. 10
( 14)


trades, on the other hand, had little economic power and were most
likely to turn to violence since it was the most effective method available
to them. Agricultural laborers, for instance, rarely bothered to attempt a
strike, but sometimes turned directly to violence to win their demands,
as during the Swing riots.119 The main weakness of using violence to
obtain higher wages was that the effects were not likely to be long-
lasting. Unskilled trades, although sometimes able to win concessions in
a strike, bene¬ted little because these concessions disappeared soon after
the strike was over.
Overall, skilled workers were in a stronger position than unskilled
workers. They could hold out longer in the event of a strike, and
employers found it dif¬cult to ¬nd substitutes. While violence could be
used to replace market power, in general the skill of the occupation was a

BPP 1824 (51) V, p. 525. 118 Ibid., p. 13.
See E. J. Hobsbawm and George Rud, Captain Swing (London: Lawrence and
Wishart, 1969).
254 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

deciding factor in determining whether the union could exclude women.
The importance of skill is best seen in the fact that unions lost their
power when their occupations were deskilled due to technological
change. An example is the house-painters. The Painters-Stainers™
Company was strong until 1749, when it ceased to have control over the
trade. The cause of this change in fortunes was that “new methods of
mixing paint had eliminated much of the skill.”120 Once skill was no
longer needed, the company ceased to have power because workers were
easily replaced. Thus, the skill required for the work was an important
determinant of whether a union could successfully obtain its demands.

A. Unions among low-skilled workers
The importance of skill for union success can be seen by observing
examples of different trades. This section will examine a number of low-
skilled occupations and show that attempts at unionization were not
successful here. The next section will examine unions in skilled occu-
pations, which had a very different experience.
In Industrial Revolution Britain, low-skilled workers did not organize
to exclude women workers because they were not able to. These workers
were not able to form effective unions. Indeed, low-skilled occupations
are notable for their lack of collectivization. The Webbs noted that “it is
not among the farm servants, miners, or general laborers, ill-paid and ill-
treated as these often were, that the early Trade Unions arose.”121
Unskilled workers, when they did combine, had little success in gaining
their demands, and when they did win, the gains were short-lived. Since
they lacked power, unskilled workers generally failed to exclude women
from their trades. Men in these occupations had to compete with women
workers in the open market.

1. Handloom weavers
Handloom weaving was not a skilled trade.122 While the amount of skill
necessary varied with the type of cloth, in general handloom weaving was
easily learned. Frances Collier noted that the trade was easily learned
and easily entered: “If a man had a room and could rent a loom, or had
40s. with which to buy one, he could become a weaver; and because of
the facility with which newcomers acquired the necessary skill to weave

Dobson, Masters and Journeymen, p. 51.
Webb and Webb, The History of Trade Unionism, p. 37.
Bythell, The Handloom Weavers, p. 270, claimed that “The Hammonds were never
more misleading than when they consigned their account of the weavers™ political and
industrial agitations to a volume entitled The Skilled Laborer.”
Barriers to women™s employment 255

the staple cloths, people who came to the cotton centers drifted into an
occupation in which it was easy to eke out a living.”123 The Irish entered
weaving in large numbers because it was so easy to learn. The parlia-
mentary investigator Richard Muggeridge noted in 1840, “I have had
abundant testimony, as well as direct personal proof, that a young
person of either sex . . . will, with a few weeks™ practice, acquire the
requisite skill, to weave an ordinary cotton fabric.”124 While he noted
that certain types of cloth required skill, Mr. Symons found that skill was
less important than strength in weaving: “The requisite strength I always
found a more powerful ingredient in the value of wages than that of
skill.”125 Parliamentary investigator H. S. Chapman concluded that the
excess supply of weavers was due to the “great facility of acquiring the
art of weaving.”126
Handloom weavers were not successful in using collective action to
maintain their wages. They only rarely went on strike. Bythell relates the
lack of collective action to the poverty of the workers, which prevented
them from amassing strike funds, and to the fact that they “could do little
to inconvenience their masters by withholding their labor.”127 The
employers had no factories to stand idle, so their ¬xed costs were low, and
strikes were not very costly to them. The weavers were not uni¬ed, and
the strikers had to steal shuttles in order to prevent others from continuing
to work.128 Weavers™ unions were not able to enforce strikes, and there
were many strike-breakers. An 1816 report to the Home Of¬ce stated that
the Lancashire cotton weavers “have never been able for any considerable
length of time and in any considerable numbers to turn out (or strike) from
their employ, so as materially thereby to affect the interest of their
masters.”129 With workers unable to support themselves while on strike
and employers who suffered little, it is no wonder that handloom weavers
were not able to maintain their wages by collective action.
The history of collective action among handloom weavers is one of
failure. Handloom weavers held a number of strikes, but these produced
temporary successes at best. Any wage increase that might be granted
after a long strike was removed within a few months. In 1782 Manchester
weavers tried to enforce the seven-year apprenticeship (which was still
required by law), but they failed.130 In 1812 a strike of Scottish weavers

Collier, The Family Economy of the Working Classes, p. 6.
BPP 1840 (220) XXIV, p. 601. 125 Ibid., p. 616.
BPP 1840 (43) XXIII, p. 582. 127 Bythell, The Handloom Weavers, p. 17.
“In the year 1808, at the general turn-out of the weavers, a number of families were
brought into distress by having their shuttles, &c. took from them.” Aspinall, The Early
English Trade Unions, p. 215.
Ibid., p. 214. 130 Bythell, The Handloom Weavers, p. 52.
256 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

was a complete failure; some of the leaders were arrested and the strike
ended without any wage gain at all.131 Lancashire weavers struck in
1808 and 1818. The weavers were able to draw on the funds of friendly
societies to support themselves, which helped their efforts.132 These
strikers obtained some wage gains, but the gains were only temporary.
The level of wages was determined by the state of the trade. The gains of
the 1808 strike persisted because the trade recovery of 1809“10 bol-
stered the demand for weaving.133 The gains of the 1818 strike, how-
ever, disappeared immediately as the trade entered a depression.134
Strikes had no more than a slight, temporary effect on weavers™ wages.
In 1819 a strike of Leeds weavers was “entirely unsuccessful.”135 In
Lanark, a union of weavers was successful and “a table of prices was
agreed to by the manufacturers, dated December 2, 1833. This table was
adhered to for some time, but, eventually, some of the weavers took lower
wages.”136 Parliamentary investigator J. Symons found that, in Ireland,
“Combinations of hand loom weavers have had the effect of raising their
wages hitherto only for a very limited time, and to a small extent, in
comparison with the in¬‚uence of combinations in other trades.”137
The linen weavers of Knaresborough found that, although they could
get their wages increased by a strike, this increase only lasted for a few
months, so that collective action had almost no effect on the downward
trend of their wages. In 1815 the weavers went on strike to resist wage
reductions. The strike lasted thirteen months and was successful. In only
a few months, however, the masters implemented a reduction of wages,
and the weavers, having exhausted their resources, found that “we were
under the necessity of submitting to it.”138 The same thing happened in
1816. The weavers went on strike to resist another reduction in wages
and were successful, but “again in a very short time, probably two
months after, they reduced us 1s. more; they saw our helpless situation
and took advantage and reduced us.”139 A later strike, in 1823, lasted
twenty-eight weeks and failed completely.
Anthony Austin, in his parliamentary report on handloom weavers,
discusses strikes only brie¬‚y:
Combinations and strikes have not been frequent in this district [Somerset,
Wiltshire, Devon, and Dorset], nor has their effect been very important on the
state of trade. The weavers have rarely gained their object; but, on the contrary,
have spent the little money which they had previously saved. The following

