Women Wage-Earners - Their Past, Their Present, and Their Future
by Helen Campbell
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With an Introduction BY RICHARD T. ELY, PH.D., LL.D.

Professor of Political Economy and Director of the School of Economics, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis.


Copyright, 1893,


University Press:








The importance of the subject with which the present work deals cannot well be over-estimated. Our age may properly be called the Era of Woman, because everything which affects her receives consideration quite unknown in past centuries. This is well. The motive is twofold: First, woman is valued as never before; and, second, it is perceived that the welfare of the other half of the human race depends more largely upon the position enjoyed by woman than was previously understood.

The earlier agitation for an enlarged sphere and greater rights for woman was to a considerable extent merely negative. The aim was to remove barriers and to open the way. It is characteristic of the earlier days of agitation for the removal of wrongs affecting any class, that the questions involved appear to be simple, and easily repeated formulas ample to secure desired rights. Further agitation, however, and more mature reflection always show that what looks like a simple social problem is a complex one.

"If women's wages are small, open new careers to them." As simple as this did the problem of women's wages once appear; but when new avenues of employment were rendered accessible to women, it was found, in some instances, that the wages of men were lowered. A consequence which can be seen in different industrial centres is that a man and a wife working together secure no greater wages than the man alone in industries in which women are not employed. Now, if the result of opening new employments to women is to force all members of the family to work for the wages which the head of the family alone once received, it is manifest that we have a complicated problem.

Another result of wage-earning by women, which has been observed here and there, is the scattering of the members of the family and the break-down of the home. A recent and careful observer among the chief industrial centres of Saxony, Germany, has told us that factory work has there resulted in the dissolution of the family, and that family life, as we understand it, scarcely exists. We have demoralization seen in the young; and in addition to that, we discover that the employment of married women outside the home results in the impaired health and strength of future generations.

The conclusion by no means follows that we should go backward, and try to restrict the industrial sphere of woman. It has been well said that revolutions do not go backward; we have to go farther forward to keep the advantages which have been attained, and at the same time lessen the evils which the new order has brought with it.

Further action is required; but in order that this action may bring desired results, it must be based upon ample knowledge. The natural impulse when we see an evil is to adopt direct methods looking to an immediate cure; but such direct methods which at once suggest themselves generally fail to bring relief. The effective remedies are those which use indirect methods based upon scientific knowledge. If a sympathetic man takes to heart physical suffering, which he can see on every side, he must feel inclined to relieve the distressed at once, and feel impatient if he is hindered in his benevolent impulses; yet we know that he will accomplish far more in the end, if he patiently devotes years to study in medical schools and practice in hospitals before he attempts to give relief to the diseased. We need study quite as much to cure the ills of the social body; and the present work gives us a welcome addition to the positive information upon which wise action must depend.

Mrs. Campbell has been favorably known for years on account of her valuable contributions to the literature of social science, and it gives the present writer great pleasure to have the privilege of introducing this book to the public with a word of commendation.


August 29, 1893.


The pages which follow were prepared originally as a prize monograph for the American Economic Association, receiving an award from it in 1891. The restriction of the subject to a fixed number of words hampered the treatment, and it was thought best to enlarge many points which in the allotted space could have hardly more than mention. Acting on this wish, the monograph has been nearly doubled in size, but still must be counted only an imperfect summary, since facts in these lines are in most cases very nearly unobtainable, and, aside from the few reports of Labor Bureaus, there are as yet almost no sources of full information. But as there is no existing manual of reference on this topic, the student of social questions will accept this attempt to meet the need, till more facts enable a fuller and better presentation of the difficult subject.

NEW YORK, August, 1893.
























The one great question that to-day agitates the whole civilized world is an economic question. It is not the production but the distribution of wealth; in other words, the wages question,—the wages of men and women. Nowhere do we find any suggestion that capital and the landlord do not receive a quid pro quo. Instead, the whole labor world cries out that the capitalist and the landlord are enslaving the rest of the world, and absorbing the lion's share of the joint production.

So long as it is a question of production only, there is perfect harmony. Both unite in agreeing that to produce as much as possible is for the interest of each. The conflict begins with distribution. It is no longer a war of one nation with another; it is internecine war, destroying the foundations of our own defences, and making enemies of those who should be brothers.

It is impossible for even the most dispassionate or indifferent observer to blink these facts. Proclaim as we may that there is no antagonism between capital and labor,—that their interests are one, and that conditions and opportunities for the worker are always better and better,—practical thinkers and workers deny this conclusion. Wealth has enormously increased, in a far greater ratio than population. Does the laborer receive his due proportion of this increase? One must unhesitatingly answer no. In a country whose life began in the search for freedom, and which professes to give equal opportunity to all, more startling inequality exists than in any other in the civilized world. One of our ablest lawyers, Thomas G. Shearman, has lately written:—

"Our old equality is gone. So far from being the most equal people on the face of the earth, as we once boasted that we were, ours is now the most unequal of civilized nations. We talk about the wealth of the British aristocracy and about the poverty of the British poor. There is not in the whole of Great Britain and Ireland so striking a contrast, so wide a chasm, between rich and poor as in these United States of America. There is no man in the whole of Great Britain and Ireland who is as wealthy as one of some half-a-dozen men who could be named in this country; and there are few there who could be poorer than some that could be found in this country. It is true that there is a larger number of the extremely poor in Great Britain and Ireland than there is in this country, but it is not true that there is any more desperate poverty in any civilized country than ours; and it is unquestionably not true that there is any greater mass of riches concentrated in a few hands in any country than this."

This for America. For England the tale is much the same. "The Bitter Cry of Outcast London," with its passionate demand that the rich open their eyes to see the misery, degradation, and want seething in London slums, is but another putting of the words of the serious, scientific observer of facts, Huxley himself, who has described an East End parish in which he spent some of his earliest years. Over that parish, he says, might have been written Dante's inscription over the entrance to the Inferno: "All hope abandon, ye who enter here." After speaking of its physical misery and its supernatural and perfectly astonishing deadness, he says that he embarked on a voyage round the world, and had the opportunity of seeing savage life in all conceivable conditions of savage degradation; and he writes:—

"I assure you I found nothing worse, nothing more degrading, nothing so hopeless, nothing nearly so intolerably dull and miserable as the life I left behind me in the East End of London. Were the alternative presented to me, I would deliberately prefer the life of the savage to that of those people in Christian London. Nothing would please me better—not even to discover a new truth—than to contribute toward the bettering of that state of things which, unless wise and benevolent men take it in hand, will tend to become worse, and to create something worse than savagery,—a great Serbonian bog, which in the long run will swallow up the surface crust of civilization."

