. 2
( 14)


Paid Work in Late-Victorian London,” Journal of Family History 19 (1994), p. 288.
See Steven King, “ ˜Meer pennies for my baskitt will be enough™: Women, Work and
Welfare, 1700“1830,” in P. Lane, N. Raven, and K. D. M. Snell, eds., Women, Work
and Wages in England, 1600“1850 (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2004), p. 126, and
Samantha Williams, “Caring for the Sick Poor: Poor Law Nurses in Bedfordshire,
c. 1700“1834,” in Lane et al., eds., Women, Work and Wages, p. 156. The term was ¬rst
used by Olwen Hufton in reference to the poor in France. Olwen Hufton, The Poor of
Eighteenth-Century France, 1750“1789 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974).
Peter King, “Customary Rights and Women™s Earnings: The Importance of Gleaning to
the Rural Labouring Poor, 1750“1850,” Economic History Review 44 (1991), 461“76.
King, “Meer pennies,” pp. 119“40.
Joyce Burnette, “Married with Children: The Family Status of Female Day-Labourers
at Two South-Western Farms,” Agricultural History Review 55 (2007), pp. 75“94.
Women™s occupations 25

worked no more than two weeks in the year.25 These farm accounts do
not tell us what these women were doing the rest of the year, but they
may have worked at other farms, or in non-agricultural work. Describing
the annual cycle of female labor, Mary Collier mentions both agricul-
tural work and charring:
The Harvest ended, Respite none we ¬nd;
The hardest of our Toil is still behind:
Hard Labour we most chearfully pursue,
And out, abroad, a Charing often go.26

Given the many different forms of employment that one woman
would engage in during the year, it is not surprising that the occupations
listed in the census are an inadequate description of female employment.

B. Employment ratios
Since the census data are unreliable, and are in any case not available
before 1841, it is important to look for other data to corroborate the
story of occupational sorting. Employment ratios in speci¬c occupations
provide an alternative to census data and, while not as complete as the
census because they do not describe the occupational distribution across
the entire economy, do establish that men and women worked in dif-
ferent jobs, and thus provide evidence of occupational sorting.
I have collected evidence on the percentage of employees who were
female in a variety of occupations, from a variety of different sources, and
this material is presented in Table 1.3. Some sources are very detailed and
give the exact number of persons of each sex employed. Other sources are
more impressionistic and give estimates or ratios. The evidence demon-
strates that there was substantial occupational sorting by gender.
Many women were employed in textile factories and potteries, but
women were scarce in the copper industry of South Wales, and non-
existent in the dyehouses of Leeds. Handloom weaving employed both
men and women, but mining was mostly a male occupation. Glovers and
screw-makers were mostly female, while stocking weavers and calico
printers were mostly male. If we look more closely at particular occu-
pations, more segregation appears. In cotton factories 50 to 70 percent
of the workers were female, but within the factory men and women

Joyce Burnette,“ ˜Labourers at the Oakes™: Changes in the Demand for Female Day-
Laborers at a Farm near Shef¬eld during the Agricultural Revolution,” Journal of
Economic History 59 (1999), p. 51.
Mary Collier, “The Woman™s Labour” (London: Roberts, 1739), reprinted by the
Augustan Reprint Society, No. 230, 1985.
26 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain
Table 1.3. Employment ratios


Percent Percent
Year Location Occupation Men Women women children Src

1813 Leeds Wool factory 426 152 26.3 24.1 a
1830 Leeds Wool factory 605 314 34.2 18.0 a
1833 Leeds 16 wool factories 1667 1034 38.3 46.1 b
1833 Gloucestershire 17 wool factories 667 466 41.1 43.2 b
1816 Scotland Cotton factories 1776 3820 68.3 44.0 c
1816 Nottinghamshire Cotton factories 327 572 63.6 49.4 c
1833 Lancashire 29 cotton factories 2010 2065 50.7 46.5 b
1833 Glasgow 46 cotton factories 2413 4016 62.5 46.8 b
1833 Lancashire & Cleaners & 71.7 d
Cheshire spreaders
cotton factories Carders 59.8 d
Mule spinners & 18.7 d
Throstle spinners 78.0 d
Reelers 94.6 d
Weavers 56.9 d
Engineers, 0.8 d
Other textiles
1816 Nottinghamshire 2 worsted factories 32 74 69.8 31.6 c
1833 Leeds 4 ¬‚ax factories 514 585 53.2 57.8 b
1833 Derbyshire 10 silk factories 439 873 66.5 49.5 b
1833 Norfolk, Suffolk 6 silk factories 16 418 96.3 74.1 b
Paper mills
1833 Aberdeenshire 3 paper mills 45 38 45.8 14.4 b
1833 Valley¬eld, Paper mill 86 43 33.3 26.3 e
1843 West of Scotland Paper mill 32 63 66.3 g
1833 Staffordshire 7 potteries 462 244 34.6 37.7 b
1843 Staffordshire Earthenware 4544 2648 36.8 g
Handloom weaving
1838 Norwich 2211 1648 42.7 h
1838 Spital¬elds Silk velvets 1871 526 21.9 h
1838 Spital¬elds Plain silk 2820 2790 49.7 h
1840 Spital¬elds Silk weaving 5098 3395 40.0 8.7 i
1840 Norwich Weaving 1863 1383 42.6 4.5 i
Women™s occupations 27
Table 1.3. (cont.)

Percent Percent
Year Location Occupation Men Women women children Src

1840 Diss, Norfolk Flax 40 3 7.0 31.8 i
1840 Gloucestershire Wool 665 167 20.1 k
1842 Cornwall Metals 15,500 2700 14.8 l
1842 Yorkshire Coal 2.2 39.8 l
1842 Lancashire Coal 7.9 37.6 l
1842 Derbyshire Coal 0.0 28.9 l
1842 West Scotland Coal 0.0 24.4 l
1842 Pembrokeshire Coal 29.7 33.0 l
1751 England Day laborers 13.6 m
1851 England Day laborers 10.6 m
pre- England Servants 45.4 n
1851 England Servants 32.0 n
1824 Liverpool Master shipwrights 26 1 3.7 o
1839 Montgomeryshire Flannel weaving 82 3 3.5 k
1767“ Bedfordshire Sick nurses 16 77 82.8 p
1786 Sun Fire Insurance 113 5 4.2 q
1795 Northampton Servants 203 280 58.0 r
1795 Overingham, Stocking weavers 37 3 7.5 r
1807 Woodstock Gloves 65 1450 95.7 s
1818 Coventry Ribbon weavers 5056 4365 46.3 t
1833 Devonshire Lace factories 299 234 43.9 34.8 b
1833 Leeds Dyehouses 125 0 0.0 b
1843 Birmingham Screw manufacture 90 402 81.7 g
1843 North England Calico printers 8620 184 2.1 55.1 f
1842 South Wales Copper works 1605 57 3.4 l
1844 Gloves 2803 4401 61.1 21.9 u
1845 Framework 722 64 8.1 15.8 v

a. H. Heaton, “Benjamin Gott and the Industrial Revolution in Yorkshire,” Economic
History Review, 3 (1931), pp. 45“66. Adult ¼ 21 and over.
28 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

did different jobs. Throstle-spinners were mostly women, and mule-
spinners were men (most of the females in the “mule-spinners and
piecers” category were assistants). While women handloom weavers were
common, most of the workers weaving ¬‚ax were men. Men dominated
the professional jobs of engineers and mechanics, while almost all reelers
were female.
The data on employment ratios not only con¬rm that there was
substantial occupational segregation, but suggest that grouping workers
by broad categories, as in Table 1.1, understates the amount of segre-
gation. Within the textile industry, silk mills employed more women
than cotton mills, which generally employed more women than woollen
mills. Within a particular mill men and women did different jobs.
Clearly workers were not randomly assigned to jobs; gender mattered.