Ibid., pp. 196“7. 132 Ibid., p. 182. 133 Ibid., p. 191.
Ibid., p. 196. See also E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New
York: Vintage Books, 1966), p. 279.
Cole, Attempts at General Union, p. 48. 136 BPP 1839 (159) XLII, p. 27.
Ibid., p. 65. 138 BPP 1824 (51) V, p. 540. 139 Ibid., p. 541.
Barriers to women™s employment 257

quotations from the evidence of different manufacturers are not out of place
here: “ . . . “Eight, nine, or ten years ago the manufacturers proposed to lower
the wages; the weavers struck, and combined together to support each other, and
then were obliged to come in on worse terms than those originally proposed.”
. . . In another manufacturing town, viz., Bradford, it is stated that “there has
been no combination which has affected that state or condition of the weavers.”
Again, “The combination which was made against us two or three years ago has
in no way affected the trade.”
The only instance of successful combination which has come under my ob-
servation has been noticed in my Report, when mentioning that state of the serge
trade at Cullompton.140
In his four-county territory, Austin could ¬nd only one example of a
successful union of weavers, and that one was no longer operative at the
time of the report, having collapsed in 1825.141 His conclusion seems
warranted: unions of handloom weavers were not successful.
The weakness of the unions seems to have made a difference for
women™s opportunities. Anthony Austin, while concluding that weavers™
unions are unsuccessful, notes one exception: Cullompton. As long as
the union maintained its strength, “it was forbidden to any female of
their families to learn the art of weaving” and Cullompton women did
not weave.142 When the union lost its strength, in about 1825, women
began to weave alongside the men.
The result of the general weakness of weavers™ unions was that male
workers could not prevent anyone from entering the trade. In 1840
parliamentary investigator H. S. Chapman noted that “whilst all, or
nearly all, other trades have regulations to protect themselves from an
undue increase of numbers from external causes, handloom weaving has
been open to all comers.”143 In particular, women were able to enter the
weaving trade. When hand-spinning employment disappeared, women
moved rapidly into handloom weaving. By 1840, nearly half of the
weavers for some types of cloth were women (see Table 1.3).

2. Framework knitters
Framework knitting was not a skilled trade, and its workers did not
successfully combine. The stocking frame was not dif¬cult to learn, and
“A youth of ten or twelve soon learns to work it.”144 The workers were
¬rst incorporated into a company of framework knitters in 1657. The
guild, however, was weak and often could not enforce its rules on
apprentices.145 Felkin tells us, “The trade still labored under the

BPP 1840 (43) XXIII, p. 459. 141 Ibid., p. 410. 142 Ibid., p. 410.
Ibid., p. 581. 144 Felkin, A History of the Machine-Wrought Hosiery, p. 49.
Ibid., pp. 63, 73.
258 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

constant in¬‚ux of too many apprenticed boys and girls and non-freed
workmen. This led in 1776“7 to the formation in the midland counties of
a Stockingmakers™ Association for Mutual Protection.”146 The guild
could not enforce its limits on employment because the trade was simply
too easily learned.
Later we ¬nd that the framework knitters had little success in their
strikes for wages. Numerous strikes were unable to prevent the fall of
wages over the ¬rst half of the nineteenth century. In 1813 the Leicester
framework knitters went on strike for higher wages. They were unsuc-
cessful, and were prosecuted under the Combination Acts.147 The
Nottingham knitters went on strike in 1814 and were able to support
themselves only because of contributions from sympathizers. When two
leaders were convicted under the Combination Acts, the union collapsed
and the strike ended in failure.148 The year 1819 saw a massive strike of
framework knitters, supported by a sympathetic public. The Leicester
knitters obtained a wage increase that lasted a few years. Framework
knitters in Derby did not win their strike.149 The Nottingham workers
won a wage gain, but the gain was partial and temporary. The Ham-
monds note that, while the employers agreed to a wage increase:
Unfortunately, however, there was no method of compelling all masters to adhere
to this; in Nottingham sixty-seven agreed to the prices, twenty-three refused.
Funds in Nottingham were getting low, and the men had to go back to work, even
at the houses who refused to give the statement prices. The other employers kept
to the statement for six or eight months, and then wages fell as low as ever.150

The same pattern was seen in the strikes of 1821 and 1824: the workers
went on strike for higher wages, the masters agreed and paid the higher
wages for a few months, but soon wages fell again.151 The framework
knitters™ attempts to raise their wages by collective action, though
admirable attempts at cooperation, were futile.
Little wonder, then, that the framework knitters have gone down in
history for their attempts to gain their demands through violence. In one
of England™s famous episodes of Luddism, the knitters of Nottingham
turned to frame-breaking in 1811“12. The knitting frames of employers
paying too low a price were targeted and destroyed. The use of violence
is an indication that the workers did not have suf¬cient economic
strength to gain their demands through peaceful means. Frame-breaking
seems to have occurred when more peaceful means proved unfruitful, as

Ibid., p. 115. 147 BPP 1824 (51) V, p. 262.
Hammond and Hammond,The Skilled Laborer, p. 234.
BPP 1824 (51) V, pp. 266, 279.
150 151
Hammond and Hammond, The Skilled Laborer, p. 252. Ibid., p. 252.
Barriers to women™s employment 259

in 1814 when the failure of the Nottingham strike led to a recurrence
of frame-breaking.152 The Luddism of 1811“12 resulted in a wage
increase, but since the workers had no real economic power, the increase
was only temporary.153
Male framework knitters probably wished to exclude women from
their trade, but they were not able to do so. Women worked in this
occupation on the same terms as men. In 1845 the parliamentary
committee on framework knitters found that “vast numbers of women
and children are working side by side with men, often employed in the
same description of frames, making the same fabrics, at the same rate of
wages, the only advantage over them which the man possesses being his
superior strength.”154

3. Miners
Coal miners provide an intermediate case. They seem to have had more
power than handloom weavers or framework knitters, but ultimately the
employers had the upper hand. Colliers did have skill, but not enough
skill to give them effective power in dictating the conditions of their
work. There is some evidence of collective action in the eighteenth
century, but the use of violence suggests that the miners had little eco-
nomic power.155 After the repeal of the Combination Acts, unions
sprang up throughout Britain, and had some success for about a decade,
but then became ineffective.
Colliers of northern England won a few strikes in the late 1820s and
early 1830s, but ultimately failed because their skill was not scarce
enough, and they could be replaced with other miners. In 1829 a colliery
manager noted that, in spite of the fall in the price of coal, he could not
lower the wages of the miners “without great disturbance and perhaps
not succeeding in the end.”156 In 1831 the colliers went on strike to
correct various grievances, the chief of which was irregularity of work.
No coal was produced during the strike, and after a couple of months the
employers agreed to the demands of the miners. The next strike, though,
did not end so successfully. In 1832 the colliers went on strike for the
right to unionize, and this time employers imported lead miners from
neighboring districts to work in their place. Since they did not have to
stop production, employers could now outlast the workers. The strike
lasted half a year, and ultimately the union was defeated.157

Ibid., p. 234. 153 Ibid., p. 266. 154 BPP 1845 (609) XV, p. 101.
Raymond Turner, “English Coal Industry in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth
Centuries,” American Historical Review, 27 (1921), pp. 13“14.
Hammond and Hammond,The Skilled Laborer, p. 26. 157 Ibid., ch. 3.
260 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

Similarly, colliers™ unions in Scotland had little power because emp-
loyers frequently replaced strikers with unskilled laborers. The Scottish
colliers formed a union immediately after the repeal of the Combination
Act in 1824. They had some initial success in raising wages, but soon the
employers brought in replacement workers, and the union failed. George
Taylor, a mine owner in Ayrshire, broke an 1824 strike in the same way
he had broken a strike in 1817, by employing laborers to replace the
striking miners.158 In Stirlingshire, when the striking workers used vio-
lence to keep the blacklegs from working, the Duke of Hamilton
employed guards to protect the blacklegs, and the strike failed.159 In
1825, “Lord Belhaven dismissed the entire workforce of his collieries
and recruited new men.”160 The miners did not have enough skill to be
successful in their strikes because replacement workers could be taught
what they needed to know fairly easily.
A national union, the Miners™ Association of Great Britain and Ireland,
was formed in 1842, but was unable to give the miners power over
employers. The Association™s income did not cover its expenses, so it was
unable to build up a strike fund. It was also unsuccessful in eliminating
strike-breaking. An 1844 strike in north-east England ended in failure; the
striking workers were replaced, and evicted from their cottages.161
Since the miners™ union did not have enough power to prevent wages
from falling, it also did not have enough power to exclude women. In
1836, colliers in Scotland banned women workers, but this attempt to
exclude women did not succeed, because “the temptation to employ
them proved too strong, and they found their way back again.”162 Once
more we see that unions without effective power were not able to prevent
the employment of women. Women were not excluded until 1842, when
an act of parliament forbade women to work underground. As we have
seen, however, even this law was not completely effective in preventing
women from working in mines.

