German Women in the Nineteenth Century: A Social History

By John C. Fout | Go to book overview

Domestic Industry
Work Options and Women's Choices

BARBARA FRANZOI

In Breslau, a mother and her sixteen-year-old daughter worked together sewing petticoats by hand. They earned 11.50 M. a week, but the work was not steady. A widow who made wicker plaits for straw hats was paid 50 pf. per 100 meters of plaiting. She had worked for the same firm in Breslau for ten or eleven years where the work season lasted five months. There were three adults in the household. They lived in two rooms, one of which was used as the kitchen. In Niedernberg, a small village in Bavaria, a nineteen-year-old single girl rented sleeping space from a farm family. She worked alone sewing vests. In season she worked eleven hours a day and earned about 13 M. a week. In summer she did agricultural work with the family. 1

These women and members of their households were employed in German domestic industry and the descriptions of their work experience were recorded in the first decade of the twentieth century. Factories, which took an increasingly larger share of the production process, did not squeeze home industry out of existence. Surprisingly, domestic production survived and in some instances actually thrived. And it was women who made the most use of its persistence. The kinds of work women did before, during, and after the expansion of factories and mechanization remained rather consistent. Domestic industry deserves separate treatment in a study of German industrialization in the period from 1871 to 1914 because it is the best refutation of the stereotypic model which stresses factory production in heavy industry. 2 Further, women's work in domestic industry demonstrates the multi-faceted and irregular nature of

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