C. Commercial directories
An additional source of data on occupational sorting, though only for a
portion of the workforce, is the commercial directory. Commercial
directories listed the names and addresses of all the tradesmen and
tradeswomen of a town and served as a type of Yellow Pages for cus-
tomers. The commercial directories, then, measure ownership and
authority, but not necessarily everyday work. Only the head of the

Sources to Table 1.3 (cont.)
b. “Report of Dr. James Mitchell,” BPP 1834 (167) XIX. Adult ¼ 18 and over.
c. BPP 1816 (397) III.
d. Frances Collier, The Family Economy of the Working Classes in the Cotton Industry
(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1964).
e. BPP 1833 (450) XX.
f. BPP 1843 (431) XIV p. 3. Adult ¼ 18 and over.
g. BPP 1843 (430) XIII.
h. Pinchbeck, Women Workers.
i. Mitchell report, BPP 1840 (43) XXIII.
k. From report by W. A. Miles, Esq, BPP 1840 (217) XXIV.
l. BPP 1842 (380) XV.
m. Burnette, “Wage and employment.”
n. Kussmaul, Servants in Husbandry.
o. BPP 1824 (51) V.
p. Williams, “Caring for the Sick Poor.”
q. Phillips, Women in Business, p. 124.
r. Eden, State of the Poor, vol II, pp. 534 and 579.
s. Young, General View of Oxfordshire, p. 329.
t. BPP 1818 (134) IX.
u. Neff, Victorian Working Women, p. 263.
v. Rose, “Gender Segregation, p. 166.”
Women™s occupations 29

business was listed, so this source will not tell us anything about women
working for their husbands or fathers, or even about wage-earning
women. Many women worked in partnership with their husbands but do
not appear in the directories. Subsidiary workers, both men and women,
do not appear in these directories. Thus this source only measures
economic activity relatively high on the ladder. While the directory
listings are limited to a small portion of the labor force, they do provide a
comprehensive listing of individuals in that category, and they have not
been fully exploited by historians.
The evidence provided by commercial directories is dif¬cult to
interpret because ownership of a business did not necessarily imply
active participation, whether the owner was male or female. Some
women who are listed as owners of businesses were owners only and not
active managers; many widows remained the nominal head of the
business even if their sons did the work. William Lambert, an overlooker
employed by Mrs. Vanderplank of Gloucestershire in 1806, notes that
“She has got two sons who carry on the business.”27 The sons seem to
have been the active proprietors. However, we must not be too quick to
assume that female business owners were inactive. Robert Cookson
makes contradictory statements about his mother™s business. He ¬rst
claims to be “carrying on the business in my mother™s name; after my
father™s death I had the management of the business,”28 implying that
his mother contributed only her name. Later, however, he stated that
after his father™s death “my mother and I fell to cloth making,” implying
that his mother did participate in the business. Perhaps such statements
about the participation of women are not accurate statements of eco-
nomic activity, but social judgments, re¬‚ecting the fact that women™s
real contributions were often undervalued or ignored by men. There is
evidence that women were actively involved in their businesses. The
mother of George Holyoake carried on a button-making business sep-
arate from her husband, and George recalled that

She received the orders; made the purchases of materials; superintended the
making of the goods; made out the accounts; and received the money besides
taking care of her growing family. There were no “Rights of Women” thought of
in her day, but she was an entirely self-acting managing mistress.29

BPP 1806 (268) III, p. 330. 28 Ibid., p. 67.
G. J. Holyoake, Sixty Years of an Agitator™s Life (London, 1900), p. 10, quoted in
Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, “ ˜The Hidden Investment™: Women and the
Enterprise,” in P. Sharpe, ed., Women™s Work: The English Experience, 1650“1914
(London: Arnold, 1998), p. 274.
30 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

There were also cases of businesses that seem to be owned by men but
were actively managed by women, as is the case with the following
The case came up in Essex quarter sessions in 1795 of woolcards being stolen
from Messrs Suter and Sansom of Colchester, woolcard makers. The “Messrs”
were, in fact, Hannah Sansom and her partner Mary Suter . . . Hannah Sansom
was a spinster, a daughter or granddaughter of Philip Sansom, a card-maker who
was mentioned in petty sessions in 1765 in a case regarding a servant let to him.
Mary Suter was the wife of one John Suter who would have legally owned the
business. Yet the menfolk nowhere directly appear in the court case; clearly their
names were a front for a mainly women™s operation.30

Davidoff and Hall note the underrecording of female merchants in
A sample from the directories for Birmingham, for example, does not list a single
female merchant after 1800, yet as late as the 1830s evidence from only a sample
of wills produces a bone, timber and marble merchant who left instructions for
their wives to take over the business.31

So the listings in the commercial directories may be inaccurate measures
of the gender of the active business manager, but they are as likely to
underestimate female participation as they are to overestimate it.
Commercial directories provide underestimates of women™s real par-
ticipation because they are less likely to record individuals of lower social
status. This effect is particularly strong in the ¬eld of medicine. Most
women who provided medical care were not listed in directories because
they did not have professional status of male physicians.32 Midwives
might also be considered too low in status to list in a directory. In the
1824“5 directory of Manchester, no midwives are listed in the directory
of tradesmen, but the description of the lying-in hospital lists twenty-
four midwives working alongside seven men-midwives, one physician,
and one apothecary.33 This omission leads the directory to understate
the involvement of women in the professional activities.
Business owners included married as well as single women. D™Cruze
found that Colchester milliners “took apprentices and made out bills in
their own names even when married.”34 For example, “When Michael
Boyle, school master, married Mary Walford, milliner in 1775, not only

Sharpe, Adapting to Capitalism, p. 12.
Davidoff and Hall, “The Hidden Investment,” p. 277. 32 Ibid.
Pigot and Dean™s Directory for Manchester, Salford, &c. for 1824“5 (Manchester: J. Pigot
and W. Dean, 1825), p. 277.
Shani D™Cruze, “ ˜To Acquaint the Ladies™: Women Traders in Colchester c. 1750“
c. 1800,” The Local Historian 17 (1986), p. 159.
Women™s occupations 31
Table 1.4. Comparison of commercial directories and population

Male Female female Total

Persons 20 and over 61,276 65,545 51.7 126,821
Persons 20 and over listed with 59,949 25,725 30.0 85,674
occupations in the 1851 census
Persons listed in the 1850 16,534 2,219 11.8 18,753
commercial directory
“ as percent of population 27.0 3.4 19.8
“ as percent of employed 27.6 8.6 21.9
Manchester and Salford
Persons 20 and over 104,906 120,821 53.5 225,727
Persons 20 and over listed with 103,055 55,964 35.2 159,019
occupations in the 1851 census
Persons listed in the 1846 14,043 1,437 9.3 15,480
commercial directory
“ as percent of population 13.4 1.2 6.9
“ as percent of employed 13.6 2.6 9.7

Sources: BPP 1852“3 (1691) LXXXVIII, pp. 504“9, 648“53; Slater™s National Commercial
Directory of Ireland (Manchester: Isaac Slater, 1846); Slater™s Royal, National and
Commercial Directory, 1850. Population ¬gures for 1841 and 1851 were averaged to
estimate the population in 1846.

did Mary continue in millinery but a few years later Michael opened a
silk ribbon manufactory, the produce of which was sold in the milliner™s
shop along with stocks purchased by Mary on frequent trips to
London.”35 Mary Boyle is just one example of married women actively
engaged in the business world. For eighteenth-century Edinburgh,
Elizabeth Sanderson documents 106 cases where wives had different
occupations from their husbands.36
We can see what segment of the population appears in commercial
directories by comparing the number of persons in a directory to the
town™s population. Table 1.4 compares the number of persons in
commercial directories for Birmingham and Manchester to population
¬gures from the 1851 census. Since commercial directories record only
business owners, they record a smaller number of people where ¬rms
are larger. The Birmingham directory of 1850 lists 20 percent of the
population over age 20, but the Manchester directory for 1846 lists only
7 percent. Manchester™s industries were factories, so a larger portion of