4. Agriculture
Agricultural laborers, among the poorest of all workers, had no success
in combining to raise their wages. These laborers were too poor to build
up an adequate strike fund, and, because their work was relatively

Alan Campbell, “The Scots Colliers™ Strikes of 1824“1826,” in John Rule, ed., British
Trade Unionism, 1750“1850: The Formative Years (New York: Longman, 1988),
pp. 151“2.
Ibid., pp. 152“3. 160 Ibid., p. 156.
A. J. Taylor, “The Miners™ Association of Great Britain and Ireland, 1842“48: A
Study in the Problem of Integration,” Economica, 22 (1955), pp. 45“60.
Pinchbeck, Women Workers, p. 265. See also John, “Colliery Legislation,” p. 91.
Barriers to women™s employment 261

unskilled, other workers were easily hired to replace them.163 Since they
had no monopoly power, male agricultural workers could not enforce
arti¬cial constraints on female employment, and agricultural labor
markets functioned competitively.
There are some instances of agricultural laborers striking. In 1763 the
haymakers of Islington successfully went on strike for higher wages. They
picked an opportune time; the price of hay was high, and the hay was ready
to harvest. Employers™ concession curves were high, because the potential
lost pro¬ts were high, so they gave in to the strikers™ demands. However,
the 1763 strike was an unusual situation, and the haymakers could not
maintain their power. They tried another strike in 1766, when conditions
were less favorable, and they lost.164 In 1800 some laborers from Essex
were tried for conspiracy because “they had prevailed upon several
laborers to leave their work, and join their party.”165 They had intended to
strike in order to prevent plowing, but the attempt never got that far. In
1835, following the new Poor Law, a union of agricultural laborers, called
the United Brothers, formed in the south-east. They had hoped to strike
during the harvest of 1835, when farmers needed them the most, but the
farmers pre-empted them with a lock-out in the spring and summer. Unity
was broken as many left the union in order to work. The union™s funds
were quickly exhausted, and the union ended in complete failure.166
As was the case in other trades unable to form effective unions,
agricultural laborers sometimes resorted to violence. In the Swing riots
of 1830, laborers demanded higher wages by means of intimidation; they
burned farms and broke threshing machines.167 While the violence may
have gained them higher wages in the short run, it had no lasting effect.
We can see the effect of the Swing riots on wages in the farm accounts of
Thomas Estcourt™s farm in Shipton Moyne, Gloucestershire. Letters to
Estcourt from his brother Edmund, and his bailiff Thomas Marshall,
suggest that the Tetbury riot reached as far as Shipton Moyne, and that
laborers there were demanding higher wages. On November 26, 1830,
Edmund Estcourt wrote:
My dear Brother,
The Morning was ushered in with demonstrations of a most determined spirit on
the part of our Laborers. They being all assembled in a body at Palmer™s corner

Evidence from wage pro¬les suggests that agricultural laborers acquired some skill, but
had less skill than factory workers. Burnette, “How Skilled.”
Dobson, Masters and Journeymen, p. 23. 165 The Times, August 9, 1800.
Roger Wells, “Tolpuddle in the Context of English Agrarian Labor History,” in John
Rule, ed., British Trade Unionism, 1750“1850: The Formative Years (New York:
Longman, 1988), p. 124.
Hobsbawm and Rud, Captain Swing.
262 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

about 9 o-clock in pursuance of the resolution they formed yesterday evening to
proceed to each Farmer & demand an increase of wages to the amount of 2s. a
day instead of 8 [shillings per week]. Earl and I joined them yesterday evening
and found them bent upon this, notwithstanding any suggestions we could offer.
They were joined by numbers from Tetbury and we began much to fear how it
would end “ when most happily some of the Tetbury folk had tonight a Tra-
velling Threshing Machine which they seized on its route through the Town, up
into the Turnpike Road near Sam Poole™s and there made it a bon¬re.168

Two days later Thomas Marshall reported that the farmers paid their
laborers 2s. per day for one week, but then settled on 10s. per week, or
half the wage increase requested by the laborers:
As to the disturbance in this Parish the Farmers through fear acceded to the
demand of the laborers (2s. per day) for one week or until your arrival, con-
sidering they have done wrong in complying with the terms of a combination of
Laborers & which is contrary to your advice in the printed papers I have
therefore advised the Farmers to call a Vestry tomorrow morning to consider
what is best to be done, our proposition is to give 10s. per week to the able
bodied men & all those that will not comply to be discharged169

Though Marshall claims that the men he employed on Estcourt™s farm
did not participate in the riot, they also received an increase in wage to
20d. per day. Figure 5.2 shows the median male wage paid on Estcourt™s
farm, in summer and winter, from 1822 to 1840. Before the riots Estcourt™s
laborers were earning 18d. per day in the summer and 16d. per day in the
winter, but after the riot they received a raise to 20d. per day
throughout the year. Figure 5.3 shows that the wage increase occurred
in December 1830, immediately after the riots. John Rickards earned a
wage of 18d. per day between June 12 and November 27, 1830. On
the next payday, December 24, 1830, John Rickards was paid 20d. per
day for twenty days of work. Boys working at the farm also received a
wage increase, though the men who were already earning 20d. or more
did not receive a raise.170 The wage increase, though, was not per-
manent. After three years at 20d. the summer wage fell to 18d. in 1834
and 17d. in 1835. In this case violence was successful in winning the
laborers higher wages, but these wages only lasted three years.
The industrial weakness of the agricultural laborers continued
through the nineteenth century. They formed a union in 1872, under
the direction of Joseph Arch. Boyer and Hatton ¬nd that, while the
union had some success in raising their wages, this success was short-
lived. The union did raise the wages of agricultural laborers between

Gloucestershire Record Of¬ce D1571 X62. 169 Ibid.
Gloucestershire Record Of¬ce D1571 vol. A41.
Barriers to women™s employment 263

Male Wage (d./day)





1822 1824 1826 1828 1830 1832 1834 1836 1838 1840
Figure 5.2 Male wages at the Estcourt Farm in Shipton Moyne,
Source: Gloucestershire Record Of¬ce D1571 vol. A37“A48.


Wage (d./day)




Jan 26, 1829
Mar 21, 1829
May 16, 1829
July 11, 1829
Sept 8, 1829
Oct 30, 1829
Dec 26, 1829
Feb 20, 1830
April 17, 1830
June 12, 1830
Aug 7, 1830
Oct 2, 1830
Nov 27, 1830
Jan 22, 1831
March 19, 1831
May 14, 1831
July 9, 1831
Sept 3, 1831
Oct 29, 1831

Figure 5.3 Daily wage of John Rickards at the Estcourt farm
Source: Gloucestershire Record Of¬ce D1571 vol. 41.
264 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

1872 and 1874, but in 1874 the fortunes of the union changed.
Employers organized a lock-out and the union ran out of funds for strike
pay. After this point, union membership declined and the wage gains
were lost. By 1880 the wage gains attributable to the union had disap-
peared.171 The agricultural laborers did not have enough power to raise
their wages for more than a few years. Agricultural laborers were rela-
tively unskilled and thus could not successfully unionize to control their
employment or wages. The result was a competitive labor market where
men and women competed for employment. Men were stronger than
women and thus earned more, but, as we have seen in Chapter 4,
employers considered male and female farm workers substitutable.
The history of unions in low-skilled occupations thus is one of valiant
efforts in the face of constant failure. Unions were unsuccessful, not for lack
of effort, but because they simply did not have enough market power to
enforce their demands. Because unions were so weak in these low-skilled
trades, there was no force excluding women, and women entered these
trades freely. The gender division of labor in these occupations was deter-
mined by comparative advantage, as described in Chapter 3. However, the
models in Chapter 3 do not apply to the more highly skilled trades because
there unions were able to enforce barriers to women™s employment.

