Social Aspects of Industry: A Survey of Labor Problems and Causes of Industrial Unrest

By S. Howard Patterson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN INDUSTRY

PROBLEMS OF EXPLOITATION

1. Development of the Problem in England . -- The Industrial Revolution in England was attended by many unfortunate social results, chief among which was the problem of child labor and women in industry. Children of eight years of age, and indeed younger, toiled in the early factories. One of the worst features was the apprenticeship of the children of pauper parents into what was virtually a juvenile white slavery. These children were abused and driven to their work which often lasted 12 hours a day. They were given food of the coarsest kind and housed in bleak uncomfortable barracks. In some cases the children went to work in two shifts, so that the beds of these little workers never became cold. Accidents were frequent, disease was common, and the excessive toil soon put an end to their unhappy lots.

A parliamentary investigating committee discovered equally bad conditions in the mines, where little children had been utilized to drag coal cars through the narrow underground passages. Women and men worked side by side, sometimes almost naked, in the damp unwholesome shafts of the mines. The mere recital of these facts in testimony made unnecessary any discussion about the desirability of reform in mining conditions.

The fear of the physical degeneracy of the working population finally overcame the prevailing laissez-faire or let alone philosophy. The first British factory legislation, known as the Health and Morals Act of 1802, put a 12-hour limit to the work of children in the cotton mills.

In spite of the opposition of the manufacturing group, a famous factory law was passed in 1833, the year following the Great Reform Bill of 1832. It provided that no children under nine years of age be employed, and those from nine to thirteen years of age might work only 8 hours a day. Young persons from thirteen to eighteen years of age might not work over 12 hours a day and none of these hours could be at night.

The British Half Time Act of 1844 put women workers in the same category as young persons and applied to them the same restrictions as to hours of work. A corps of inspectors was created and factory inspection became a reality. The next factory act was that of 1847, which limited the work of women to 10 hours a day. Since it was unprofitable to work the factories without women and children, the 10-hour day gradually became a reality for men, as well as for women and children.

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