35 36
Ibid., p. 160. Sanderson, Women and Work, pp. 126“7.
32 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain
Table 1.5. Number of independent tradeswomen, from commercial directories

Percent Percent Percent of
Date Place Men Women Unknown women unknown pop. listed

More complete directories
1774 Shef¬eld 545 28 74 4.9 11.4 2.3
1788 Manchester 2033 199 321 8.9 12.6 3.6
1791 Coventry 395 39 104 9.0 19.3 3.5
1824“5 Manchester 4185 297 1671 6.6 27.1 3.1
1835 Coventry 1090 110 118 9.2 9.0 3.9
1846 Manchester 11,942 1222 2316 9.3 15.0 5.3
1850 Birmingham 15,054 2020 1677 11.8 8.9 10.8
1850 Derby 2415 332 194 12.1 6.6 6.7
“Principal tradesmen” only
1787 Staffordshire 146 2 49 1.4 24.9 0.1
1787 Cheshire 94 3 13 3.1 13.4 0.1
1787 Lancashire 525 1 153 0.2 29.1 0.1

Sources: Sketchley™s Shef¬eld Directory (Bristol, 1774); Topographical Survey of Stafford,
Chester, and Lancaster; Lewis™s Manchester Directory for 1788; The Universal British Directory
of Trade, Commerce and Manufacture (London: Chapman and Withrow, 1791); Pigot and
Dean™s Directory for Manchester, 1824“5; Pigot & Co.™s National Commercial Directory, 1835;
Slater™s National Commercial Directory of Ireland, 1846; Slater™s Royal National and
Commercial Directory, 1850. Population data from E. A. Wrigley, People, Cities, and Wealth
(Oxford: Blackwell, 1987), p. 159; and BPP 1852“3 (1691) LXXXVIII.

the population were wage-earners. Birmingham™s toy trades had more
small businesses, and thus a larger portion of the population was self-
employed and appeared in the directory.
Women were less likely to own businesses than men. In Birmingham
27 percent of the male population were listed in the directory, while only
3 percent of women were listed. Table 1.5 gives the percentage of per-
sons listed in commercial directories who are female.37 In Manchester in
1788 only 8.9 percent of the listed “tradesmen” were female, and in
1846 only 9.3 percent. In Birmingham in 1850, 11.8 percent of those
listed were female. There is also some evidence of a glass ceiling making
it dif¬cult for women to reach the highest status among business owners.
Generally the more selective listings included fewer women. A 1787
select listing of merchants and manufacturers in Staffordshire, Chester,
and Lancaster, which listed only one tenth of 1 percent of the population

The sex of each person was determined by the ¬rst name, with the help of Patrick
Hanks and Flavia Hodges, A Dictionary of First Names (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1990) for the dif¬cult names. If there was any doubt, the individual was counted
as “unknown.”
Women™s occupations 33

Percent Female
10 Other





1760 1780 1800 1820 1840 1860
Figure 1.1 The prevalence of women in commercial directories
Source: Table 1.5.

of those counties, included very few women; less than 1 percent of the
“principal tradesmen” listed were female.38 This suggests that women
were less likely than men to make their way into the highest class of
business owners.
Table 1.5 suggests that around one in ten business owners was female,
which means that women were less likely to be business owners than
employees. Table 1.3 suggests that in textile factories and handloom
weaving close to half of the adult workers were women. While the per-
centage of day laborers who were female was similar to the percentage in
commercial directories, women were much more prevalent among farm
servants. These patterns suggest that there was occupational segregation
by gender; men and women did not do the same jobs.
For the trades listed in commercial directories, there is no evidence of
declining female employment. Figure 1.1 graphs the percentage female
in each of the more complete commercial directories against time. This
graph suggests that, if anything, the trend was toward greater relative
female participation. The relative number of women appearing in
the Coventry directory stayed stable between 1791 and 1835, at 9 percent
and 9.2 percent. Relative female participation in Manchester appears to
have fallen between 1788 and 1824, and then risen between 1824 and
1846. However, the decline in 1824“5 may be the result of decisions

A Topographical Survey of the Counties of Stafford, Chester, and Lancaster (Nantwich:
E. Snelson, 1787), reprinted by Neil Richardson (Manchester, 1982).
34 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

about who to include in the directory; the 1824“5 directory includes no
speci¬c category for shopkeepers and includes relatively fewer persons in
retailing than the other two Manchester directories. The Shef¬eld dir-
ectory for 1774 included fewer women than the Birmingham or Derby
directories for 1850. However, it is not clear if this difference results
from increased opportunities for women, or from other factors such as
difference between the towns, or the fact that the 1774 Shef¬eld dir-
ectory is somewhat more selective than the other directories. Regression
analysis con¬rms that there is no evidence of a decline in the presence of
women in this segment of the workforce. While the percentage of the
population listed in the directory does have a signi¬cantly positive effect
on the percentage of listed “tradesmen” who were female, there is no
statistically signi¬cant trend.39
Commercial directories also reveal the extent to which women who
did run businesses were segregated into certain occupations. Females do
seem to have been concentrated into a smaller number of trades than
men. Table 1.6 shows the ten most popular occupational categories for
men and women in each of the six directories. Some occupations were
important for both sexes “ publican and shopkeeper appear on both
lists. Some occupations were clearly female specialties; milliner, dress-
maker, and straw bonnet maker are found only on the female lists. A
few occupations were exclusively male, but a handful of women appear
in most occupational categories; only ¬fteen of the sixty listed top male
occupations had no women at all. Women were also likely to share their
occupations with men. Only seven of the sixty listed top female occu-
pations were 100 percent female. Women do appear to be more con-
centrated in a few occupations than men, as evidenced by the fact that
the percentage of women in the directory accounted for by the top ten
occupations is much greater than the equivalent number for men.
Women in the top ten occupations account for 88 percent of all the

The data from Table 1.5 give the following regression results (the dependent variable is
the percent female; standard errors are given in parentheses).

Including 1787 Excluding 1787
directories directories

À 22.414 (64.714) À 33.139 (47.979)
Year 0.014 (0.036) 0.022 (0.027)
Percent of population 1.000* (0.339) 0.526 (0.303)
R2 0.78 0.693
N 11 8
Women™s occupations 35
Table 1.6. The top ten most common occupations for men and women in
commercial directories

Male Female Unknown female

A. Manchester 1788
Top 10 male occupations
Manufacturer cloth 257 4 118 1.5
Public house/inn/tavern 126 13 2 9.4
Shopkeeper 107 16 4 13.0
Grocer and tea dealer 91 16 12 15.0
Boot and shoe maker 87 0 1 0.0
Warehouse 64 0 14 0.0
Tailor 59 0 1 0.0
Merchant 58 1 18 1.7
Fustian cutter/shearer 54 2 0 3.6
Draper, mercer, dealer of cloth 46 15 19 24.6
Top 10 female occupations
Milliner 0 24 0 100.0
Grocer and tea dealer 91 16 12 15.0
Shopkeeper 107 16 4 13.0
Draper, mercer, dealer of cloth 46 15 19 24.6
Public house/inn/tavern 126 13 2 9.4
Black worker 1 11 0 91.7
Mantua-maker 0 10 2 100.0
Schoolmaster/mistress 18 10 0 35.7
Corn and ¬‚our dealer 45 4 5 8.2
Manufacturer cloth 257 4 118 1.5

B. Manchester 1824“5
Top 10 male occupations
Manufacturer cloth 475 1 309 0.0
Tavern and public house 296 53 48 15.2
Baker and shopkeeper 178 19 8 9.6
Cotton spinner 137 0 122 0.0
Merchant 134 0 138 0.0
Calico printer 132 0 112 0.0
Grocer 105 10 16 8.7
Joiner 104 1 11 1.0
Attorney 96 0 38 0.0
Agent and commission dealer 85 0 33 0.0
Top 10 female occupations
Tavern and public house 296 53 48 15.2
Milliner 0 20 14 100.0
Baker and shopkeeper 178 19 8 9.6
Pawnbroker 67 19 6 22.1
Academies 18 17 7 48.6
Straw-hat maker 9 14 4 60.9
Confectioner 18 10 4 35.7
36 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain
Table 1.6. (cont.)