B. Unions among highly skilled workers
While the unskilled trades fought losing battles to maintain their wages,
employers complained that they were being ruled by their skilled work-
men. The Scottish calico printers, for example, “reduced their masters
almost to a state of dependence upon them.”172 The Yorkshire croppers
were called “the tyrants of the county”173 because they “were constantly
able to exert effective limitation of entry to their trade.”174 Skilled workers
had bargaining power and thus were able to enforce rules such as the
exclusion of women workers. The importance of the skilled nature of the
work in producing union power is demonstrated by the fact that when
trades became deskilled, the unions in those trades lost their power.

1. Mule spinners
Many factors combined to make mule-spinning a male trade, but in the
end it was limited access to the skill which excluded women from

George Boyer and Timothy Hatton, “Did Joseph Arch Raise Agricultural Wages?
Rural Trade Unions and the Labour Market in Late Nineteenth-Century England,”
Economic History Review 47 (1994), pp. 310“34.
Aspinall, The Early English Trade Unions, p. 191. 173 Ibid., p. 64.
Randall, Before the Luddites, p. 33.
Barriers to women™s employment 265

employment. Between 1795 and 1830, the mule was only partially
mechanized. The steam engine moved the carriage out, but the spinner
provided the motive power to move the carriage back. A mule carriage
with 336 spindles for spinning coarse yarn weighed 1400 pounds, and
this had to be moved by the spinner three and a half times per minute.175
All mules required some strength, and larger mules required a great deal
of strength. Of course, ¬rms could choose to install smaller mules and
hire women, though the strength required for mule spinning would still
affect the output and earnings of female spinners, just as it affected the
output and earnings of male spinners as they aged. Wage pro¬les of
males in the Lancashire cotton industry peak at age 30“35.176 One mule
spinner, who was 34 in 1833, noted that he had already seen a fall in
his wage.
Alexander Pitcairn, aged thirty-four, solemnly sworn, depones, that he is a mule
spinner at this work, and at present makes about 25s. a week; that his wheels
contain ¬ve hundred and twenty-eight spindles; that seven or eight years ago, he,
at this work, made from 28s. to 30s. per week, but at wheels containing seven
hundred and twelve spindles.177

This quote makes clear the reason why Alexander™s earnings had fallen.
While he previously worked a mule of 712 spindles, in 1833 he worked a
mule with only 528 spindles. Since the trend in the industry was toward
larger mules, this reduction must have been the result of waning
strength. Thus strength affected male earnings as well as female earn-
ings. Men were also more productive as mule spinners because they
more effectively disciplined their assistants.178 M™Connel and Kennedy
tried hiring female mule spinners between 1810 and 1818, but found its
pro¬ts falling. The lower labor costs resulting from hiring women were
off-set by increased wastage of raw material and higher turnover costs
because the women did not hire and discipline their assistants.179
The self-actor, introduced in 1830, eliminated the need for strength,
and employers thought that they would be able to employ women in
place of the more expensive men spinners. Elsewhere women worked the
self-actor effectively. In 1856 there were only a few self-acting mules in
Barcelona, but women worked 80 percent of these machines.180 The

Lazonick, “Industrial Relations and Technical Change,” p. 235.
BPP 1834 (167) XIX. 177 BPP 1833 (450) XX, A1, p. 112.
Lazonick, “Industrial Relations and Technical Change.”
Huberman, Escape from the Market, ch. 2.
Natalia Mora-Sitja, “Labor Supply and Wage Differentials in an Industrialising
Economy: Catalonia in the Long Nineteenth Century,” unpublished PhD thesis,
University of Oxford, 2006, p. 155.
266 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

self-actor, however, still required skill, a skill on which the male union
had a monopoly. Freifeld demonstrates that the self-actor required the
attendance of a skilled spinner, who knew how to correctly adjust the
machine.181 Women, who had been eliminated from spinning by the
strength requirements, did not have the necessary skills, and they could
not acquire these skills because the male union guarded them tightly.
The Manchester mule spinners excluded women from their union in
1829, and refused to teach women the skills.182 This union was very
restrictive, and allowed its members to teach the trade only to “the son,
brother, or orphan nephew of spinners, and the poor relations of the
proprietors of the mills.”183 In Lancashire, this policy was effective
because the union had a monopoly on the skill. Since they and not their
employers controlled the skills, they could effectively prevent women from
being employed as mule spinners by refusing to teach them the skills.
In Scotland, however, the male monopoly was not complete, and some
women worked the mules. In 1810 the Glasgow spinners “combined to
prevent the masters from employing or excluding from employment any
workmen, except those whom the operatives themselves thought should
be employed or excluded.”184 Like the Lancashire union, the Glasgow
union attempted to exclude women. One employer claimed, “In general
they did not allow women or boys to work as spinners; nor will they now
allow a man from a neighboring county to enter a Glasgow mill.”185 The
Glasgow union, however, was unable to maintain control over employ-
ment. By 1837 there were as many female as male spinners in Glasgow.186
Since the Scottish union did not have complete control over the necessary
skill, it was not successful in preventing the employment of women. Thus
the main factor in determining whether women operated the self-acting
mules was the strength of the male spinners™ union.

2. Tailors
The tailors are often cited as an example of an occupation which
increased its wages by combination. In 1840 a parliamentary investigator
blamed the tailors™ union for the fact that women were more likely to be
weavers than tailors:
Where the men have opposed the employment of women and children, by not
permitting their own family to work, or where the work is of such a nature that
neither women nor children can perform it, their own wages have kept up to a

Freifeld, “Technological Change and the ˜Self-Acting™ Mule.”
Kirby and Musson, The Voice of the People, p. 94. 183 Ibid., p. 93.
Evidence of Henry Houldsworth, BPP 1824 (51) V, p. 476. 185 Ibid., p. 479.
Wood, History of Wages in the Cotton Trade, p. 103.
Barriers to women™s employment 267

point equal to the maintenance of a family. The tailors of London have in this
way not merely kept up, but have forced up their wages, though it is an occupation
better adapted to women than weaving, where women are employed in some
branches of the trade, and wherein the tendency to employ them is therefore
much more dif¬cult, indeed impossible wholly to resist.187

He was correct in noting that, compared to weaving, women had a
comparative advantage in sewing, which did not require strength.
However, in this case the actions of male tailors prevented women from
pursuing their comparative advantage. A union of journeymen tailors
was formed in London as early as 1721.188 In 1824 Francis Place
claimed that “The journeymen tailors have a perfect and perpetual
combination among them.”189 In 1810 and 1814, employers attempted
to introduce women workers in the tailoring shops, and the journeymen
tailors successfully went on strike to prevent this. Place noted that from
1795 to 1813 the journeymen™s weekly wages rose from 25s. to 36s., and
“Not a single shilling was obtained at any one of these periods but by
compulsion.”190 In 1831 Gravenor Henson noted that the tailors were
“with few exceptions, victorious.”191 These strikes had the effect of con-
¬ning the women workers to certain types of needlework and reserving
the more lucrative tailoring work for the male tailors. The restrictions
created occupational crowding, and meant that tailors and dressmakers
did essentially the same work for different wages.
The tailors were successful until 1833. In 1800 their employers
complained that the journeymen, though many in number (15,000 to
18,000 as an estimate), were well organized. Each tailor belonged to one
of the “houses of call,” and these smaller groups communicated
effectively, allowing them to act in unison. The tailors were thus able to
enforce a closed shop. We ¬nd that “in all parts of the metropolis these
houses are established and every journeyman is compelled to belong and
resort to a Society there formed.”192
Tailors were successful because they were hard to replace. Masters
were not able to break the strike because replacements had to be skilled
workers, and suf¬cient numbers of replacements could not be obtained.
Masters tried bringing in tailors from outside of London: in 1764 they