In a year and more of continuous observation and study of working conditions in England and on the Continent, some of which will find place later, my own conclusion was the same. The young emperor of Germany, hotheaded, obstinate, and self-willed as he may be, is working it would seem from as radical a conviction of deep wrong in the distributive system. The Berlin Labor Conference, whose chief effort seems to have been against child-labor and in favor of excluding women from the mines, or at least reducing hours, and forbidding certain of the heavier forms of labor, is but an echo of the great dock-strikes of London and the cry of all workers the world over for a better chance. The capitalist seeks to hold his own, the laborer demands larger share of the product; and how to render unto each his due is the great politico-economic question,—the absorbing question of our time.

We have found, then, that the problem is economic, and concerns distribution only. There is no complaint that the capitalist fails to secure his share. On the contrary, even among the well-to-do, deep-seated alarm is evidenced at the rise and progress of innumerable trusts and syndicates, eliminating competition, which restricts production and raises prices. They make their own conditions; drive from the field small tradesmen and petty industries, or absorb them on their own terms.

Rings of every description in the political and the working world combine for general spoliation, and the honest worker's money jingles in every pocket but his own.

Granting all that may be urged as to the capitalists' investment of brain-power and acquired skill, as well as of money with all the risks involved, they are the inactive rather than the active factors in production. They give of their store, while labor gives of its life. Their view is to be reconstructed, and profit-sharing become as much a part of any industry as profit-making.

This is a growing conviction; nor can we wonder that realization of its justice and its possibilities has been a matter of very recent consideration. An often repeated formula becomes at last ingrained in the mental constitution, and any question as to its truth is a sharp shock to the whole structure. We have been so certain of the surpassing advantages of our own country, so certain that liberty and a chance were the portion of all, that to confront the real conditions in our great cities is to most as unreal as a nightmare.

We have conceded at last, forced to it by the concessions of all students of our economic problems, that the laborer does not yet receive his fair share of the world's wealth; and the economic thought of the whole world is now devoted to the devising of means by which he may receive his due. There is no longer much question as to facts; they are only too palpable. Distribution must be reorganized, and haste must be made to discover how.

It is the wages problem, then, with which we are to deal,—the wages of men and women; and we must look at it in its largest, most universal aspects. We must dismiss at once any prejudice born of the ignorance, incompetency, or untrustworthiness of many workers. Character is a plant of slow growth; and given the same conditions of birth, education, and general environment it is quite possible we should have made no better showing. We have to-day three questions to be answered:—

1. Why do men not receive a just wage? 2. Why are women in like case? 3. Why do men receive a greater wage than women?

First, Why do not men receive a greater wage than they do? can be answered only suggestively, since volumes may be and have been written on all the points involved. For skilled and unskilled labor alike, the differences in industrial efficiency go far toward regulating the wage, and have been grouped under six heads by General Frances A. Walker, whose volume on the Wages Question is a thoughtful and careful study of the problem from the beginning. These heads are—1. "Peculiarities of stock and breeding. 2. The meagreness or liberality of diet. 3. Habits voluntarily or involuntarily formed respecting cleanliness of the person, and purity of the air and water. 4. The general intelligence of the laborer. 5. Technical education and industrial environment. 6. Cheerfulness and hopefulness in labor, growing out of self-respect and social ambition and the laborer's interest in his work."

With this in mind, we must accept the fact that the value of the laborer's services to the employer is the net result of two elements,—one positive, one negative; namely, work and waste. Under this head of waste come breakage, undue wear and tear of implements, destruction or injury of materials, the cost of supervision of idle or blundering men, and often the hindrance of many by the fault of one. Modern processes involve so much of this order of waste that often there is doubt if work is worth having or not, and the unskilled laborer is either rejected or receives only a boy's wage.

The various schools of political economists differ widely as to the facts which have formulated themselves in what is known as the iron law of wages; this meaning that wages are said to tend increasingly to a minimum which will give but a bare living. For skilled labor the law may be regarded as elastic rather than iron. For unskilled, it is as certainly the tendency, which, if constantly repeated and so intensified, would end as law. Many standard economists regard it as already fixed; and writers like Lasalle, Proudhon, Bakunin, and Marx heap every denunciation upon it.

Were the fact actually established, no words could be too strong or too bitter to define this new form of slavery. The standard of life and comfort affects the wages of labor, and there is constant effort to make the wage correspond to this standard. It is an unending and often bitter struggle, nowhere better summed up than by Thorold Rogers in his "Six Centuries of Work and Wages,"—a work upon which economists, however different their conclusions, rely alike for facts and figures.

We must then admit in degree the tendency of wages to a minimum, especially those of unskilled labor, and accept it as one more motive for persistent effort to alter existing conditions and prevent any such culmination.

Take now, in connection with the six heads mentioned as governing the present efficiency of labor, the five enumerated by Adam Smith in his summary of causes for differences in wages: 1. "The agreeableness or disagreeableness of the employments themselves. 2. The easiness and cheapness, or the difficulty and expense of learning them. 3. The constancy or inconstancy of employment in them. 4. The small or great trust which must be reposed in those who exercise them. 5. The probability or improbability of success in them."

These are conditions which affect the man's right to large or small wage; but all of them presuppose that men are perfectly free to look over the whole industrial field and choose their own employment,—they presuppose the perfect mobility of labor. Let us see what this means.

The theoretical mobility of labor rests upon the assumption that laborers of every order will in all ways and at all times pursue their economic interests; but the actual fact is that so far from seeking labor under the most perfect conditions for obtaining it, nearly half of all humankind are "bound in fetters of race and speech and religion and caste, of tradition and habit and ignorance of the world, of poverty and ineptitude and inertia, which practically exclude them from the competitions of the world's industry."

"Man is, of all sorts of luggage, the most difficult to be transported," was written by Adam Smith long ago; and this stands in the way of really free and unhampered competition. Mr. Frederick Harrison, one of the clearest thinkers of the day, has well defined the difference between the seller and the producer of a commodity. He says:—

"In most cases the seller of a commodity can send it or carry it from place to place, and market to market, with perfect ease. He need not be on the spot; he generally can send a sample; he usually treats by correspondence. A merchant sits in his counting-room, and by a few letters and forms transports and distributes the subsistence of a whole city from continent to continent. In other cases, as the shopkeeper, the ebb and flow of passing multitudes supplies the want of locomotion for him. This is a true market. Here competition acts rapidly, fully, simply, fairly. It is totally otherwise with a day laborer who has no commodity to sell. He must himself be present at every market, which means costly, personal locomotion. He cannot correspond with his employer; he cannot send a sample of his strength, nor do employers knock at his cottage door."

It is plain, then, that many causes are at work to depress the wages even of skilled workers, far more than can be enumerated here. If this is true for men, how much more strongly can limitations be stated for women, as we ask, "Why do not women receive a better wage?" Many of the reasons are historical, and must be considered in their origin and growth. Taking her as worker to-day, precisely the same general causes are in operation that govern the wages of men, with the added disability of sex, always in the way of equal mobility of labor.