Male Female Unknown female

Grocer 105 10 16 8.7
Furniture broker 32 9 0 22.0
Tea dealer 26 8 16 23.5

C. Coventry 1835
Top 10 male occupations
Tavern and public house 105 11 1 9.5
Retailer of beer 74 3 0 3.9
Ribbon manufacturer 72 2 27 2.7
Butcher 70 1 0 1.4
Shopkeeper 61 11 0 15.3
Maltster 34 2 0 5.6
Boot and shoe maker 31 3 0 8.8
Tailor 28 0 1 0.0
Baker and ¬‚our dealer 28 2 2 6.7
Grocer and tea dealer 26 0 1 0.0
Top 10 female occupations
Milliner 0 19 0 100.0
Academies and schools 15 19 4 55.9
Shopkeeper 61 11 0 15.3
Tavern and public house 105 11 1 9.5
Straw-hat maker 4 10 0 71.4
Boot and shoe maker 31 3 0 8.8
Staymaker 3 3 0 50.0
Retailer of beer 74 3 0 3.9
Wine and spirit merchant 12 2 2 14.3
Linen and woollen draper 13 2 5 13.3

D. Manchester 1846
Top 10 male occupations
Shopkeeper 776 128 4 14.2
Manufacturer cloth 740 8 363 1.1
Tavern and public house 496 91 42 15.5
Butcher 464 43 2 8.5
Boot and shoe maker 321 7 7 2.1
Merchant 265 1 184 0.4
Cotton spinner 262 0 118 0.0
Tailor 239 1 18 0.4
Grocer and tea dealer 208 8 12 3.7
Agent and commission dealer 192 1 64 0.5
Top 10 female occupations
Milliner and dressmaker 12 245 18 95.3
Schoolmaster/mistres 156 167 12 51.7
Shopkeeper 776 128 4 14.2
Tavern and public house 496 91 42 15.5
Women™s occupations 37
Table 1.6. (cont.)
Male Female Unknown female

Smallware dealer 83 47 6 36.2
Butcher 464 43 2 8.5
Straw-bonnet maker 12 30 6 71.4
Confectioner 59 28 7 32.2
Pawnbroker 142 23 16 13.9
Linen draper and silk mercer 127 19 10 13.0

E. Birmingham 1850
Top 10 male occupations
Shopkeeper and dealer in groceries 880 168 9 16.0
Boot and shoe maker 709 16 4 2.2
Retailer of beer 629 53 1 7.8
Tavern and public house 505 75 4 12.9
Tailor 382 7 7 1.8
Butcher 365 14 3 3.7
Coal merchant and dealer 323 20 18 5.8
Button manufacturer 254 4 38 1.6
Jeweler “ manufacturing 231 8 33 3.3
Baker and ¬‚our dealer 212 16 7 7.0
Top 10 female occupations
Milliner and dressmaker 11 492 13 97.8
Schoolteacher 142 365 5 72.0
Straw-bonnet maker 10 193 6 95.1
Shopkeeper and dealer in groceries 880 168 9 16.0
Tavern and public house 505 75 4 12.9
Staymaker 6 60 5 90.9
Retailer of beer 629 53 1 7.8
Haberdasher and dealer in smallwares 86 40 4 31.7
Hosier and glover 74 33 5 30.8
Coal merchant and dealer 323 20 18 5.8

F. Derby 1850
Top 10 male occupations
Shopkeeper and dealer in groceries 187 49 1 20.8
Boot and shoe maker 172 0 1 0.0
Tavern and public house 154 20 2 11.5
Tailor 116 1 0 0.9
Butcher 112 2 2 1.8
Carrier 67 2 3 2.9
Baker and ¬‚our dealer 65 6 1 8.5
Agent 58 0 6 0.0
Retailer of beer 55 4 1 6.8
Jeweler “ working 53 0 5 0.0
Top 10 female occupations
Milliner and dressmaker 0 97 4 100.0
Schoolteacher 43 58 8 57.4
38 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain
Table 1.6. (cont.)

Male Female Unknown female

Shopkeeper and dealer in groceries 187 49 1 20.8
Straw-bonnet maker 0 26 0 100.0
Tavern and publichouse 154 20 2 11.5
Staymaker 4 12 0 75.0
Baker and ¬‚our dealer 65 6 1 8.5
Berlin wool repository 0 6 2 100.0
Fruiterer and greengrocer 43 5 0 10.4
Tea dealer 2 4 0 66.7

Sources: Lewis™s Manchester Directory for 1788; Pigot and Dean™s Directory for Manchester,
1824“5; Pigot & Co.™s National Commercial Directory, 1835; Slater™s National Commercial
Directory of Ireland, 1846; Slater™s Royal National and Commercial Directory, 1850.

women in the Derby directory and 74 percent of all the women in the
Birmingham directory, while men in the top ten occupations account for
only 45 percent of all men in the Derby directory and 30 percent of men
in the Birmingham directory.
Commercial directories reveal that women were less likely than men
to have their own businesses in retail trade and manufacturing. Among
the women who were listed as business owners, a large portion were
concentrated in typically female occupations such as dressmaking and
millinery. Women were overrepresented in school teaching; about half of
school teachers listed were women. While women were concentrated in
these occupations, many women did work in occupations not typically
considered women™s work. Most towns had women butchers, chemists,
coopers, and ironmongers. Women were certainly not con¬ned to
a handful of occupations.
Commercial directories, the employment ratios in Table 1.3, and
Higgs™s corrected census data in Table 1.2 all support the same general
conclusion. Men and women clearly did not have the same occupational
distributions. Men were more likely to be found in some occupations,
women in others. We can be con¬dent that the labor market of the
Industrial Revolution was characterized by extensive occupational sorting
by sex. The cause of this sorting, however, remains undetermined.

II. Survey of women™s work
While the statistical evidence is limited, anecdotal evidence on women™s
work is abundant. This section will provide a description of the various
types of work that women did during the period 1750 to 1850. Textiles,
Women™s occupations 39

cottage industries, agriculture, and domestic service receive the most
attention because they employed the largest numbers of women, but
I also note that women were employed in a wide variety of occupations.

A. Textiles
At the onset of the Industrial Revolution, textile production was the
largest employer of women. Wool cloth was England™s most important
export, and women had an important part in the industry. The most
important single shock to women™s employment opportunities during the
Industrial Revolution was the disappearance of hand spinning. Before
mechanization, spinning employed vast numbers of women. It took so
many spinners to supply enough yarn for one weaver that spinning could
provide employment for nearly all the women in textile districts. A 1741
pamphlet on the wool industry estimates that out of 1187 workers needed
to perform all processes for 1200 pounds of wool, 900 (75.8 percent) were
spinners.40 Parliamentary investigator H.S. Chapman, reporting on
handloom weavers in 1840, claimed, “In 1715, with the old single-spindle
it took 10 spinners to keep one stuff-loom at work.”41 In 1770 Arthur
Young calculated that there were twenty spinners for every weaver in the
sacking manufacture of Warrington.42 Lavenham, Suffolk, had 150 wool-
combers, each of whom furnished enough wool for thirty spinners.43 This
implies 4500 spinners in the neighborhood of this one town. The most
common description of the extent of employment in spinning was that
spinning employed “all” the women in an area. In the “Rural Queries” of
1833, a Norfolk farmer reported, “formerly, all the Women and Children
had spinning to do, and they brought in as much as the Man did.”44 A
Suffolk farmer stated in 1843, “Formerly, all the women and children in
the neighboring villages, from 10 to 15 miles round, used to be employed
in spinning yarn, and the wife and children, on an average, could earn
nearly as much as the husband.”45 Of course spinning did not literally