BPP 1840 (43) XXIII, pp. 383“4.
Jenny Morris, “The Characteristics of Sweating: The Late-Nineteenth-Century
London and Leeds Tailoring Trade,” in Angela John, ed., Unequal Opportunities
(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), p. 102.
BPP 1824 (51) V, p. 45.
Quoted in Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, p. 255.
Gravenor Henson, History of the Framework Knitters (New York: Augustus Kelley,
[1831] 1970), p. 380.
Aspinall, The Early English Trade Unions, p. 34.
268 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

managed to employ 800 tailors from the country and 230 foreigners.
However, this number was not suf¬cient to break the strike. The masters
needed more men than they could attract from elsewhere.193 The strike
that occasioned this complaint was settled by arbitration in 1801, and
the journeymen received two-¬fths of the raise they requested.
The tailors™ union lost its power when the work was deskilled. During
the Napoleonic Wars, a system of “slop” work was developed for making
army and navy clothing. This work was done by piece-rate in the
worker™s own home, rather than by time-rate wages in the master™s
workshop. The ¬ner division of labor reduced the amount of skill
necessary. The slop system of the “dishonorable” section of the trade
proved competitive and eroded the power of the tailors™ union. The
“honorable” workers, called “Flints,” refused to work on a piece-rate
basis, and this refusal distinguished them from the “Dungs” who worked
in the “dishonorable” section of the trade. Over time the size of the
“dishonorable” section of the trade grew. In 1824 there were four
“Flints” for every “Dung,” but by 1849 there were only three “Flints” to
every twenty “Dungs.”194 Tailors™ strikes were no longer successful
because the mass of workers in the slop trade provided strike-breakers.
The London tailors went on strike in 1827, 1830, and 1834; none of
these strikes was successful. During the 1834 strike, many women were
used as strike-breakers, and some were attacked by strikers.195 That the
strikes were essential to maintaining the gender division of labor can be
seen in what happened when the tailors ¬nally lost a strike in 1834;
following this loss, “large numbers of women were introduced into the
striking workshops.”196 After 1834 the well-paid tailors lost ground to
the women slop-workers. The market maintained continual pressure
and the unionized men fought a losing battle to maintain their excess
wages. As the trade was deskilled, the tailors lost their union power and
their high wages.

3. Wool-combers
Wool-combing was highest paid of the occupations in the worsted
industry.197 The Hammonds described the wool-combers thus:
The wool-combers may be called the aristocracy of the worsted workers. An
ancient, skilled, select, and well-organized body whose insubordinate conduct

Dobson, Masters and Journeymen, p. 71. 194 Taylor, Eve and the New Jerusalem, p. 104.
Ibid., p. 115. 196 Rose, Limited Livelihoods, p. 144.
James Burnley, The History of Wool and Woolcombing (London: Sampson Low,
Marston, Searle and Rivington, 1889), p. 160.
Barriers to women™s employment 269

gave much trouble to their employers, they form an example of a trade that was
long able by combination to keep up its wages.”198

The combing process did require strength, but how much is not clear. It
did not require enough strength to prevent women from doing it in every
case. Wives of wool-combers often assisted their husbands, indicating
that some women found the work to be pro¬table. In the middle ages
women commonly combed wool.199 While these women found it prof-
itable to be wool-combers, the occupation was in most cases strictly
limited to men, indicating that wool-combers succeeded in controlling
access to the trade.
Early wool-combers™ strikes were generally successful. In 1726 in
Norwich, wool-combers won a strike against the employment of a man
who had not been apprenticed.200 A 1741 pamphlet notes that the
For a number of years past erected themselves into a sort of a corporation . . .
and when they became a little formidable they gave laws to their masters, as also
to themselves “ viz., That no man should comb wool under 2s. per dozen; that
no master should employ any comber that was not of their club; if he did they
agreed one and all not to work for him.201

In the eighteenth century, “No wool-comber was permitted to take an
apprentice except his eldest son, and they not only dictated their own rate
of wages, but sought to prescribe the prices which the masters should ask
for the products of their labor.”202 Evidently the wool-combers had a great
deal of power and were able to enforce whatever rules they desired. In 1776
Adam Smith located the power of the wool-combers in their ability to stop
the whole manufacture: “Half a dozen wool-combers, perhaps, are
necessary to keep a thousand spinners and weavers at work.” Their ability
to create a bottleneck increased the cost of a strike to the employer, which
increased their bargaining power. Thus wool-combers are able to “reduce
the whole manufacture into a sort of slavery to themselves, and raise the
price of their labor above what is due to the nature of their work.”203
It is not surprising, then, that we ¬nd wool-combing to be an exclu-
sively male trade. In the 1830s, Robert Clough of Keighley employed no

Hammond and Hammond,The Skilled Laborer, p. 195.
Eileen Power, Medieval Women, ed. M. M. Postan (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1975), p. 67.
Hammond and Hammond, The Skilled Laborer, p. 196.
A Short Essay upon Trade in General, 1741, quoted in Webb and Webb, The History of
Trade Unionism, p. 31.
Burnley, The History of Wool and Woolcombing, p. 164.
Smith, The Wealth of Nations, p. 126.
270 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

female wool-combers.204 His handloom weavers were about a quarter
female, and his powerloom weavers almost exclusively female, but no
female wool-combers appear in the wage books. Women may well have
worked at wool-combing with their husbands; we only know that no
women brought in the ¬nished wool. We do know, however, that the
men were able to keep the occupation under their control. The wool-
combers were able to keep out all outsiders, allowing only their own sons
to enter the trade.
By the mid-nineteenth century, wool-combers had lost their power.
This was due mainly to the advent of workable combing machines,
which gave employers a viable alternative to the hand-combers. Once
the combers lost their monopoly power, they began to lose strikes. In
1825 the Bradford combers lost a long strike. After this failure, the trade
was inundated with new workers, indicating that the union had con-
strained employment before this point.205 By the 1840s, wool-combers™
wages had sunk to starvation levels.206 In 1846 those employed by
Robert Clough of Grove Mill, Keighley, went on strike for a wage
increase. They were not successful, and many of those who went on
strike were not re-employed.207 Until there was a substitute for their skill,
the wool-combers remained powerful and maintained control over emp-
loyment. They lost this power, however, when the combing machine
provided an alternative source of combed wool.
Unions of skilled workers were successful because their skills gave
them market power. As long as a union maintained a monopoly on its
skill, it could do whatever it wished to increase its wages, including
excluding women. In trades where the work was deskilled, unions lost
their power, and rules excluding women became ineffective. The most
important source of occupational segregation among wage-earners was
the desire of union members to increase their wages by excluding
competitors, coupled with the market power to enforce this desire.
Later in the nineteenth century, unskilled unions seem to have had
some success in raising their wage above the wages of non-unionized
workers, but this success was short-lived. Hatton, Boyer, and Bailey
report that among unskilled industrial workers union membership
increased wages by about 16 percent in 1889“90.208 They interpret this

