Part of the Social History in Perspective book series (SHP)


AbstractOur story opens in 1800 — a critical juncture in the labour history of working-class women. The coming years were to witness an intricate tapestry of change and tradition, as new employment practices and technologies became woven into the work experiences of labouring women. For an older historiographical tradition (as in Alice Clark’s Working Life of Women in the Seventeenth Century, first published in 1919), the nineteenth century represented a pernicious departure in women’s exploitation as capitalism began to fracture the harmonious patterns of pre-industrial production. However, more recent commentators have noted that gender had played a critical role in the workplace in the pre-industrial period also.1 This chapter will consider the ways in which gendered ideologies variously interplayed with economic advances to produce a highly diverse labour market for working women. In many industries, definitions of skilled work became increasingly codified by gender — a development which had complex and divergent implications for the self-perceptions of women themselves; whilst enormous regional and sectoral variations in both employment practices and customs of gendered labour division forewarn against simple analyses of female exploitation in the workplace.


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© Kathryn Gleadle 2001

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