Wherever for any reason there is immobility of labor, there is always lowering of the wage rate. The trades and general industries for which women are suited are highly localized. They focus in the cities and large towns, and women must seek them there. Great manufactories drain the surrounding country; yet even with these opportunities an analysis of the industrial statistics of the United States by General Walker showed that the women workers of the country made up but seven per cent of the entire population. Eagerly as they seek work, it is far more difficult for them to obtain it than for men. They require to be much more mobile and active in their move toward the labor market, yet are disabled by timidity, by physical weakness, and by their liability to insult or outrage arising from the fact of sex. Men who would secure a place tramp from town to town, from street to street, or shop to shop, persisting through all rebuffs, till their end is accomplished. They go into suspicious and doubtful localities, encounter strangers, and sleep among casual companions. In this fashion they relieve the pressure at congested points, and keep the mass fluid.

For women, save in the slight degree included in the country girl's journey to town or city where cotton or woollen mills offer an opening for work, this course is impossible. Ignorant, fearful, poor, and unprotected, the lions in her way are these very facts. Added to this natural disqualification, comes another,—in the lack of sympathy for her needs, and in the prejudice which hedges about all her movements. In every trade she has sought to enter, men have barred the way. In a speech made before the House of Commons in 1873, Henry Fawcett drew attention to the persistent resistance of men to any admission of women on the same terms with themselves. He said:—

"We cannot forget that some years ago certain trade-unionists in the potteries imperatively insisted that a certain rest for the arm which they found almost essential to their work should not be used by women engaged in the same employment. Not long since, the London tailors, when on a strike, having never admitted a woman to their union, attempted to coerce women from availing themselves of the remunerative employment which was offered them in consequence of the strike. But this jealousy of woman's labor has not been entirely confined to workmen. The same feeling has extended itself through every class of society. Last autumn a large number of post-office clerks objected to the employment of women in the Post-Office."

Driven by want, they had pressed into agricultural labor as well, and found equal opposition there also. Mr. Fawcett in the same speech calls attention to the fact of the non-admission of women to the Agricultural Laborers' Union, on the ground that "the agricultural laborers of the country do not wish to recognize the labor of women."

There is more or less reason for such feeling. It arises in part from the newness of the occasion, since in the story of labor as a whole, soon to be considered by us in detail, it is only the last fifty years that have seen women taking an active part. We have already seen that mobility of labor is one of the first essentials, and that women are far more limited in this respect than men.

This brings us to the final question,—Why do men receive a larger wage than women? The conditions already outlined are in part responsible, but with them is bound up another even more formidable.

Custom, the law of many centuries, has so ingrained its thought in the constitution of men that it is naturally and inevitably taken for granted that every woman who seeks work is the appendage of some man, and therefore, partially at least, supported. Other facts bias the employer against the payment of the same wage. The girl's education is usually less practical than the boy's; and as most, at least among the less intelligent class, regard a trade as a makeshift to be used as a crutch till a husband appears, the work involved is often done carelessly and with little or no interest. With unintelligent labor wastage is greater, and wages proportionately lower; and here we have one chief reason for the difference. Others will disclose themselves as we go on.

Unskilled labor then, it is plain, must be in evil case, and it is unskilled laborers that are in the majority. For men this means pick and spade at such rates as may be fixed; for women the needle, and its myriad forms of cheap production; and within these ranks is no sense of real economic interest, but the fiercest and blindest competition among themselves. Mere existence is to a large extent all that is possible, and it is fought for with a fury in strange contrast to the apparent worth of the thing itself.

It is this battle with which we have to do; and we must go back to the dawn of the struggle, and discover what has been its course from the beginning, before any future outlook can be determined. The theoretical political economist settles the matter at once. Whatever stress of want or wrong may arise is met by the formula, "law of supply and demand." If labor is in excess, it has simply to mobilize and seek fresh channels. That hard immovable facts are in the way, that moral difficulties face one at every turn, and that the ethical side of the problem is a matter of comparatively recent consideration, makes no difference. Let us discover what show of right is on the economist's side, and how far present conditions are a necessity of the time. It is women on whom the facts weigh most heavily, and whose fortunes are most tangled in this web woven from the beginning of time, and from that beginning drenched with the tears and stained by the blood of workers in all climes and in every age. As women we are bound, by every law of justice, to aid all other women in their struggle. We are equally bound to define the nature, the necessities, and the limits of such struggle; and it is to this end that we seek now to discover, through such light as past and present may cast, the future for women workers the world over.



The history of women as wage-earners is actually comprised within the limits of a few centuries; but her history as a worker runs much farther back, and if given in full, would mean the whole history of working humanity. The position of working women all over the civilized world is still affected not only by the traditions but by the direct inheritance of the past, and thus the nature of that inheritance must be understood before passing to any detailed consideration of the subject under its various divisions. It is the conditions underlying history and rooted in the facts of human life itself which we must know, since from the beginning life and work have been practically synonymous, and in the nature of things remain so.

In the shadows of that far remote infancy of the world where from cave-dweller and mere predatory animal man by slow degrees moved toward a higher development, the story of woman goes side by side with his. For neither is there record beyond the scattered implements of the stone age and the rude drawings of the cave-dwellers, from which one may see that warfare was the chief life of both. The subjugation of the weaker by the stronger is the story of all time; the "survival of the fittest," the modern summary of that struggle.

Naturally, slavery was the first result, and servitude for one side the outcome of all struggle. Physical facts worked with man's will in the matter, and early rendered woman subordinate physically and dependent economically. The origin of this dependence is given with admirable force and fulness by Professor Lester F. Ward in his "Dynamic Sociology":[1]—

In the struggle for supremacy, "woman at once became property, since anything that affords its possessor gratification is property. Woman was capable of affording man the highest of gratifications, and therefore became property of the highest value. Marriage, under the prevailing form, became the symbol of transfer of ownership, in the same manner as the formal seizing of lands. The passage from sexual service to manual service on the part of women was perfectly natural.... And thus we find that the women of most savage tribes perform the manual and servile labor of the camp."

"The basis of all oppression is economic dependence on the oppressor," is the word of a very keen thinker and worker in the German Reichstag to-day; and he adds: "This has been the condition of women in the past, and it still is so. Woman was the first human being that tasted bondage. Woman was a slave before the slave existed."

Science has demonstrated that in all rude races the size and weight of the brain differ far less according to sex than is the case in civilized nations. Physical strength is the same, with the advantage at times on the side of the woman, as in certain African tribes to-day, over which tribes this fact has given them the mastery. Primeval woman, all attainable evidence goes to show, started more nearly equal in the race, but became the inferior of man, when periods of child-bearing rendered her helpless and forced her to look to him for assistance, support, and protection.