Alice Clark, Working Life of Women in the Seventeenth Century (London: Routledge,
1919), p. 98.
BPP 1840 (43) XXIII, p. 586.
Arthur Young, A Six Months™ Tour through the North of England (Dublin: P. Wilson,
1770), vol. II, p. 255.
Reports of Special Assistant Poor Law Commissioners on the Employment of Women
and Children in Agriculture, BPP 1843 (510) XII, reprinted by W. Clowes (London:
W. Clowes, For Her Majesty™s Stationery Of¬ce, 1843), p. 228.
BPP 1834 (44) XXX, Costessey, Norfolk, p. 318. The “Rural Queries” was an extensive
survey sent out by the Poor Law Commissioners. Over a thousand parishes responded,
and the complete responses are printed in an appendix to the Commissioners™ report.
Women and Children in Agriculture, p. 228.
40 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

employ all women, but it may have come close, and these descriptions do
provide a clear indication that spinning was the most important employer
of women.
The Industrial Revolution, however, made this employment obsolete.
The invention of the water frame (1769), the jenny (1770), and the mule
(1779) changed spinning technology so drastically that hand spinners
could not possibly compete and hand spinning disappeared. Before
industrialization, wool was the most prominent ¬ber, and the spinning of
wool occupied countless women across the country. Cotton spinning
was the ¬rst to be mechanized, but this change in technology still had a
substantial impact on the traditional wool spinning. Since the different
types of cloth competed as substitutes, cotton™s success as cheap cloth
reduced the demand for wool and ¬‚ax cloth. The shift to cotton cloth
and the adaptation of the cotton machinery to wool and ¬‚ax made hand
spinning, long the largest employer of English women, unpro¬table. The
impact of this change was extensive; indeed, the collapse of an industry
that employed “all” the women and children in some districts could not
help but be signi¬cant.
As spinning became mechanized on an increasingly large scale,
spinning employment was reduced, and male workers eventually
replaced female workers. The spinning wheel was replaced by the
spinning jenny, the water frame, and later the spinning mule. The early
machines were worked by women and children. The spinning jenny was
a small machine and was used in the home. The water frame, since it
used water power, moved spinning into the factory, but was still oper-
ated by women. The switch from female to male spinners came only
with the third machine, the mule. The mule, so named because it was a
combination of the jenny and the water frame, became the dominant
technology and grew in size. In 1788 one pamphlet writer estimated that
Britain contained 143 water mills for spinning, 550 mules of 90 spindles
each, and 20,070 jennies of 80 spindles each.46 Women were employed
on all these machines. Women were not, however, employed on the
larger mules that appeared in the early nineteenth century. A woman
could operate a mule of 90 spindles, but one of 500 spindles was beyond
her strength. Spinning mules required so much strength that even older
men did not have the strength for peak performance. Male productivity
peaked in the early thirties, and declined thereafter. From a parlia-
mentary study we learn of one mule spinner whose weekly earnings

An Important Crisis in the Callico and Muslin Manufactory in Great Britain, Explained,
1788, quoted in Eden, State of the Poor, vol. II, p. 478.
Women™s occupations 41

(on piece-rate work) declined 14 percent between his late twenties and
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.47
Normally we expect earnings to increase with age as workers acquire
more skill. In this case it is clear why Alexander™s earnings decreased “
he used to work on a larger machine. By age 34 Alexander was no longer
able to work as large a machine as he could in his late twenties. This
suggests that mule spinning required a great deal of strength.
A combination of high strength requirements and speci¬c actions by
male spinners led mule spinning to become an exclusively male occu-
pation. The strength required for the larger mules made women less
productive as mule spinners. A woman could operate a smaller mule,
but smaller mules produced less yarn, so a female spinner™s productivity
was less than a male spinner™s productivity.48 The ability to operate the
larger mules gave male spinners an advantage over female spinners. The
actions of male unions also contributed to the elimination of women
from mule spinning. Male spinners also used violence, if necessary, to
prevent female workers from being employed. The introduction describes
an example of such violence in Glasgow. The strength requirement was
eliminated in 1833 with the invention of the self-actor, which completely
mechanized mule spinning.49 By this time it was too late, though.
Women, who had been eliminated from the trade, did not have the
skills required, and male spinners refused to teach them. Mule spinning
remained an exclusively male trade after the mule was fully mechanized
because the male mule-spinning union maintained a monopoly on the
skills and did not admit women spinners.50
Technological change in spinning altered the regional pattern of
women™s employment. Employment decreased in hand spinning and

BPP 1833 (450) XX, A1, p. 112.
If a 500-spindle mule produced twice as much yarn per hour as a 250-spindle mule,
then a male spinner who could operate the former was twice as productive as a female
spinner who could only operate the latter.
The change to the self-actor in factories did not happen immediately; George Henry
Wood, The History of Wages in the Cotton Trade during the Past Hundred Years (London:
Sherratt and Hughes, 1910), p. 27, suggests “The change from hand-mule spinning to
self-actor minding has taken place gradually, and commenced about 1836.”
Mary Freifeld, “Technological Change and the ˜Self-Acting™ Mule: A Study of Skill and
the Sexual Division of Labour,” Social History 2 (1986), 319“43. For further
discussion, see Chapter 5.
42 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

increased in factories, but the increase in employment was smaller than
the decrease and was concentrated in a few northern counties. In towns
where the new factories opened, the demand for women workers
increased. Women in these areas could earn good wages. An inhabitant
of Settle, Yorkshire, claimed “The lowness of the Poor™s Rates is here
ascribed to the introduction of the cotton manufacture; which has raised
the demand for labor, and afforded full employment to the wives and
children of the industrious Poor.”51 Other areas, however, experienced a
decline in employment. To some extent the unemployed spinners
moved into handloom weaving, the demand for which increased with the
reduced price of yarn. However, many women were still left
unemployed. Women in areas of industrialization did well, while many
other women were left without work in regions of distress, such as the
south-east, where spinning disappeared but no factories appeared.
While women were spinners in the pre-industrial period, men were
weavers. Employment in weaving, too, changed during the Industrial
Revolution. With the mechanization of spinning, women who had lost
their spinning work became handloom weavers in large numbers. Since
most handloom weaving was relatively unskilled, women found it easy to
enter this occupation when they could no longer ¬nd employment
spinning. Parliamentary investigator J. Symons concluded that one of
the reasons for low wages in handloom weaving was “the extreme and
peculiar facility with which weaving is learnt.”52 The result was that the
number of women handloom weavers soon matched the number of men.
However, handloom weaving, too, disappeared in the face of new
technology. The powerloom was invented in 1785, but did not work well
enough to be useful until about 1815.53 Even then, the adoption of the
powerloom was slow because of its imperfections.54 Handloom weavers
persisted, but by mid-century they were clearly a dying breed, barely
earning enough to survive.55
By the mid-nineteenth century, textile production had changed from a
domestic industry to a factory industry, so that the women who were

Eden, State of the Poor, vol. III, p. 867. 52 BPP 1839 (159) XLII, p. 53.
Joel Mokyr, The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 100.
Duncan Bythell, The Handloom Weavers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1969), pp. 76“8.
In 1835 the factory inspectors found 103,564 powerlooms in England: 96,679 in
cotton, 5105 in wool, 1714 in silk, 41 in ¬‚ax, and 25 in mixed goods. BPP 1840 (220)
XXIV, p. 591. See also Bythell, The Handloom Weavers, and John Lyon, “Family
Response to Economic Decline: Handloom Weavers in Early Nineteenth-Century
Lancashire,” in R. Ransom, ed., Research in Economic History, vol. XII (London: JAI
Press, 1989).
Women™s occupations 43