Wage books of Robert Clough, University of Leeds Archives, Clough 61.
Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, p. 282.
Maurice G. Smith, “Robert Clough, Grove Mill, Keighley: A Study in Technological
Redundancy, 1835“65,” MA thesis, University of Leeds, 1982, p. 73.
Ibid., pp. 75“7.
T. J. Hatton, G. R. Boyer, and R. E. Bailey, “The Union Wage Effect in Late
Nineteenth-Century Britain,” Economica 61 (1994), p. 447.
Barriers to women™s employment 271

as the “impact effect” of the sudden increase in the membership in new
unions that occurred at this time. They note that, while unions of low-
skilled workers reached a membership of 350,000 in 1890, “their suc-
cess could not be maintained, and a counter-attack by employers
combined with worsening economic conditions caused membership in
the new unions to fall to under 200,000 in 1892 and further to about
150,000 in 1896,” and this decline “suggests that they may not have
been able to hold the wage gains.”209 They do not ¬nd higher union
wage effects among workers studied, but their study does not include
any workers in craft unions, which would have had more control over
skill and which do seem to have been successful without resorting to
My claim that the more skilled occupations had more successful
unions does not seem to ¬t the twentieth-century USA, where the wage
gap between union and non-union workers is larger for blue-collar
workers than for white-collar workers, and the wage gap falls with
education.211 These facts suggest that, unlike the unions of Industrial
Revolution Britain, US unions are currently more successful in raising
wages for less-skilled occupations. What accounts for the difference?
One important difference between modern unions and unions of
Industrial Revolution Britain is structure, i.e., how workers band
together into unions. In the USA, the National Labor Relations Board
(NLRB) runs union elections for what it considers to be the appropriate
bargaining unit. While the bargaining unit is sometimes the craft, fre-
quently it is an employer or a plant. When the NLRB began its work,
there were bitter struggles between the AFL, which advocated a craft
structure, and the CIO, which advocated the employer, plant, or
industry bargaining unit. The NLRB accepted both types of units but
made it dif¬cult for a craft unit to break away from a functioning
employer unit.212 The result of the historical process was a union
structure very different from that of Industrial Revolution Britain.
Unions are today likely to be groups of workers in different occupations
who work at the same location, rather than organizations of workers who
share the same occupation. By contrast, unions of the Industrial Revo-
lution were organized by craft rather than employer. In an Industrial
Revolution cotton factory, the mule spinners had their union, and the
weavers had their own separate union. Since unions tend to compress

Ibid., pp. 437, 439. 210 Ibid., p. 438.
Richard Freeman and James Medoff, What Do Unions Do? (New York: Basic Books,
1984), pp. 49“50.
Frank McCulloch and Tim Bornstein, The National Labor Relations Board (New York:
Praeger, 1974), p. 132.
272 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

the wage structure of the workers within the union, the modern structure
leads to a compression of wages across occupational levels and thus
produces smaller wage gaps for the better educated.
Also important is the difference between white-collar and blue-collar
skilled jobs. While white-collar occupations generally require more
education, they are not the types of occupations that provide monopoly
power. Skilled workers of Industrial Revolution Britain had power
because they had a monopoly on the skill used in their occupation. They
trained all new workers themselves and thus had perfect control over
who could learn the trade. The skills were speci¬c to a narrowly de¬ned
occupation, and the entire occupation was unionized. Only a limited
number of people knew how to operate a spinning mule well. White-
collar skills are more general and are often learned in schools, making it
hard for the union to exert much in¬‚uence over who learns the skill.
White-collar skills are more easily transferred from one industry to
another. An accountant can work for retailing as well as manufacturing.
The pool of potential competitors is large, so that striking workers are
easily replaced. Thus the fact that white-collar workers have less success
in raising wages is consistent with the model I outlined above.
One characteristic of unions has persisted: women bene¬t less than
men from unionization. While many unskilled workers have managed to
gain from unionization, women have not achieved equal representation.
In the modern USA, women are concentrated in less-unionized sectors
and thus have lower rates of unionization.213 In 1977, 27 percent of
male employees, but only 11 percent of female employees, were
unionized.214 This difference does not re¬‚ect a lower desire for union-
ization among women. Among unrepresented workers, 41 percent of
women but only 27 percent of men said they would vote for a union.215
Women are not only less likely to be in unions, but those who are
members gain less than men from the union. In 1979 the union wage
gap was 19 percent for men but only 15 percent for women.216 Even
today, unions help men more than they help women.

Among wage-earners, the most important mechanism excluding women
from the best jobs was the union. Employers and government regula-
tions had only a small impact. Unions enforced the exclusion of women
because they had not only the ability, but also the economic incentive.

213 214 215
Freeman and Medoff, What Do Unions Do?, p. 28. Ibid., p. 27. Ibid., p. 29.
Ibid., p. 49.
Barriers to women™s employment 273

Unlike employers, they bene¬ted from constraints on women™s
employment. Where unions had market power, and where it was in their
interest to restrict employment, they excluded women from employ-
ment. The skill level of the occupation was important in determining
whether workers could enforce their demands. The outcome in any
given industry was not fully determined; how much power a union had
depended not only on the skill content of the job, but also on the use of
violence, on the organization of the union itself, and, to a certain degree,
on luck. However, the relationship between skill and union power is
strong enough to explain why women were excluded from highly skilled
occupations but not from low-skilled occupations. The fact that unions
were more successful in skilled occupations explains why women com-
peted freely with men in the unskilled labor market, but not in the skilled
labor market.
The power of labor unions grew over the course of the nineteenth
century. Since unions were such an important force in limiting oppor-
tunities for women workers, this suggests that women saw their oppor-
tunities further restricted as the nineteenth century progressed. Mancur
Olson points to the gradual accumulation of “distributional coalitions”
as the cause of Britain™s slower rate of growth in the later nineteenth and
twentieth centuries.217 These distributional coalitions were also the
cause of increasing constraints on women™s occupational opportunities.
Unions were not the only distributional coalitions limiting women™s
opportunities; in the next chapter we will see that professional organ-
izations were also effective in excluding women.

Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations.
6 Occupational barriers in self-employment

The previous chapter examined the mechanisms that excluded women
from skilled wage-earning jobs and concluded that unions with some
monopoly power were the main exclusionary force. This chapter asks
how women were excluded from self-employment. The occupations
studied here include the professions, retailing, and entrepreneurship in
general. Because the labor market was not perfectly competitive, there
was room for gender discrimination. In these occupations, the causes of
discriminatory constraints were the family, consumer discrimination,
and professional groups organized to circumvent the market.
Economic theory suggests that gender discrimination can only persist
where it is protected from competitive forces. The family, because it is
not subject to competitive forces, is an important source of discrimin-
ation. In this chapter we shall see that women™s economic opportunities
were limited by family decisions such as investment in human capital
and inheritance of capital. Competitive markets protected women against
discrimination; only employers who were protected from the discipline of
the market, speci¬cally those with some monopoly power, could dis-
criminate against women and survive. Consumer discrimination, how-
ever, will not be eliminated by competition. Thus, women are more
vulnerable to gender discrimination if consumers care about the gender
of the individual making the good or delivering the service. Also, pro-
fessional organizations made the market less competitive; they took
control of employment away from the market, so that they could limit
entry to their professions. As in the last chapter, we will see that, of the
many factors that have been blamed for occupational segregation, the
most important were those which removed employment decisions from
the competitive market.