When the struggle for existence was in its lowest and most brutal form, and man respected nothing but force, the disabled member of society, if man, was disposed of by stab or blow; if woman, and valuable as breeder of fresh fighters, simply reduced to slavery and passive obedience. Marriage in any modern sense was unknown. A large proportion of female infants were killed at birth. Battle, with its recurring periods of flight or victory, made it essential that every tribe should free itself from all impedimenta. It was easier to capture women by force than to bring them up from infancy, and thus the childhood of the world meant a state in which the child had little place, save as a small, fierce animal, whose development meant only a change from infancy and its helplessness to boyhood and its capacity for fight.

Out of this chaos of discordant elements, struggling unconsciously toward social form, emerged by slow degrees the tribe and the nation, the suggestions of institutions and laws and the first principles of the social state. Master and servant, employer and employed, became facts; and dim suspicions as to economic laws were penetrating the minds of the early thinkers. The earliest coherent thought on economic problems comes to us from the Greeks, among whom economic speculation had begun almost a thousand years before Christ. The problem of work and wages was even then forming,—the sharply accented difference between theirs and ours lying in the fact that for Greek and Roman and the earlier peoples in the Indies economic life was based upon slavery, accepted then as the foundation stone of the economic social system.

Up to the day when Greek thought on economic questions formulated, in Aristotle's "Politics" and "Economics," the first logical statement of principles, knowledge as to actual conditions for women is chiefly inferential. When a slave, she was like other slaves, regarded as soulless; and she still is, under Mohammedanism. As lawful wife she was physically restrained and repressed, and mentally far more so. A Greek matron was one degree higher than her servants; but her own sons were her masters, to whom she owed obedience. A striking illustration of this is given in the Odyssey. Telemachus, feeling that he has come to man's estate, invades the ranks of the suitors who had for years pressed about Penelope, and orders her to retire to her own apartments, which she does in silence. Yet she was honored above most, passive and prompt obedience being one of her chief charms.

Deep pondering brought about for Aristotle a view which verges toward breadth and understanding, but is perpetually vitiated by the fact that he regards woman as in no sense an individual existence. If all goes well and prosperously, women deserve no credit; if ill, they may gain renown through their husbands, the philosopher remarking: "Neither would Alcestis have gained such renown, nor Penelope have been deemed worthy of such praise, had they respectively lived with their husbands in prosperous circumstances; and it is the sufferings of Admetus and Ulysses which have given them everlasting fame."

This is Aristotle's view of women's share in the life they lived; yet gleams of something higher more than once came to him, and in the eighth chapter of the "Economics," he adds: "Justly to love her husband with reverence and respect, and to be loved in turn, is that which befits a wife of gentle birth, as to her intercourse with her own husband." Ulysses, in his address to Nausicaa, says:—

"There is no fairer thing Than when the lord and lady with one soul One home possess."

Aristotle, charmed at the picture, dilates on this "mutual concord of husband and wife, ... not the mere agreement upon servile matters, but that which is justly and harmoniously based on intellect and prudence."[2]

Side by side with this picture of a state known to a few only among the noblest, must be placed the lament of "Iphigenia in Tauris":

"The condition of women is worse than that of all human beings. If man is favored by fortune, he becomes a ruler, and wins fame on the battlefield; and if the gods have ordained him his fortune, he is the first to die a fair death among his people. But the joys of woman are narrowly compassed: she is given unasked, in marriage, by others, often to strangers; and when she is dragged away by the victor through the smoking ruins, there is none to rescue her."

Thucydides, who had already expressed the opinion quoted by many a modern Philistine,—"The wife who deserves the highest praise is she of whom one hears neither good nor evil outside her own house,"—anticipates a later verdict, in words that might have been the foundation of Iphigenia's lament:—

"Woman is more evil than the storm-tossed waves, than the heat of fire, than the fall of the wild cataract! If it was a god who created woman, wherever he may be, let him know that he is the unhappy author of the greatest ills."

This was a summary of the Greek view as a whole. Sparta trained her girls and boys alike in childhood; but the theories of Lycurgus, admirable at some points, were brutal and short-sighted at others, and Sparta demonstrated that the extinction of all desire for beauty or ease or culture brings with it as disastrous results as its extreme opposite.

It is Athens that sums up the highest product of Greek thought, and that represents a civilization which from the purely intellectual side has had no successor. Yet even here was almost absolute obtuseness and indifference, on the part of the aristocracy, to the intolerable bondage of the masses. "The people," as spoken of by their historians and philosophers, mean simply a middle class, the humblest member of which owned at least one slave. The slaves themselves, the real "masses," had no political or social existence more than the horses with which they were sent to the river to drink. In any scheme of political economy Aristotle's words, in the first book of the "Politics," were the keynote: "The science of the master reduces itself to knowing how to make use of the slave. He is the master, not because he is the owner of the man, but because he knows how to make use of his property."

In fact, according to this chivalrous philosopher, the man was the head of the family in three distinct capacities; for he says: "Now a freeman governs his slave in the manner the male governs the female, and in another manner the father governs his child; and these have the different parts of the soul within them, but in a different manner. Thus a slave can have no deliberative faculty; a woman but a weak one, a child an imperfect one."

That liberty could be their right appears to have been not even suspected. Yet out from these dumb masses of humanity, regarded less than brutes, toiling naked under summer sun or in winter cold, chained in mines, men and women alike, and when the whim came, massacred in troops, sounded at intervals a voice demanding the liberty denied. It was quickly stifled. The record is there for all to read; stifled again and again, from Drimakos the Chian slave to Spartacus at Rome, yet each protest from this unknown army of martyrs was one step onward toward the emancipation to come. In each revolution, however small, two parties confronted each other,—the people who wished to live by the labor of others, the people who wished to live by their own labor,—the former denying in word and deed the claim of the latter.

Such conditions, as we proved in our own experience of slavery, benumb spiritual perception and make clear vision impossible; and it is plain that if the mass of workers had neither political nor social place, woman, the slave of the slave, had even less. Her wage had never been fixed. That she had right to one had entered no imagination. To the end of Greek civilization a wage remained the right of free labor only. The slave, save by special permit of the master, had right only to bare subsistence; and though men and women toiled side by side, in mine or field or quarry, there was, even with the abolition of slavery, small betterment of the condition of women. The degradation of labor was so complete, even for the freeman, that the most pronounced aversion to taking a wage ruled among the entire educated class. Plato abhorred a sophist who would work for wages. A gift was legitimate, but pay ignoble; and the stigma of asking for and taking pay rested upon all labor. The abolition of slavery made small difference, for the taint had sunk in too deeply to be eradicated. A curse rested upon all labor; and even now, after four thousand years of vacillating progress and retrogression, it lingers still.

The ancients were, in the nature of things, all fighters. Even when slavery for both the Aryan and Semitic races ended, two orders still faced each other: aristocracy on the one side, claiming the fruits of labor; the freeman on the other, rebelling against injustice, and forming secret unions for his own protection,—the beginning of the co-operative principle in action.

