wouldn’t get the job their skills would eventually qualify them to do. Florence Kelley had to go all the way to Europe to go to graduate school, and even then she wasn’t shown the proper respect after returning home. They not only had to fight for their wages and hours, but even basic respects and opportunities. These women were definitely persistent and determined!

  3. I love the points made about how now it is considered an inconvenience or a burden on a company for women to be hired pregnant or become pregnant while working for said company. Back then, when the country was still new and even when people were still moving and populating out west, that’s how women communicated their importance because they leveled and said that they are the creators of future patriots of the country. But now that our country is so full and populated, using that same argument could very easily be seen as a bad thing and even prompt people to discriminate against pregnant women. Without the foundation these women laid down then, it seems very likely that people would be pushing harder against pregnancy leave and things of the like.

    1. That’s a very interesting point you brought up! It reminds me of the population control law established by China in which they instated “family planning” which limited each family to have only one child. This was intended for population control but ultimately was a violation of the people’s rights, particularly women’s, for not allowing them freedom over their futures. This goes back to our blog posts where women were limited by those in charge of what they could or could not control.

    2. I was thinking the same thing! It’s crazy to think that Florence Kelley went the extra mile in the Bunting v. Oregon case to help men in nonhazardous occupations to receive the same constitutional hour laws that women fought so hard for in the Muller v. Oregon case. But it seems like the same logic that assisted the female struggle for labor equality then is being used against that same movement now.

    3. Believe it or not companies actually consider pregnancies as a preexisting condition. I worked at a company who refused to cover birth control and in the same breath made it hard to take maternity leave. I think that women should continue to fight for these rights because we are the ones who birth the new generations. Not saying that we should protest and stop having children; however, we should demand that considerations be made when we do decide to get pregnant.

  4. Florence Kelley was a very influential woman. She worked very hard to stop the sweat shops and to get the 8 hour work day. It’s hard to think even think about the world as we know it if we didn’t have women around like Florence Kelley. Very good read!

    1. Thank you! If it weren’t for women like Florence Kelley, it’s hard to know if work conditions would have ever improved. Beyond limiting the length of the work day, she also ensured that the safety of the workers was prioritized along with demanding fair wages so that women could support themselves without having to rely on men. She is definitely an idol of mine!

  5. I love the passion in this post and I also liked that you included the quote about how earning a living should be womanly and manly as well as cooking, sewing, and taking care of yourself. The conditions for working women have vastly improved, but I do agree with you in saying that women still face the issue of having a work and family life and often have to choose between the two. Sadly, many people still see a woman’s role is being a homemaker or taking care of everything around the house. I am glad that we have seen vast improvements, but there is still more work to be done.

    1. I couldn’t agree more with you! Somehow I didn’t realize that even back nearly a century ago, those traditional gender roles were being challenged by women who knew they were worth more than how they were treated. Thankfully now society is coming to realize that those roles are outdated and we’re beginning to see a real shift in the sharing of responsibilities between partners in marriage. I can’t wait for the day when I never have to hear another “women belong in the kitchen” joke ever again!

      1. I also found this blog powerful in how you pointed out that women were striving to push gender roles. I also like to reflect back on woman’s risk tasking because without them where would we be without those powerful movements today? I also get irritated with woman jokes because I know men who are less than half of what a real women is.

      2. I’m with you on the “women belong in the kitchen” joke, it is interesting how social struggles in the past become gross popular jokes. Is it a reflection on the mindset of people today, although laws change, do people change? I also wonder what the end goal is for gender roles. I think society is shifting in a way, like you said, that responsibilities are being shared. Do we need to destroy the entire idea of a gender role? I see society going this way, it’s revolutionary, becoming more about the individual as they define themselves. I’m thankful for the people who saw the change that needed to happen. No one wants to fill a “role” that they didn’t ask for.

  6. Florence Kelley in my mind is such an influential women. For her to stand up for the women is so big, but she kept going and was appointed by the Governor of Illinois to the position of Chief Factory Inspector. For a women to get a position like this at this time blows my mind. She even looked at statistics to try to get people to realize that this wasn’t right for single women to be paid like this.

  7. I admire the way you linked this week’s reading to today. It’s true, unfortunately some of the issues feminists were fighting for nearly a century ago are still issues today. Also, I was thrilled to read about the history of the US’s minimum wage in the textbook; people are still debating about lowering, stabilizing or raising it, similar to Florence Kelley’s original advocation of its creation and growth over time. I think if more people knew of its origins, the general opinion of minimum wage and its perpetual increase would be more favorable and progressive overall.

