Gender, Industrial Work and Protection

Beatrice Moring, University of Helsinki

By the late 19th century the industrial sector had expanded considerably in Europe, the US and elsewhere. Certain sectors like textiles and food product manufacture also employed large numbers of women. The situation in early 19th century factories had caught the attention of social reformers and by the second half of the century numerous countries had started to introduce protective legislation, restricting the working hours of children. Factory inspectors were also employed to oversee the regulations and look into conditions. Despite the fact that the group most prone to fatal accidents were men, the early regulations tended to restrict the work of women as well as children. The reasons for such an approach were linked to a general patriarchal attitude both within conservative political circles and male unions, the monitoring of women as actual and potential mothers and the fear of female competition in the job market. The special position of women and their need of protection were enhanced not only through special regulation but also through the employment of female factory inspectors to oversee female work conditions. Contrary to expectations some of these women did not only attend to their duties but extended their range of activities. We also find examples of the female inspectors collaborating with female workers in efforts to prevent special factory regulations for women only. The aim of this presentation is to analyse the role of men and women in late 19th century factory work in a comparative perspective using information from various European countries and the US. The study will document the presence of males and females, job sector orientation, regulations and accident prevalence. It will also highlight female activity aiming to prevent restrictions on female work. The main sources are statistics of industrial work, accident statistics, workplace regulations and reports of factory inspectors.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 159. Gender: Work in Progress