Thus much for the Greek. Turn now to the second great civilization, the Roman. During the first centuries after the founding of Rome the Roman woman had no rights whatever, her condition being as abject as that of the Grecian. With the growth of riches and of power in the State, more social but still no legal freedom was accorded. The elder Cato complained of the allowing of more liberty, and urged that every father of a family should keep his wife in the proper state of servility; but in spite of this remonstrance, a movement for the better had begun. Under the Empire, woman acquired the right of inheritance, but she herself remained a minor, and could dispose of nothing without the consent of her guardian. Sir Henry Maine[3] calls attention to the institution known to the oldest Roman law as the "Perpetual Tutelage of Women," under which a female, though relieved from her parent's authority by his decease, continues subject through life. Various schemes were devised to enable her to defeat ancient rules; and by their theory of "Natural Law," the jurisconsults had evidently assumed the equality of the sexes as a principle of their code of equity.

Few more significant words or words more teeming with importance on the actual economic condition of women have ever been written than those of the great jurist whose name counts as almost final authority. "Ancient law," he writes, "subordinates the woman to her blood relations, while a prime phenomenon of modern jurisprudence has been her subordination to her husband." Under the modified laws as to marriage, he goes on to state, there came a time "when the situation of the Roman female, unmarried or married, became one of great personal and proprietary independence; for the tendency of the later law, as already hinted, was to reduce the power of the guardian to a nullity, while the form of marriage in fashion conferred on the husband no compensating superiority."

These were the final conditions for the Roman, whose power, sapped by long excesses, was even then trembling to its fall. Already the barbarians threatened them, and at various points had penetrated the Empire, showing to the amazed Romans morals absolutely opposed to their own. The German races contented themselves with one wife; and Tacitus wrote of them: "Their marriages are very strict. No one laughs at vice, nor is immorality regarded as a sign of good breeding. The young men marry late,—they marry equal in years and in health, and the strength of the parent is transmitted to the children."

This has a rosier aspect than facts warrant. For the Germans, as for other barbarians of that epoch, the patriarchal family was the social order, and the head of the family the lord of the community. Wives, daughters, and daughters-in-law were excluded from leadership, though in spite of this there is record of a woman as being occasionally at the head of a tribe,—a circumstance chronicled by Tacitus with much disgust.

While from the West this gigantic wave of powerful but uncultured life was flowing in, from the East had come another. Early Christianity had already established itself, and its ascetic teachings made another element in the contradictions of the time. Up to this date slavery had been the foundation of society, and any amelioration in the condition of women had applied only to the patrician class. The Carpenter of Nazareth set his seal upon the sacredness of labor, and taught first not only the rights but the immeasurable value of even the weakest human soul. Women were ardent converts to the new gospel. Hoping with all the wretched for redemption and deliverance from present evils, they became eager and devoted adherents. Their missionary zeal was a powerful agent in the early days of Christianity. "In the first enthusiasm of the Christian movement," says Principal Donaldson, in his notable article on "Women among the Early Christians," in the "Fortnightly Review," "women were allowed to do whatever they were fitted to do."

All this within a few generations came to an end. Widows of sixty and over retained the power which had been given, and a new order arose,—deaconesses who were not allowed marriage. Neither widows nor deaconesses could teach, the Church being especially jealous in this respect and in substantial agreement with Sophocles, who said, "Silence is a woman's ornament."

Tertullian waxes furious over the thought of a woman learning much, and still more, venturing to use such acquirement; but heretical Christians insisted that the respect which Romans had paid to the Vestal Virgin was her right, and each founder of a new sect had some woman as helper. But as a rule, her highest post during the first three centuries of Christianity was that of doorkeeper or message-woman, her economic dependence upon man being absolute. Social problems remained chiefly untouched. No objection was made to the existence of slavery. In this gospel of love the Christian slave became the brother of all, and kindliness was his right; but their faith demanded contentment with all present ills, since a glorious future was to compensate them. A Christian slave-woman was the property of her master, who had absolute power over her; but no objection seems to have been made to this.

In the mean time many doubts as to marriage seem to have arisen. Paul had set his seal on the subjection of women, and Peter followed suit. Antagonism to marriage grew and intensified, till hardly a Father of the early Church but fulminated against it. Fiercest, loudest, and most heeded of all, the voice of Tertullian still sounds down the ages. This is his address to women:

"Do you not know that each one of you is an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age; the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil's gateway; you are the unsealer of that forbidden tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die."

Clement of Alexandria supplemented this verdict with one as bitter, and Cyprian and the rest echoed the general anathema. As marriage grew thus more and more degraded, the number of the women in the world steadily increased, and posterity in like ratio deteriorated. The summary of Principal Donaldson, in the article already referred to, is the keynote to the whole situation.

"The less spiritual classes of the people, the laymen, being taught that marriage might be licentious, and that it implied an inferior state of sanctity, were rather inclined to neglect matrimony for more loose connections; and it was these people alone that then peopled the world. It was the survival of the unfittest. The noble men and women, on the other hand, who were dominated by the loftiest aspirations and exhibited the greatest temperance, self-control, and virtue, left no children."

Sir Henry Maine comes to the same conclusion, and deplores the fact of the loss of liberty for women, adding: "The prevalent state of religious sentiment may explain why it is that modern jurisprudence, forged in the furnace of barbarian conquest, and formed by the fusion of Roman jurisprudence with patriarchal usage, has absorbed among its rudiments much more than usual of those rules concerning the position of women which belong peculiarly to an imperfect civilization." And he adds words which come from a man who is a good Christian as well as a profound student: "No society which preserves any tincture of Christian institutions is likely to restore to married women the personal liberty conferred on them by the middle Roman law."

Passing now to the Middle Ages, we find conditions curiously involved. The exaltation of celibacy as the true condition for the religious, and the consequent enormous increase of convents, placed fresh barriers in the way of marriage; and the Church having attracted the gentle and devoted among the women and the more intelligent among the men, the reproduction of the species was for the most part still left to the brutal and ignorant, thus leading to a survival of the unfittest to aid in any advancement of the race.

The number of women far exceeded that of men, who died not only from constant feuds and struggles, but from many pestilences, which naturally, in a day when sanitary laws were unknown, ravaged the country. Dr. Karl Buecher, commenting on the relation of this fact to the life of women at that time, notes that from 1336 to 1400 thirty-two years of plague occurred, forty-two between 1400 and 1500, and thirty between 1500 and 1600. In addition to the convents, which received the well-to-do, many towns established Bettina institutions, houses of God, where destitute women were cared for; but it was impossible for all who sought admittance to be provided for.

The feudal system, with its absolute power over its serfs, had driven thousands into open revolt; and beggars, highwaymen, and robbers made life perilous and trade impossible.