  8. The ideals of this time, that they assumed basically every woman had a male in her life to help support her is not only sexist but it is unrealistic. While many women married, and typically much younger than today, there still had to be a good percentage of women who were either unmarried, or widowed, with no other male relatives to support them. Even if they had other men in their life, making them dependent on a man for financial support was just another way to exercise control. If woman had no money of their own they would be forced to be dependent on men and abide by their rules. If women could support themselves they would no longer “need” men. By demanding minimum wage for all female workers so many more doors would be open to proclaim their independence.

  9. When reading about this time I always thought the men had it hard, but I quickly realized that that wasn’t exactly the truth. Yeah women needed some help to support the family from men, but they were doing a lot behind the scenes. Women had to do everything for the family and on top of that women would also have another job for little pay just to make things a tiny bit better for the family. I believe that that is there motherly side coming out because mothers will go through anything just to ensure there family is okay.

  10. Great post Elise! This is reminding me of my biology class I took last semester. We had a discussion post on human population growth and how in some countries birth rates are declining due to woman getting their education and dream jobs before children. I think that leaders like Eastman who thought family planning was important to woman, had a tremendous effect on the woman who are holding off on children during this time in age. Women are now taking advantage of these options such as birth control and family planning. It is a shame that some people don’t believe we should have these rights and are the same ones who decline maternity leaves.

  11. In today’s society, there still exists toxic gender norms. This is very much evident in modern-day gender conversations. As we study the past, we learn that those who identified as men would often work outside of the home so that they could help their families survive. Those who identified as women sometimes did not have a place in the workplace; this is due to the privilege that white men held in our society. In addition, those who identified as women would tend to the home and take care of the home, as well as taking care of the people within it. Some common tasks associated with the woman of the house would include cleaning and cooking, and taking care of the children. As time went on, gender norms have relaxed a bit, but some people are still set in those ways of “men do this” and “women do that”. However, it is important to acknowledge that the strict two-gender binary system is a white colonialist sentiment. There is a lot more than man and woman that needs to be brought into the gender conversation. The gender spectrum is not and should not be restricted to a binary system, and suggesting that gender is only “man” and “woman” invalidates and erases genders from other cultures. That includes the cultures that already existed in America before they were colonized. As someone who is nonbinary and Native American, I think it is always important to address this.

    Even when women could work, as you said, it is clear that there was a big assumption that men would continue to be the breadwinners overall since women still did not earn enough money. Men made way more money compared to women, and Florence Kelley fought against these assumptions. Women deserved minimum wage, and she was going to let the whole world know. I think the term “industrial feminism” is a very important one because it begins to break the barrier of gender “norms”. It starts highlighting the importance of gender equality and that march towards economic freedom for women especially. This created issues in intimate relationships, but it was necessary overall to overcome these societal limitations.

    I liked your inclusion of Eastman’s excerpt on the issue of gender constructs. While I agree of some of what she says from a gender equality standpoint, there are some things I find myself disagreeing with. For example, I completely agree that women, men, and nonbinary people have the right to earn their own living and that is not explicitly manly. You can stand on your own feet no matter your gender. You can cook, sew, clean, and partake in methods of self-care whether you are a man, a woman, or a nonbinary person. I know she did not include nonbinary folks, but since that is also a gender that is often ignored in the gender conversation, I’m mentioning it because it’s a part of gender equality.

    However, once Eastman starts to say that women would also be expected to retain the role of homemaker, that’s when I begin to disagree. This is because it feels rather contradictory and even hypocritical to say that everyone has these rights but only those who identify as women are expected to fulfill an additional role based on prior strict gender roles that have been forced on them. In order for that message to be effective, all workers of the home need to work together and find balance in their life by making money outside of the home and taking care of the home. It should not belong to one person, but become a team effort.

    I definitely see how this idea of Eastman’s still exists in modern society because it’s an argument I constantly see, even though it’s sad it’s even an argument in the first place. I heavily agree with one of the points you made, such as the discrimination against pregnant people in the workplace by their employers. Especially in America, those who can become pregnant face the potential of losing their jobs because it can be seen as becoming an issue for the workplace.

    Overall, I agree with you that labor movements and the industrial revolution had a significant impact on feminism, as it allowed us to evolve into the society we are today. We are still slowly climbing that mountain to overthrow binarism (the effects of colonialism and the enforcement of the white gender binary on non-white cultures that previously didn’t have it) and throw out gender roles and it will all be worth it in the end.

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