I Consumer discrimination
One way that gender ideology may have had an effect on women™s
opportunities was through the preferences of customers for one gender

Occupational barriers in self-employment 275

over the other. If customers have a taste for discrimination, they receive
less utility from a service provided by an individual of a particular race or
gender, and thus will only patronize women if the price of the service is
lower. Consumer discrimination may explain why blacks are less likely
to be self-employed than whites.1 Consumer discrimination is similar
to taste discrimination among employers, where employers will not
hire women workers unless their price is lower. However, unlike employer
discrimination, consumer discrimination will not be eliminated by
competition.2 Unlike employers, customers who have a taste for dis-
crimination do not go bankrupt. Thus competition did not protect
women from this type of discrimination, and even in competitive mar-
kets women might ¬nd their opportunities limited by gender ideology.
Consumer discrimination may have been important in keeping
women out of certain occupations. While there is no obvious reason why
women could not be hairdressers, women were rare in this occupation.
Perhaps men preferred to have their hair dressed by other men, or
considered it improper to have a female hairdresser. With the exception
of staymaking, the garment trades did not require strength, and yet there
was stark occupational segregation by gender. Table 6.1 shows sorting
within the garment trades. We see a clear gender division of labor, with
work segregated according to which gender wore the garments. Even
outside of tailoring, where a powerful combination of male workers
prevented the employment of women, men generally made clothes for
men, and women made clothes for women.3 There were eight male and
only one female breeches-makers (the female was a widow). Mantua-
makers and dressmakers were overwhelmingly female.4 The intimacy
required for ¬tting clothes may have encouraged customers to seek
individuals of the same gender to make their clothes. Millinery seems to
have had less gender segregation than dressmaking or tailoring (half of
Coventry milliners were male in 1791), perhaps because hats were a less

George Borjas and Stephen Bronars, “Consumer Discrimination and Self-
Employment,” Journal of Political Economy 97 (1989), pp. 581“605.
See Lawrence Kahn, “Customer Discrimination and Af¬rmative Action,” Economic
Inquiry 29 (1991), pp. 555“71.
The neutral case is horse millinery (making decorations for horses). Note that this is a
mixed trade.
Alison Kay notes that “Millinery and dressmaking, catering to an all-female clientele,
were the main exceptions to the male dominance of the higher reaches of retailing.” Kay,
“Retailing, Respectability and the Independent Woman in Nineteenth-Century
London,” in Robert Beachy, Beatrice Craig, and Alastair Owens, eds., Women,
Business and Finance in Nineteenth-Century Europe: Rethinking Separate Spheres (Oxford:
Berg, 2006), p. 159.
276 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain
Table 6.1. Sorting in the garment trades

Trade Men Women Unknown women

Shef¬eld, 1774 Breeches maker 2 0 0 0.0
Milliner 1 2 0 66.7
Staymaker 3 0 0 0.0
Tailor 5 0 0 0.0
Manchester, Breeches maker 6 0 0 0.0
1788 Horse milliner 3 1 0 25.0
Mantua-maker 0 10 2 100.0
Milliner and dressmaker 0 24 0 100.0
Sempstress 0 3 0 100.0
Staymaker 10 2 2 16.7
Tailor 59 0 1 0.0
Coventry, 1791 Horse milliner 1 0 1 0.0
Leather breeches maker 0 1 1 100.0
Mantua-maker 0 2 0 100.0
Milliner 4 4 0 50.0
Staymaker 5 0 0 0.0
Tailor 7 0 0 0.0
Manchester, Milliner 0 20 14 100.0
1824-5 Staymaker 9 2 1 18.2
Tailor and habit maker 61 1 14 1.6
Coventry, 1835 Milliner and dressmaker 0 19 0 100.0
Staymaker 3 3 0 50.0
Tailor 28 0 1 0.0
Manchester, Milliner and dressmaker 12 245 18 95.3
1846 Staymaker 14 11 0 44.0
Tailor 239 1 18 0.4
Birmingham, Milliner and dressmaker 11 489 16 97.8
1850 Staymaker 6 59 6 90.8
Tailor 382 7 7 1.8
Derby, 1850 Milliner and dressmaker 0 97 4 100.0
Staymaker 4 12 0 75.0
Tailor 116 1 0 0.9

Sources: Sketchley™s Shef¬eld Directory, 1774; Lewis™s Manchester Directory for 1788; The
Universal British Directory, 1791; Pigot and Dean™s Directory for Manchester, 1835; Slater™s
National Commercial Directory of Ireland, 1846; Slater™s Royal National and Commercial
Directory of Ireland, 1850.

intimate item of dress. As noted in Chapter 5, staymaking was an
exception to the rule that women made clothing for women because the
work required strength. Over the course of the Industrial Revolution,
Occupational barriers in self-employment 277

staymaking gradually became a female trade. Lane suggests that this
shift was a response to changes in fashion that reduced the staymaker™s
need for strength, but may also have been the result of changing cus-
tomer preferences, as in the nineteenth century “it was no longer
thought suitable for a man to measure and ¬t a woman for so personal a
garment as stays.”5 If nineteenth-century customers did worry about the
gender of the individual ¬tting their clothes, then women were more
likely to be dressmakers and staymakers, but less likely to be tailors,
because of customer discrimination.
The gender of the customer, though, is at best a weak predictor of the
gender of the tradesman. Lane reports that drapers and mercers did
essentially the same tasks, “but the draper dealt chie¬‚y with male cus-
tomers . . . while the mercer ˜tra¬cks most with the Ladies™.”6 However,
there is no evidence that mercers were more likely to be female than
drapers. In Manchester women were more likely to be mercers than
drapers in 1824“5, when 29 percent of mercers and none of the drapers
were female, but in 1788 a greater percentage of drapers were female,
and in 1846 women were equally represented in both occupations.7
Customer discrimination probably had some effect on the occupations
open to women, but it does not seem to be the dominant determinant of
the gender division of labor.

II. Married women and the law
The law treated men and women differently, and thus was a source of
discrimination. The law did not prevent women from going into busi-
ness, and sometimes it even protected women™s business interests. The
ability of women to protect their commercial interests is illustrated by one
London law suit. In 1819, The Times reported on the law suit Lazenby v.
Hallett and Hardy:
This is an action brought by Mrs. Elizabeth Lazenby, the proprietor of an
anchovy sauce, generally denominated “Harvey™s Fish Sauce,” to recover damages
of Messrs. Hallett and Hardy, wholesale druggists, for vending a certain spurious
sauce of their making, under the same name, to the manifest injury of her, the
said Elizabeth Lazenby, who was the only person acquainted with the secret by
which the said sauce was made.8

Lane, Apprenticeship in England, p. 123. 6 Ibid., p. 124.
In 1788, 10 percent of mercers and 28 percent of drapers were female. In 1846, 5
percent of both occupations were female. Lewis™s Manchester Directory for 1788; Pigot and
Dean™s Directory, 1825; Slater™s National Commercial Directory of Ireland, 1846.
The Times, January 7, 1819.
278 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

The court upheld Mrs. Lazenby™s property rights and ¬ned the
defendants. It is not clear whether Mrs. Lazenby was a widow or a
married woman, but she was able to use the legal system to protect her
trademark. However, the unequal treatment that women received in the
law led to some limits on their economic opportunities.
Marriage was the crucial factor affecting a woman™s legal status. A single
woman was relatively autonomous; she was a feme sole, and had most of the
legal rights a man had. In some towns female heads of household could
vote.9 A married woman, however, was a feme covert and had no legal
existence. Her legal identity was subsumed within her husband™s. She
could not testify in court; she owned no property and could not be sued
for debts. Blackstone described the position of the married woman thus:
By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in the law: that is, the very
being or legal existence of a woman is suspended during marriage, or at least
incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing,
protection and cover, she performs everything; and is therefore called in our law-
french a feme covert.10

Nicola Phillips, however, warns against taking this statement of women™s
legal status at face value, suggesting that “Legal commentaries should not
be taken as literal statements of women™s legal status.”11 While one would
expect that laws denying married women a legal existence would have a
large impact on their ability to act in the business world, we ¬nd married
women engaging in trade in spite of this law. In 1707 the wife of Alexander
Brown went to London to buy goods, while her husband remained in
Edinburgh. She was able to buy goods without her husband in spite of
the fact that “what goods she bought cannot be said to be hers but her
husband™s, although she was the buyer.”12 There is evidence, though,
that couverture did affect women™s opportunities, at least in the USA.
Zorina Khan used patent records to show that couverture laws limited
women™s commercial activity in the USA. In the late nineteenth century,
states that had passed laws giving married women ownership of their
earnings and wealth had substantially more patents granted to women
than states where married women™s rights remained restricted.13