Number of Workers

Below 11
11 to 15
16 to 20
21 to 25
26 to 30
31 to 35
36 to 40
41 to 45
46 to 50
51 to 55
56 to 60
61 to 65
66 to 70
71 to 75
76 to 80
Figure 1.2 The age distribution of textile factory workers
Note: Includes cotton, wool, ¬‚ax, and silk factories.
Source: BPP 1834 (167) XIX.

employed in this industry were doing very different work than women
had done in 1760. Spinning entered the factories early, and weaving
somewhat later. By mid-century, then, the textile industry was a factory
industry. Figure 1.2 shows the pattern of employment, by sex and age, in
textile factories sampled by parliamentary investigator James Mitchell.56
This ¬gure shows that women, mainly young women, were extensively
employed in textile factories.
By 1850, then, women™s employment in textiles was still important, but
was less extensive and of a different kind than it had been in 1760. Wo-
men™s employment in textiles changed greatly between 1750 and 1850. In
1750 a large portion of the female population worked in hand spinning.
This work was done at home by women of all ages. By 1850 this work had
disappeared. In some regions women in their teens and twenties could ¬nd
work in textile factories, but in others textile work simply disappeared.
New technologies changed not only the gender patterns of employ-
ment, but the geographical patterns as well. While the very visible cotton
factories increased opportunities for women workers in the areas where
they appeared, in other areas the demand for women workers decreased
substantially. Labor markets were local, and migration failed to completely

BPP 1834 (167) XIX.
44 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

equate real wages in different areas. Williamson and Hunt both ¬nd
large and persistent regional differences in real wages, even correcting
for price differences, compensating differentials, and poor law pay-
ments.57 Women™s work opportunities, then, depended on the state of
the local industry. In England, most of the factories were located in
Lancashire and the West Riding, but there were factories elsewhere. In
James Mitchell™s 1833 survey of factories, which is neither a complete
nor a random sample, 56 percent of English employment was located in
Lancashire and the West Riding, 24 percent was located in the south-
west, 14 percent in the west midlands, and only 6 percent in the south-
east.58 English cotton factories were concentrated in Lancashire, ¬‚ax
factories in Leeds, wool factories in the south-west, silk factories in
Derbyshire, lace factories in Devonshire and Derbyshire, and potteries
in Staffordshire. Scotland also had substantial factory employment,
especially in Glasgow.59 Locations that did have factories had relatively
high demand for female labor. In 1833 the overseer of Stroud claimed,
“The Women and Children are employed in the woollen manufacture,
and, generally speaking, their labor is more in demand than that of the
Men.”60 At the same time, areas where no factories were built experi-
enced a decline in the demand for women workers, as hand spinning
disappeared. While not all factories were located in Lancashire and the
West Riding, factory employment was still more concentrated than hand
spinning had been, and many locations found themselves with suddenly
reduced employment opportunities. Many areas reported that there was
little or no work for women; one Norfolk parish reported, “Since
spinning and knitting have been nearly superseded by the use of
machinery, our Women and Children have little to do except in harvest-
time.”61 Thus new technologies had important effects on work oppor-
tunities for women, opportunities that varied from one town to another.

B. Cottage industries
Cottage industry, in which employers gave out raw materials for their
workers to work up at home, was an important employer of women

Jeffrey Williamson, “Did English Factor Markets Fail during the Industrial
Revolution?” Oxford Economic Papers 3 (1987), 641“78, and E. H. Hunt, Regional
Wage Variations in Britain, 1850“1914 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973).
“Report from Dr. James Mitchell to the Central Board of Commissioners,” BPP 1834
(167) XIX.
In Mitchell™s survey, total Scottish factory employment was 75 percent of total English
factory employment.
Thomas Shill; BPP 1834 (44) XXX, Stroud, Gloucestershire, p. 208.
John Ayton, JP; BPP 1834 (44) XXX, Scole, Norfolk, p. 329
Women™s occupations 45

in the eighteenth century.62 It rose to prominence in the eighteenth
century and was replaced by the factory system during the Industrial
Revolution. Important cottage industries were spinning, weaving, lace-
making, framework knitting, and straw-plaiting. Because the demise of
the cottage industry is so much better documented than its rise, we tend
to think of it as sector with very poor pay. Parliamentary reports of the
nineteenth century examine in excruciating detail the starvation wages
in industries such as handloom weaving and framework knitting. By the
mid-nineteenth century, relatively few women still worked in cottage
industries, and those who did earned very low wages. In their day,
though, cottage industries employed large numbers of women at rela-
tively high wages.

In the late eighteenth century pillow-lace making was a thriving cottage
industry, and the women employed in it made good wages.63 By the mid-
nineteenth century, however, the pillow-lace trade had dwindled and lace-
makers earned extremely low wages. This decline was due both to the
increasing factory production of lace and to competition with France.
In the eighteenth century lace making employed substantial numbers of
women in the midlands. Defoe, in his 1724 tour, noted that lace-making
was widespread in Bedfordshire.64 In 1770 Arthur Young noted, “The
town of Bedford is noted for nothing but its lace manufactory, which
employs above 500 women and children.”65 The lace industry prospered
during the Napoleonic Wars because imports were cut off. Women could
¬nd ample employment making lace and thus were not found in agri-
culture. In 1813 women in Buckinghamshire worked at lace making and
straw plaiting and could “earn by such work from 7s. to 30s. per week.”66
After the war, the industry started to decline because of competition
from the Continent and, more importantly, from increasing mechan-
ization. Mechanization did not immediately replace the domestic
industry; machine lace-making and pillow-lace making existed side by
side for a long time. At ¬rst the machines could only do limited tasks,

See Maxine Berg, The Age of Manufacture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).
The making of lace by hand was termed “pillow-lace” because the lace was formed on
pins that were stuck in a pillow.
Daniel Defoe, A Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain, abridged and edited by
Pat Rogers (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986), p. 427. Lace-making was centered in the
midlands, and was most prominent in Bedfordshire.
Young, Northern Tour, vol. I, p. 26.
St. John Priest, General View of the Agriculture of Buckinghamshire (London: Sherwood,
Neely, and Jones, for the Board of Agriculture, 1813), p. 346. Pinchbeck also quotes wages
as high as £1 to 25s. during the Napoleonic Wars. Pinchbeck, Women Workers, p. 207.
46 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

and many types of lace could still only be made by hand. As the
machines improved, more types of lace could be made by machine, and
the pillow-lace trade gradually disappeared.
The ¬rst lace machine, the bobbinet machine invented by John
Heathcoat, appeared in 1809. This machine had the obvious effect of
lowering the prices of lace, so that the wages of lace makers were
reduced, and workers were thrown out of employment. Spenceley claims
that the number of lace makers in one town declined from 2000 to only
300.67 However, since the bobbinet machine could only make lace net,
only workers making plain lace net were so affected. Hand work was still
necessary to make more complicated types of lace and to embroider
designs on the lace net.68 This employment, called tambouring, con-
tinued to employ many women.
Though employment declined, pillow-lace making continued to be a
large domestic industry in the early nineteenth century. It was one of the
most important non-agricultural occupations cited for women in the 1833
“Rural Queries” of the Poor Law Commission, even though the industry
was in decline at this time. Lace work was most common in Bedfordshire,
where thirteen of sixteen responding parishes reported that their women
did lace work, and in Buckinghamshire, Northampton, and Derbyshire.
The respondents all agreed, however, that the trade was in decline. The
pillow-lace trade was said to be “excessively bad,”69 “not a thriving
trade,”70 and “reduced by one-half.”71 Wages were very low in 1833, and
many women continued to work for wages as low as 1s. to 4s. a week.
A brief respite was granted when exports of lace boomed from 1840
to 1844, adding to the industry™s prosperity. After this boom, however,
the pillow-lace trade went into a permanent decline, lasting until the
1880s. Power was increasingly used for the lace machines, especially
after 1820.72 The ¬rst lace factory was built in Tiverton, Devonshire.
Machines were gradually improved and adapted to making all types of
lace. In the 1840s the Jacquard system was adapted to the lace machinery,
increasing the ability of these machines to make patterned lace. It was
not until the 1860s, however, that machines could successfully make

