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Industrial Revolution and Women’s Emancipation


The place of women during the early industrial revolution is considered less significant in socio-economic spheres. Most women stayed home, tending their gardens and catering for their children. In the early 19th century, a woman had no power to vote, own property, or make contracts. Women were mainly servants to their husbands. The start of the 1930s saw women taking important economic, political, and social contributions. Women enrolled on education programs championed gender inclusivity, among other human rights, fought for political reforms alongside men, and commenced seeking employment. The industrial revolution simultaneously acted as an enabler and a barrier to women’s emancipation. Doug Steward’s “Proud to be a Mill Girl,’ demonstrates the gradual emancipation of women in the mills. The Lowell Mills girls took advantage of the industrial revolution opportunities to achieve significant socio-economic milestones through education, savings, and political awareness.

Historical Debate

Lowell milling girls provide a perfect example of women’s emancipation during the early industrial revolution. Opponents of women’s parity in the early industrialization era cite the farmer’s women, whose main task was catering to their families as men educated themselves and made political decisions. However, the case of the cotton mill girls paints a unique picture of the era. Doug exposes readers to an independent woman who is thirsty for gainful employment. Doug Davy Crocket that the women were “all well dressed, lively, and genteel in their appearance.” … “The girls looked like they were coming from a quilting frolic” (Doug, 2012). The image painted by the writer is no longer that of the farmers’ wives, daughters, or the suffering women of the London mills but of more independent and proactive women who will risk anything for their economic freedom. In ‘The Offering,” the girls are seen living in modest company houses, well dressed, and unmarried. In ‘The Offering,” they were urban sophisticated who could no longer fit in the farmer’s villages. Similarly, the image presented by Duog is no longer the farmer’s wives who solely depended on their husbands and were less independent in society.

The industrial women were thirsty for education. The typical farmers’ wives spent their entire day caring for their families and cleaning their homes; however, the factory women were thirsty to conquer the man’s world. The theme of education resonates with an article on factory women. Doug described how the women allocated their time to education, invited dignitaries, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Edgar Allan Poe, attended lectures to such professors as A. P. Peabody and invited many political guest speakers. The mill girls thronged seminaries or colleges to expand their knowledge (Duog, 2012). The reflections in “The Offering” demonstrate the education milestones the women were making in society. Harriet’s memoirs and poems illustrate the effects of emancipated women. ‘The Offering” itself became the voice of the women, where they raised their concerns, documented their achievements, and contributed politically. In “The Offering” and “Proud to be a Mill Girl,” education is an important transformation tool. Through education, women such as Harriet became strong abolitionists.

Political achievements among women are an important indicator of emancipation and empowerment. The farmers’ wives played no political roles nor participated in the voting. This was the typical early industrialization period for women. However, their daughters were thirsty for transformative agenda. After suffering in the England mills, the girls in Lowell spiritedly protected their rights. “The Offering” document strikes that resulted from low pay and pay cuts and those bored out oppressive leadership. The strikes were unheard of in the London mills, demonstrating emancipation among women in Lowell. Doug notes how often women engaged political figures, including President Andrew Jackson, among other industries. Sarah Bagley edited Voice of the Industry, voiced their political concerns, and many emissary graduates engaged in abolitionist campaigns. The emancipated farmers’ daughters wrote rich political memoirs in “The Offering,” both within the workplace and others addressing America. The works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Edgar Allan Poe motivated women writers while others vocally championed reforms in the cities. The effect of activism among women became well illustrated when they started thronging political podiums and finally being given a chance to vote.

Economic freedom is an important theme during the industrial revolution. While comparing the girls in England and Lowell, Duog quoted two girls, “ “I have earned enough to school me awhile,” wrote one mill girl in Clinton, Massachusetts, to a cousin in 1851, “ have not I a right to do so, or must I go home, like a dutiful girl, place the money in father’s hands, & then there goes all my hard earnings” (Duog, 2012). Unlike the Northern factory girls, the Lowell girls were learning the concept of saving for personal growth. In “The Offering,” they document their lives by partying, entertaining themselves, and buying good clothes. Economic freedom allowed women to pursue their interests. Economic freedom also led to the realization of social transformation. In “The Offering,” the women document the memoir after the mills when they move to the cities and marry businessmen, politicians, and other men who are not farmers. According to Duog, the women considered life on the farms old-fashioned for their needs. In essence, the factory women championed the urban lives of women.


The common conception is that men brought about the industrial revolution. Consequently, there is a strong belief that men elevated the position of women. However, “Proud to be a Mill Girl’ and “The Offering” paint a unique picture of women fighting for their space in the world. The early industrial revolution emancipation efforts strongly resonate with the current struggle for equality. Women are still fighting for equal representation in politics and at jobs. Finally, to solve a national challenge, the reading demonstrates the importance of personal growth through education and economic empowerment, then lobbying campaigns with like-minded groups. Transformative agendas always emanate from the constant push for new dimensions through social, economic, and political tools.


Doug, S. (2012).Proud to be a mill girl. Volume 62 Issue 1

“The Lowell Offering” (1840). Boson Courier ((Boston, MA, United States).


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