For example, Preston. See Lilian Lewis Shiman, Women and Leadership in Nineteenth-
Century England (New York: St. Martin™s Press, 1992), p. 38. The Reform Act of 1832
“introduced the ¬rst speci¬c gender restriction on the franchise” (p. 40).
William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1765), vol. I, p. 430.
Phillips, Women in Business, p. 46. 12 Sanderson, Women and Work, p. 24.
B. Zorina Khan, “Married Women™s Property Laws and Female Commercial Activity:
Evidence from United States Patent Records, 1790“1895™, Journal of Economic History
56 (1996), pp. 356“88.
Occupational barriers in self-employment 279

While no similar study exists for Britain, the impact of couverture on
women™s business opportunities may have been smaller in Britain
because exceptions were made for married women in business. London
allowed married women to carry on their trades as if they were feme sole,
with full rights to make contracts and assume debts. The custom of
London was that:
where a Feme Covert useth any Craft in the City on her sole Account, whereof the
Husband meddleth nothing; such a Woman shall be charged as a Feme Sole,
concerning every thing, that toucheth her said Craft; and, if the Husband and
Wife shall be impleaded in such a Case; the Wife shall plead as a Feme Sole in a
Court of Record, and shall have her Law and other Advantages, by way of Plea,
as a Feme Sole; and, if she is condemned, she shall be committed to Prison, until
she has made satisfaction, and the Husband and his Goods shall not be charged
or impeached.14

Blackstone notes the exception brie¬‚y: “But a feme covert in London,
being a sole trader according to the custom, is liable to a commission of
bankrupt.”15 Abram claims that in London the privilege of trading as a
feme sole was ¬rst given only to the wives of freemen, but was extended
to other married women in the sixteenth century.16 Other towns also
followed this custom. Lacey documents that both Lincoln and York
followed the custom of London in this regard, and Merry Wiesner
reports that the practice was widespread among English cities.17
D™Cruze ¬nds that women business owners in eighteenth-century Col-
chester “made out bills in their own names even when married.”18
A married woman trading as a feme sole was responsible for her own
debts and could be sued. The designation of feme sole allowed a married
woman to legally enter a partnership.19 Though a husband generally

William Blackstone, Reports of Cases Determined in the Several Courts of Westminster-Hall
from 1746 to 1779 (London: His Majesty™s Law Printers, 1781), p. 570.
Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, vol. II, p. 477.
A. Abram, “Women Traders in Medieval London,” Economic Journal 26 (1916), p. 280.
Kay E. Lacey, “Women and Work in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century in
London,” in Lindsay Charles and Lorna Duf¬n, eds., Women and Work in Pre-Industrial
England (London: Croom Helm, 1985), pp. 44“5. Lacey generalizes these examples to
claim, “in many towns a married woman could register as a trader with the town
authorities, and be treated as a femme sole in relation to her occupation” (p. 42).
Wiesner, Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe, p. 37.
D™Cruze, “To Acquaint the Ladies,” p. 159.
“A feme covert cannot sustain the character of partner, because she is legally incapable of
entering into the contract of partnership . . . But it should seem, that, by the custom of
London, a feme covert trading separately from her husband may be a partner . . . where
the law allows the wife to act as a feme sole, there may be just ground to presume, that, as
she is thereby generally restored to her rights as a feme sole, she may enter into a
partnership in trade.” John Collyer, A Practical Treatise on the Law of Partnership
(Boston, Mass.: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1848), pp. 11“12.
280 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

owned his wife™s property, the husband did not own the goods of a wife
trading as a feme sole, as can be seen by the following court case. In 1764,
James Cox and his wife Jane were operating separate businesses, and
both went bankrupt within the space of two months. Jane™s creditors
sued James™s creditors for the recovery of ¬ve fans, goods from her
millinery shop which had been taken for James™s debts. The court ruled
that, since Jane was trading as a feme sole, her husband did not own the
goods in her shop, and thus James™s creditors had no right to seize
them.20 Married women had no legal rights in other areas, but in the
sphere of economic activity the law of feme covert was circumvented.
Prior claims that the right of a married woman to operate as a feme sole
gradually disappeared: “By the nineteenth century it only held in
London.”21 Phillips agrees that the courts were less likely to uphold feme
sole status after 1788, when Kenyon replaced Mans¬eld as Chief Justice
of King™s Bench, but suggests that this change did not have a big impact
on women™s opportunities.22 Even if feme sole status was not available,
women could still trade on their own account using the separate prop-
erty provisions available in courts of equity.23 In fact, Phillips ¬nds that
businesswomen were able to use variation in the laws to their own
advantage, claiming couverture or feme sole status depending on which
was most advantageous, and seeking to move cases from common law
courts to courts of equity when they found it in their interest to do so.
Another exception to the law of couverture applied to women whose
husbands were at sea. A sailor™s wife had power of attorney to conduct
business on behalf of her husband. According to Sharpe, this power
allowed female relatives of men at sea “to collect all or part of their male
relatives™ wages, to receive money on bills, transact in property, appear
in court on their husbands™ or male relatives™ behalf and carry out
business in their name.”24
While the exceptions described above limited the impact of couverture
on women™s economic opportunities, the law was still a factor in redu-
cing women™s opportunities. The law did not prevent a married woman
from engaging in trade if her husband was agreeable, but a wife whose
husband opposed such work was effectively prevented from trading
because she had no legal independence from her husband. Any property

Blackstone, Reports of Cases, pp. 570“5. The case was “LaVie and another Assignees
against Philips and another Assignees,” 1765.
Mary Prior, Women in English Society, 1500“1800 (London: Methuen, 1985), p. 103.
Phillips, Women in Business, p. 49. 23 Ibid., pp. 49, 86.
Pamela Sharpe, “Gender at Sea: Women and the East India Company in Seventeenth-
Century London,” in P. Lane, N. Raven, and K. D. M. Snell, eds., Women, Work and
Wages in England, 1600“1850 (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2004), p. 56.
Occupational barriers in self-employment 281

that a woman owned became the property of her husband upon
marriage, so a married woman could not launch a business without the
consent of her husband. Married businesswomen were vulnerable to
arbitrary demands from their husbands. For example, a woman from
Essex operated the family business after her husband ¬‚ed the country to
avoid arrest on charges of homosexuality. When her husband returned
and demanded money from his wife, she had no legal basis for refusing
him.25 In this case an effective constraint on women™s opportunities
operated through the family, an arena where the state recognized the
husband™s absolute authority.
The law of couverture probably had the greatest effect on women™s
opportunities indirectly, through its effect on inheritance. While the
aristocracy used primogeniture, the middle classes favored partible
inheritances, with daughters and sons receiving equal amounts.
Daughters and sons, however, did not receive their inheritances in the
same form. While sons had complete control over their inheritances,
daughters usually received only the income from their inheritances, the
capital being held in trust.26 Morris suggests that the reason for this
different treatment was the law of couverture, which would give the
daughter™s current or future husband complete control over her assets.
Leaving the money in trust was the only way to protect the capital from a
pro¬‚igate or unlucky husband.27 Though trusts were designed to protect
women by keeping their capital intact, they also prevented women from
using their inheritances as business capital. This protection was only
necessary because the law gave husbands complete control over their
wives™ assets. The middle class wrote wills to circumvent this, but
unfortunately the solution also left women without capital they could
invest in business. Thus the greatest effect of the law of couverture was
probably in limiting women™s access to capital.

III. Capital
Access to capital was an important restriction on the ability to start a
business, for men as well as for women. Those who could not obtain
enough capital to set up as masters would remain journeymen their
whole lives. Table 6.2 shows some estimates of capital required to start a
business in certain trades. Most businesses required at least £100 of
capital, and some required substantially more. Since even a skilled

Davidoff and Hall, “The Hidden Investment,” p. 245.
Davidoff and Hall, Family Fortunes, p. 206. R. J. Morris, Men, Women, and Property in
England, 1780“1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 113.
Morris, Men, Women, and Property, p. 113.
282 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain
Table 6.2. Capital requirements: Campbell™s estimates compared to others


Campbell™s estimates of
Occupation capital requirements, 1747 Capital Date Src


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