The town was Honiton. G. F. R. Spenceley, “The English Pillow Lace Industry 1840“80:
A Rural Industry in Competition with Machinery,” Business History 19 (1997), p. 70.
Some types of lace were made in two stages “ the net was woven, and then the design was
embroidered onto that net. The bobbinet machine could do only the ¬rst operation, but
it did so much more ef¬ciently and hand-workers making the net were replaced.
BPP 1834 (44) XXX, Medmenham, Buckinghamshire, p. 45
BPP 1834 (44) XXX, Easton Mawdit, Northamptonshire, p. 341.
BPP 1834 (44) XXX, Watlington, Oxfordshire, p. 390.
William Felkin, A History of the Machine-Wrought Hosiery and Lace Manufactures
(London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1867), p. 331.
Women™s occupations 47
Table 1.7. Wages in lace making


Women Men in
Year Place in lace agriculture Ratio Src

1770 Bedford 8d.“10d./dy 6s./wk* 0.75 a
1770 Maidenhead, Berkshire 10d.“1s./dy 7s./wk 0.79 a
1795 Leighton Buzzard, 8d.“10d. 6s.“7s./wk* 0.69 b
1795 Buckingham 8d.“9d./dy 1s.“1s.6d./dy 0.57 b
1795 Roade, Northamptonshire 8d.“10d./dy 1s./dy 0.75 b
1833 Cardington, Bedfordshire 2s.6d./wk 12s./wk 0.21 c
1833 Kempston, Bedfordshire 2s.6d./wk 10s./wk 0.25 c
1833 Thornton, Buckinghamshire 1s.“3s./wk 8s.“12s./wk 0.20 c
1833 Woodbury, Devon 6d./dy 9s.“10s./wk 0.32 c
1833 Sheepy Magna, Leicestershire 6d./dy 2s./dy 0.25 c
1833 Kettering, Northamptonshire 1s.6d.“3s.6d./wk 9s.“12s./wk 0.24 c
1843 Nottingham 3s.6d./wk d

* Wages in a neighboring town.
a. Young, Northern Tour.
b. Eden, The State of the Poor, vol. II, pp. 8, 24 and 544.
c. BPP 1834 (44) XXX, pp. 7, 8 and 49.
d. BPP 1843 (431) XIV.

Maltese lace.73 With the move to factories, men began to work as lace
makers, though women were also employed in the mechanized lace fac-
tories. Eventually, factory production completely replaced the making of
lace by hand, and the pillow-lace industry disappeared.
The fortunes of the lace industry are re¬‚ected in the path of wages.
Table 1.7 shows wages in domestic lace manufacture and, for compari-
son, wages of male agricultural laborers. A substantial fall in wages of lace-
makers is evident. In 1770 women made good wages. Arthur Young
noted that in Bedford “women that are very good hands earn 1s. a day,
but in common only 8d. 9d. and 10d.”74 These wages were the same as
what male agricultural laborers in the neighborhood could earn in the
winter.75 The industry boomed at the end of the eighteenth century.
Spenceley claims that in 1795 workers in Honiton made £1 a week.76

Spenceley, “The English Pillow Lace Industry,” p. 79.
Young, Northern Tour, vol. I, p. 26.
Wanden 8d. to 1s.; Broughton 10d.; Biddenham 9d.; labourers, of course, earned more
in the summer. These wages are also from Young, Northern Tour.
Spenceley, “The English Pillow Lace Industry,” p. 70.
48 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

This would have been quite a high wage, particularly for women, and was
likely the result of restrictions on imports imposed by war. By 1833, after
a period of decline, wages were much lower, generally around 3s. a week,
a low wage and less than women generally earned in agriculture.

Straw plaiting
Straw plaiting, like lace making, provided extensive employment for
women in the late eighteenth century, but dwindled to insigni¬cance by
the mid-nineteenth century. The straw industry had provided women
with work since at least 1724, when Defoe mentioned its existence in
Bedfordshire.77 The industry grew and, by the turn of the nineteenth
century, employed a substantial number of women. In 1784 the
invention of a tool for splitting straw increased the wages in straw-
plaiting.78 Straw-plaiting was encouraged as a replacement for lost
spinning work, leading to further growth in employment. In 1795 Eden
found that in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, straw work “has given employ-
ment, for the last 20 years, to every woman, who wished to work,” and
he claimed that an adult woman could earn from 6s. to 12s. per week.79
These wages, though, were probably higher than at other times. As in
the lace trade, the Napoleonic Wars cut off competition from the
Continent and led to a boom in the English industry. With peace came
foreign competition, and the industry declined.
By 1833, the state of the straw-plaiting industry was quite different.
Competition from Italian straw hats put the industry into decline. In the
“Rural Queries,” a respondent from Sible Hedingham, Essex, replies,
“There is a little straw plaiting, which now goes on very badly.”80 At this
time straw plaiters in Essex were making only 3s. per week.81 Some women
were still employed in straw plaiting in 1851, but their numbers were
relatively few. The census reports a total of 14,425 straw plaiters in England
and Wales, which is only 0.14 percent of the population age 20 and over.82

Women also lost employment in glove making as fashion changed and
glove making became a branch of the factory lace industry rather than a

Defoe, Tour, pp. 427“8.
Duncan Bythell, The Sweated Trades (New York: St. Martin™s Press, 1978), p. 119.
Eden, State of the Poor, vol. II, p. 2. 80 BPP 1834 (44) XXX.
Ibid. Ten years later straw plaiters in Suffolk were earning approximately the same
wages, 6d. to 8d. per day. Women and Children in Agriculture, p. 229.
Women™s occupations 49

cottage industry. Making of leather gloves was centered in Woodstock,
Yeovil, and Worcester. Generally men cut the gloves, and the women
sewed them.83 In 1807 Arthur Young found the male leather cutters
earning 21s. to 30s. a week and the women earning 8s. to 12s. a week
sewing the gloves.84
This industry declined when restrictions on trade with France were
eliminated. Restrictions on the importation of French gloves were
lifted in 1826, and by the early 1830s the decline was evident. In
Worcester the trade was in 1832 only one-third what it had been in
1825.85 The “Rural Queries” of 1833 ¬nd the glove-making areas
complaining of decline. We learn that in Wootton, Oxfordshire, the
glove trade was “much fallen off,” and in Ledbury, Herefordshire,
“owing to the free trade system, this source of employment is greatly
diminished.” The overseer of Claines, Worcester, complains, “We had
[employment for women], in the Glove trade, until the free trade
system ruined it.” In Ledbury, in 1833, women earned 3s. to 4s. a
week sewing gloves. This was a typical wage for women at the time,
but it was much lower than previous wages in the industry “ a quarter
to a half the wage quoted by Arthur Young twenty-six years earlier.
The overseer of Yeovil also estimated that “Females do not earn so
much by half as formerly.”86 All this suggests a rapid decline in this
The change in fashion from leather gloves to cloth gloves also
contributed to the disappearance of the glove trade in the south-west.
By 1840 the leather glove trade had disappeared. In 1840 in Hereford
we ¬nd that, “John Hatton, glover . . . has given up the trade within
the last 12 months; it has been gradually declining ever since the
importation of French gloves.”87 In the report of W. A. Miles, we ¬nd
that in Ludlow “The glove trade in this town once occupied 100
persons, but owing to change of fashion, namely, the introduction of
cotton, woollen, silk, and thread as a material, the leather glove trade
decreased, and about 2 years ago became extinct.”88 After this the
glove trade became a branch of the lace trade, the gloves being made
of fabric knitted on a frame. An industry that had been an important
employer of women ceased to exist.