The towns banded together for protection of life and industry, and thus developed the guild of the Middle Ages. Relieved from the fear of free-booting barons, no less dangerous than the hordes of organized robbers, these guilds grew populous and powerful. Licentiousness did not, however, lessen. Luther thundered against it, before his own revolt came; and the Reformation demanded marriage as the right and privilege of a people falsely taught its debasing and unholy nature.

We count the days of chivalry as the paradise of women. Chivalry was for the few, not the many; for the mass of women was still the utter degradation of a barbarous past, and the burden of grinding laws resulting from it. With the Reformation, Germany ceased to be the centre of European traffic; and Spain, Portugal, Holland, and England took the lead in quick succession, England retaining it to the present time. German commerce and trade steadily declined; and as the guilds saw their importance and profits lessen, they made fresh and more stringent regulations against all new-comers. Competitors of every order were refused admission. Heavy taxes on settlement, costly master-examinations, limitations of every trade to a certain number of masters and journeymen, forced thousands into dependence from which there was no escape.

Looking at the time as a whole, one sees clearly how old distinctions had become obliterated. Wealth found new definitions. The Church had made poverty the highest state, and insisted, as she does in part to-day, that the suffering and deprivation of one class were ordained of God to draw out the sympathies of the other. The rich must save their souls by alms and endowments, and contentment and acquiescence were to be the virtues of the poor.

Insensibly this view was modified. Charlemagne, whose extraordinary personal power and common-sense moulded men at will, set an example no monarch had ever set before. He ordered the sale of eggs from his hens and the vegetables from his gardens; and, scorn it as they might, his sneering nobles insensibly modified their own thought and action. Commerce brought the people and products of new countries face to face. The lines of caste, as sharply defined within the labor world as without, were gradually dimmed or obliterated. The practice of credit and exchange, largely the creation of the persecuted Jews, made easy the interchange of commodities. Saint Louis himself organized industry, and divided the trades into brotherhoods, put under the protection of the saints from the tyranny of the barons and of the feudal system which had weighted all industry.

Reform began in the year 1257, in the "Institutions" of Saint Louis,—a set of clear and definite rules for the development of public wealth and the general good of the people. In their first joy at this escape from long-continued oppression, many of the towns of the Middle Ages had admitted women to citizenship on an equal footing with men. In 1160 Louis le Jeune, of France, granted to Theci, wife of Yves, and to her heirs, the grand-mastership of the five trades of cobblers, belt-makers, sweaters, leather-dressers, and purse-makers. In Frankfort and the Silesian towns there were female furriers; along the middle Rhine many female bakers were at work. Cologne and Strasburg had female saddlers and embroiderers of coats-of-arms. Frankfort had female tailors, Nuremburg female tanners, and in Cologne were several skilled female goldsmiths.

Twelve hundred years of struggle toward some sort of justice seemed likely at this point to be lost, for with the opening of the thirteenth century each and all of the guilds proceeded to expel every woman in the trades. It is a curious fact in the story of all societies approaching dissolution, that its defenders adopt the very means best adapted to hasten this end. Each corporation dreaded an increase of numbers, and restricted marriages, and reduced the number of independent citizens. Many towns placed themselves voluntarily under the rule of princes who in turn were trying to subjugate the nobility, and so protected the towns and accorded all sorts of rights and privileges.

The Thirty Years' War, from 1618 to 1648, decimated the German population, and reduced still further the possibility of marriage for many. Forced out of trades, women had only the lowest, most menial forms of trade labor as resort, and their position was to all appearance nearly hopeless.

In spite of this, certain trades were practically woman's. Embroidery of church vestments and hangings had been brought to the highest perfection. Lace-making had been known from the most ancient times; and Colbert, the famous financier and minister for Louis XIV., gave a privilege to Madame Gilbert, of Alencon, to introduce into France the manufacture of both Flemish and Venetian Point, and placed in her hands for the first expenses 150,000 francs. The manufacture spread over every country of Europe, though in 1640 the Parliament of Toulouse sought to drive out women from the employment, on the plea that the domestic were her only legitimate occupations. A monk came to the rescue, and demonstrated that spinning, weaving, and all forms of preparing and decorating stuffs had been hers from the beginning of time, and thus for a season averted further action.

The monk had learned his lesson better than most of the workmen who sought to curtail woman's opportunities. In the chronicles of that time there is full description of the workshops which formed part of every great estate, that known as the gynaeceum being devoted to the women and children, who spun, wove, made up, and embroidered stuffs of every order. The Abbey of Niederalteich had such a gynaeceum, in which twenty-two women and children worked, while that of Stephenswert employed twenty-four; co-operation in such labor having been found more advantageous than isolated work. Before the tenth century these workshops had been established at many points. If part of a feudal manor, the wife of its lord acted often as overseer; if attached to some abbey, a general overlooker filled the same place. In the convents manual labor came into favor; and the spinning, weaving, and dyeing of stuffs occupied a large part of the life.

Apprenticeship for both male and female was finally well established, and many women became the successful heads of prosperous industries. The wage was, as it is to-day, the merest pittance; but any wage whatever was an advance upon the conditions of earlier servitude.

Life had small joy for women in those days we call the "good old times." Take the married woman, the house-mother of that period. She not only lived in the strictest retirement, but her duties were so complex and manifold that, to quote Bebel, "a conscientious housewife had to be at her post from early in the morning till late at night in order to fulfil them. It was not only a question of the daily household duties that still fall to the lot of the middle-class housekeeper, but of many others from which she has been entirely freed by the modern development of industry, and the extension of means of transport. She had to spin, weave, and bleach; to make all the linen and clothes, to boil soap, to make candles and brew beer. In addition to these occupations, she frequently had to work in the field or garden and to attend to the poultry and cattle. In short, she was a veritable Cinderella, and her solitary recreation was going to church on Sunday. Marriages only took place within the same social circles; the most rigid and absurd spirit of caste ruled everything, and brooked no transgression of its law. The daughters were educated on the same principles; they were kept in strict home seclusion; their mental development was of the lowest order, and did not extend beyond the narrowest limits of household life. And all this was crowned by an empty and meaningless etiquette, whose part it was to replace mind and culture, and which made life altogether, and especially that of a woman, a perfect treadmill of labor."

How was it possible that a condition as joyless and fruitless as this should be the accepted ideal of womanhood? Already the question is answered. For ages her identity had been merged in that of the man by whose side she worked with no thought of recompense. She toiled early and late, filling the office of general helper on the same terms; and even to-day, under our own eyes, the wife of many a farmer goes through her married life often not touching five dollars in cash in an entire year.