BPP 1834 (44) XXX, Yeovil, Somerset.
Arthur Young, General View of the Agriculture of Oxfordshire (Newton Abbot: David and
Charles, [1813] 1969), p. 329.
Berg, The Age of Manufactures, p. 124.
BPP 1834 (44) XXX, Yeovil, p. 417. 87 BPP 1840 (220) XXIV, p. 544.
BPP 1840 (220) XXIV, p. 542.
50 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

The manufacture of buttons was concentrated in Dorset.89 The industry
employed 4000 women and children near the town of Shaftesbury in 1793.
In 1812 a woman could earn between 6s. and 12s. a week making but-
tons.90 The Dorset button industry declined when competition from pearl
buttons reduced the demand for wire buttons. A draper from Blandford,
Dorset, attributed the decline to the competition with pearl buttons
The introduction of the pearl-button has made a serious difference to the button
makers; it has very considerably diminished the demand for wire-buttons, which
were the most pro¬table to make, whilst it has increased, perhaps, the demand
for the coarser articles, upon which the earnings are small. The demand for wire-
buttons has diminished perhaps twenty-¬ve per cent.91

The draper estimated that women could earn only 3s. per week making
buttons.92 Still, the trade was strong enough that a farmer from
Whitchurch, Dorset, found it dif¬cult to hire women at 4s. per week.93
The Dorest button industry did not last past mid-century, when the
industry was superseded by machinery.94

C. Agriculture
Though its role was declining, agriculture was also an important
employer of women in pre-industrial Britain. It employed about half
of the labor force in 1760. By the 1801 census this had fallen to about a
third, and by 1850 only a quarter of the labor force worked in agricul-
ture.95 While agriculture did not employ the majority of the population,
it still employed a signi¬cant fraction. Women agricultural workers were
occasionally farmers, but usually either unpaid family workers or hired
workers, which were either annual servants or day-laborers.96

In the 1833 “Rural Queries,” seven out of sixteen parishes in Dorset mention button-
making employment, while only one parish outside of Dorset (Biddulph, Staffordshire)
mentions the trade. BPP 1834 (44) XXX.
Pinchbeck, Women Workers, p. 231.
Mr. Fisher, of Blandford, Dorset, Draper, Women and Children in Agriculture, p. 87.
Women and Children in Agriculture, p. 87.
“The women are much engaged in the buttoning in this village; it is with dif¬culty they
can be got to work for 4s. a-week in harvest.” Mr. Joseph Fowler, Farmer, Whitchurch,
Dorset, Women and Children in Agriculture, p. 56.
Pinchbeck, Women Workers, p. 232.
Gregory Clark, “Agriculture and the Industrial Revolution, 1700“1850,” in Joel
Mokyr, ed., The British Industrial Revolution: An Economic Perspective (Boulder:
Westview Press, 1993), p. 233.
Young people were generally servants until marriage, becoming day-laborers thereafter.
Women™s occupations 51

Some women were tenant farmers managing their own farms. Eden
reported a census of a Surrey town which included eight farmers, one of
whom was a woman (a widow); she hired four servants, three male and
one female.97 In an 1829 directory of Derbyshire, 5 percent of the farmers
listed in the county were female, so while women farmers were not
common there were certainly more than one or two isolated examples.98
In the 1841 census 7 percent of farmers and graziers in Britain were
female.99 Most of these women were probably widows who became
farmers when their husbands died. An example is Mary Stimpson of
Alderford, Norfolk. In the 1820s her husband Benjamin rented a farm of
94 acres for £141 per year.100 After Benjamin died in 1831, Mary
managed the farm until 1838.101 While most of these women farmers
were widows, some were not. Davidoff gives the example of “Louisa
Fairhead of Wickham™s Bishop in Essex [who] inherited the family farm
and ran it ˜with equal skill to that of male members of the family™
throughout her long life.”102
There is no reason to expect that these women farmers were not active
managers. We do have evidence of women actively managing their
farms. One woman, in a letter in the Annals of Agriculture, wrote of the
management of her farm:
I bought a small estate, and took possession of it in the month of July, 1803. I mowed
the crop immediately, and had only nine ton of hay off ¬fteen acres . . . I had
the rocks blown up, broken small, and laid in the drains: all the trees grubbed up.
I had 576 perches of under-drains made, and as much open ditching . . . In July
following, I mowed the ¬fteen acres, and had thirty ton of hay.103

Arthur Young spoke with one farmer™s wife who told him her opinion on
feeding cabbages to cows: “Lady Darlington assured me, that she had
attended particularly to the effect of the cabbages on the butter,
expecting to ¬nd it taste, but was agreeably surprised at the ¬ne ¬‚avour

Eden, State of the Poor, vol. III, pp. 705“9.
Stephen Glover, The Directory of the County of Derby (Derby: Henry Mozley and Son,
1829). Of the 3423 farmers listed in the directory, 3191 could be identi¬ed as male and
162 as female, so I estimate the number of female farmers at 4.8 percent of the total.
BPP 1844 (587) XXVII. Davidoff reports that “In a 1851 sample from Essex and
Suffolk, 9.3 per cent of farm households were headed by women, almost all widows.”
Leonore Davidoff, “The Role of Gender in the ˜First Industrial Nation™: Agriculture in
England 1780“1850,” in Rosemary Crompton and Michael Mann, eds., Gender and
Strati¬cation (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1986), p. 207.
Norfolk Record Of¬ce MC 561/44 and MC 561/54.
Receipts signed by Mary Stimpson show that she was actively managing the farm.
Norfolk Record Of¬ce MC 561/55.
Davidoff, “The Role of Gender,” p. 207.
Annals of Agriculture, vol. XLIV, p. 477, quoted in Pinchbeck, Women Workers, p. 30.
52 Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

of it, so much superior to that commonly made in the winter.”104 In July
1773 a farmer named Sarah Simpson wrote to her landlord that she was
too busy with farm work to visit him: “I am at present strongly engaged
with the Hay harvest and probably shall be so for Two or Three weeks
longer, but as soon as I can be spared from the present Hurry intend to
do my self the pleasure of weitng upon you at Netherhall.”105 Eden
wrote of two unmarried sisters who farmed:
Mrs. Sarah Spencer was the daughter of a gentleman in Sussex . . . on the
demise of her father, she found her whole fortune did not amount to quite £300.
Her sister Mary . . . was left in a similar predicament . . . they could [not] marry
advantageously . . . at a loss what else to do, they took a farm; and, without
ceasing to be gentlewomen, commenced farmers. This farm they carried on for
many years, much to their credit and advantage . . . and, not seldom, in one and
the same day, have they divided their hours in helping to ¬ll the dung-cart, and
receiving company of the highest rank.106

Clearly these women were not just owners, but were active farmers.
Wives of tenant farmers were also actively engaged in the work of
managing the farms. The wife of a farmer was typically responsible for
feeding the family and servants, brewing beer, spinning wool, keeping
the house and clothing clean, managing the dairy and pigs, poultry, and
bees, and minding the children.107 The mistress of a small farm might
do many of these tasks herself, but the mistress of a large farm would
spend a greater portion of her time supervising hired labor. In addition
to directing the servants to their tasks, the farmer™s wife also hired and
¬red servants. Mary Hardy, the wife of a Norfolk farmer, wrote in her
diary for January 5, 1779, “Turned both the maids away for raking with
Fellows & other misdemeanors.” On January 7 she wrote, “Hired Jane
Rece yesterday at 5/6 per month.”108 There is some disagreement in the
literature about the extent to which dairywomen were replaced by men.
Deborah Valenze suggests that commercial dairymen pushed women
out of the business, but Sally McMurray ¬nds more continuity.109 By


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