Submissiveness, clinging affection, humility, all the traits accounted distinctively feminine, and the natural and ever-increasing result of steady suppression of all stronger ones stood in the way of any resistance. Intellectual qualities, forever at a discount, repressed development save in rarest cases. The mass of women had neither power nor wish to protest; and thus the few traces we find of their earliest connection with labor show us that they accepted bare subsistence as all to which they were entitled, and were grateful if they escaped the beating which the lower order of Englishman still regards it as his right to give. Even in our own country and our own time this theory is not altogether extinct. The papers only recently contained an account of the brutal beating of a woman by a man. The woman in remonstrating cried, "You have no right to beat me! I am not your wife!"

During the Middle Ages, and indeed well into the nineteenth century, possession of property by women was confined to the unmarried, the entire control and practical ownership passing to the husband upon marriage.

Change comes at last to even the most fossilized thought. One by one, social institutions clung to with fiercest tenacity fell away. Barbaric independence had followed Greek and Roman slavery, which in turn was succeeded by feudal servitude, to reappear once more in the affranchised communes. Each experiment had its season, and sunk into the darkness of the past, to give place to a new one, which must transmit to posterity the principal and interest of all preceding ones. But though progress when taken in the mass is plain, the individual years in each generation show small trace of it. Even as late as the sixteenth century, the workman fared little better than the brutes. Erasmus tells us that their houses had no chimneys, and their floors were bare ground; while Fortescue, who travelled in France at the same time, reports a misery and degradation which have had vivid portraiture in Taine's "Ancien Regime."

A flood of wealth poured in on the discovery of the New World. The invention of gunpowder put a new face upon warfare, and that of printing made possible the cheap and wide dissemination of long-smouldering ideas. Economic problems perplexed every country, and on all sides methods of solving them were put in action. Sully, who found in Henry IV. of France an ardent supporter of his wishes for her prosperity, had altered and systematized taxes, and introduced a multitude of reforms in general administration; and later, Colbert did even more notable work. The Italian Republics had made their noble code of commercial rules and maxims. The Dutch had given to the world one of the most wonderful examples of what man may accomplish by sheer pluck and persistent hard work, and commercial institutions founded on a principle of liberty; and neither the terror of the Spanish rule nor the jealousy of England had destroyed her power. Credit, banking, all modern forms of exchange were coming into use; and agriculture, which the feudal system had kept in a state of torpor, awakened and became a productive power.

Side by side with this were gigantic speculations, like that of John Law and the East India Company, with the helpless ruin of its collapse. The time was ripe for the formulation of some system of economic laws; and two men who had long pondered them, De Gournay and Quesnay, made the first attempt to explain the meaning of wealth and its distribution. After Quesnay and his system, still holding honorable place, came Turgot; after Turgot, Adam Smith; and thenceforward halt is impossible, and economic science marches on with giant strides.

In all this progress woman had shared many of the material benefits, but her industrial position had altered but slightly. Driven from the trades, she had passed into the ranks of agricultural laborers; and Thorold Rogers, in his "Work and Wages," records her early work in this direction. France held the most enlightened view, and even then women took active part in business, and had a position unknown in any other country; but they had no place in any system of the economists, nor did their labor count as a force to be enumerated. Slowly machinery was making its way, feared and hated by the lower order of workers, eyed distrustfully and uncertainly by the higher. Men and women struggling for bare subsistence had become active competitors, till, in 1789, a general petition entitled "Petition of Women of the Third Estate to the King" was signed by hundreds of French workers, who, made desperate by starvation and underpay, demanded that every business which included spinning, weaving, sewing, or knitting should be given to women exclusively. Side by side with the wave of political revolution, strongest for France and America, came the industrial revolution; and the opening of the nineteenth century brought with it the myriad changes we are now to face.


[1] Dynamic Sociology, or Applied Social Science as based upon Statical Sociology and the Less Complex Sciences. By Lester F. Ward, A.M., vol. i. p. 649.

[2] Economics, book i. chap. ix.

[3] Ancient Law, p. 147.



For nearly a century and a half, dating from the landing of the Pilgrims on Plymouth Rock, the condition of laboring women was that of the same class in all struggling colonies. There were practically no women wage-earners, save in domestic service, where a home and from thirty to a hundred dollars a year was accounted wealth, the latter sum being given in a few instances to the housekeepers in great houses. Each family represented a commonwealth, and its women gave every energy to the crowding duties of a daily life filled with manifold occupations.

The farmer—for all were farmers—was often blacksmith, shoemaker, and carpenter, and more or less proficient in every trade whose offices were called for in the family life. The farmer's wife spun and wove the cloth he wore and the linen that made his household furnishing, and was dyer and dresser, brewer and baker, seamstress, milliner, and dressmaker. The quickness, adaptiveness to new conditions, and the fertility of resource which are recognized as distinguishing the American, were born of the colonial struggle, especially of the final one which separated us forever from English rule.

The wage of the few women found in labor outside the home was gauged by that which had ruled in England. For unskilled labor, as that employed occasionally in agriculture, this had been from one shilling and sixpence for ordinary field work to two shillings a week paid in haying and harvest time. For hoeing corn or rough weeding there is record of one shilling per week, and this is the usual wage for old women. To this were added various allowances which have gradually fallen into disuse. A full record of these and of rates in general will be found in "Six Centuries of Work and Wages."[4]

Unskilled labor during the whole colonial period—meaning by this such labor as that of the men who sawed wood, dug ditches, or mended roads, mixed mortar for the mason, carried boards to the carpenter, or cut hay in harvest time—brought a wage of seldom more than two shillings a day, fifteen shillings a week making a man the envy of his fellows, while six or seven was the utmost limit for women of the same order.

On this pittance they lived as they could. Sand did duty as carpet for the floor. The cupboard knew no china, and the table no glass. Coal and matches were unknown; they had never seen a stove. The meals of coarsest food were eaten from wooden or pewter dishes. Fresh meat was seldom eaten more than once a week. A pound of salt pork was tenpence, and corn three shillings a bushel. Clothing was as coarse as the food, and imprisonment for the slightest debt was the shadow hanging over every family where illness or any other cause had hindered earning. Boys and girls in the poorer families were employed by the owners of cattle to watch and keep them within bounds, countless troubles arising from their roaming over the unfenced fields. Andover, Mass., being from the beginning of a thrifty turn of mind, passed, soon after the founding of the town, an ordinance which still stands on the town records:—

"The Court did herupon order and decree that in every towne the chosen men are to take care of such as are sett to keep cattle, that they may be sett to some other employment withall, as spinning upon the rock, knitting and weaving tape, &c."

Spinning-classes were also formed; the General Court of Massachusetts ordering these in 1656, this being part of the general effort to begin some form of manufactures. But fishing to load ships, and shipbuilding to carry cured fish absorbed the energies of the growing population; and these vessels brought textiles and manufactured goods from the cheapest markets everywhere and anywhere.[5]

These "homespun" industries soon showed a tendency toward division. By 1669 much weaving was done outside the home as custom work; and there is record of one Gabriel Harris who died in 1684 leaving four looms and tacklings and a silk loom as part of the small fortune he had accumulated in this way.[6] His six children and some hired women assisted in the work. In 1685 Joseph, the son of Roger Williams, entered in an account book now extant,[7] a credit to "Sarah badkuk [Babcock], for weven and coaming wisted." This work was, however, chiefly in the hands of men.

The records of Pepperell, Mass., show that many women saved their pin money, and sent out little ventures in the ships built at home and sailing to all ports with fish. These ventures included articles of clothing, embroideries, and anything that it seemed might be made to yield some return. There were also women of affairs, some of whom took charge of large industries. Thus Weeden, in his "Economic and Social History of New England," quotes from an interesting memorandum left by Madam Martha Smith, a widow of St. George's Manor, Long Island,[8] which shows her practical ability. In January, 1707, "my company" killed a yearling whale, and made twenty-seven barrels of oil. The record gives her success for the year, and the tax she paid to the authorities at New York,—fifteen pounds and fifteen shillings, a twentieth part of her year's gains.

Other women oversaw the curing of the fish; but there is no record of the wage beyond the general one which for the earliest days of the colony gives rates for women as from four to eight pence a day without food. These rates followed almost literally those of England at that time. Half of the day's earnings were accounted an equivalent for diet, and contractors for feeding gangs in agriculture, among sailors, or wherever the system was adopted, allowed seven and one-half pence per day a head for men and women alike. Women servants received ten shillings a year wages, and an allowance of four shillings additional for clothing. The working day still remained as fixed by the law late in the fifteenth century,—from five A.M. to eight P.M., from March to September, with half an hour for breakfast, and an hour and a half for dinner.

These rates gradually altered, but for women hardly at all, the wages during the eighteenth century ranging from four to six pounds a year. The colony, however, gave opportunities unknown to the mother country, and gardening and the cultivation of small vegetables seem to have fallen much into the hands of women.[9] They had studied the best methods for hotbeds, and grew early vegetables in these, the first record of this being in 1759.

Gloves were by this time made at home, buttons covered, and many small industries conducted, all connected with the manufacture and making up of clothing. Patriotic spinning occupied many; and the "Boston News-Letter" has it that often seventy linen-wheels were employed at one gathering. The agitation caused by the Stamp Act turned the attention of all women to the production of cloth as a domestic business. Worcester, Mass., in 1780 formed an association for the spinning and weaving of cotton, and a jenny was bought by subscription.[10]

Prices by this time had risen, and in 1776 the Andover records mention that a Miss Holt was paid eighteen shillings for spinning seventy-two skeins, and seven shillings eleven pence for weaving nineteen yards of cloth. Women generally could spin two skeins of linen yarn a day; but there is record of one, a Miss Eleanor Fry of East Greenwich, R.I., who spun seven skeins and one knot in one day,—an amount sufficient to make twelve large lawn handkerchiefs such as were then imported from England.

Within four years another Rhode Island family of Newport are recorded in 1768 as having "manufactured nine hundred and eighty yards of woolen cloth, besides two coverlids (coverlets), and two bed-ticks, and all the stocking yarn of the family."

The Council of East Greenwich fixed prices at that time at rates which seem purely arbitrary and are certainly incomprehensible. Thus for spinning linen or worsted, five or six skeins to the pound, the price was not to exceed sixpence per skein of fifteen knots, with finer work in proportion. Carded woollen yarn was the same per skein. Weaving plain flannel or tow or linen brought fivepence per yard; common worsted and linen, one penny a yard; and other linens in like proportion.[11]

Silk growing and weaving had been the result of the silkworm cocoons sent over by James the First, who offered bounties of money and tobacco for spun and woven silk according to weight. Three women were famous before the Revolution as silk growers and weavers,—Mrs. Pinckney, Grace Fisher, and Susanna Wright; and at all points where the mulberry-tree was indigenous or could be made to grow, fortune was regarded as assured. The project failed; but the efforts then made paved the way for present experiment, and even better success than that already attained.

The manufacture of straw goods, amounting now to many million dollars yearly, owes its origin to a woman,—Miss Betsey Metcalf, who in 1789, when hardly more than a child, discovered the secret of bleaching and braiding the meadow grass of Dedham, her native town. Others were taught, and a regular business of supplying the want for summer hats and bonnets was organized, and has grown to its present large proportions.

At this period women widowed by the fortune of war or forced by the absence of all the male members of the family on the field, were often found in business. The mother of Thomas Perkins of Salem, one of the great American merchants, left widowed in 1778, took her husband's place in the counting-house, managed business, despatched ships, sold merchandise, wrote letters, all with such commanding energy that the solid Hollanders wrote to her as to a man.[12] The record of one day's work of Mary Moody Emerson, born in 1777, reads:—

"Rose before light every morn; read Butler's Analogy; commented on the Scriptures; read in a little book Cicero's Letters—a few touches of Shakespeare—washed, carded, cleaned house and baked."[13]

There is another woman no less busy, a member of the distinguished Nott family, who did work in her house and helped her boys in the fields. In midwinter, with neither money nor wool in the house, one of the boys required a new suit. The mother sheared the half-grown fleece from a sheep, and in a week had spun, wove, and made it into clothing, the sheep being protected from cold by a wrappage made of braided straw.

Details like this would be out of place here did they not serve to accent the fact of the concentration of industries under the home roof, and the necessity that existed for this. But a change was near at hand, and it dates from the first bale of cotton grown in the country.

In the early years of the eighteenth century not a manufacturing town existed in New England, and for the whole country it was much the same. A few paper-mills turned out paper hardly better in quality than that which comes to us to-day about our grocery packages. In a foundry or two iron was melted into pigs or beaten into bars and nails. Cocked hats and felts were made in one factory. Cotton was hardly known.[14] De Bow, in his "Industrial Resources of the United States," tells us that a little had been sent to Liverpool just before the battle of Lexington; but linen took the place of all cotton fabrics, and was spun at every hearth in New England.

In the eight bales of cotton, grown on a Georgia plantation, sent over to Liverpool in 1784, and seized at the Custom House on the ground that so much cotton could not be produced in America, but must come from some foreign country, lay the seed of a new movement in labor, in which, from the beginning, women have taken larger part than men. By 1800 cotton had proved itself a staple for the Southern States, and even the second war with England hardly hindered the planters. In 1791 two million pounds had been raised; in 1804 forty-eight million; the invention of the cotton-gin, in 1793, stimulating to the utmost the enthusiasm of the South over this new road to fortune.

It is with the birth of the cotton industry that the work and wages of women begin to take coherent shape; and the history of the new occupation divides itself roughly into three periods. The first includes the ten or fifteen years prior to 1790, and may be called the experimental period; the second covers the time from 1790 to 1811, in which the spinning-system was established and perfected; and the third the years immediately following 1814, in which came the introduction of the power loom and the growth of the modern factory system.

The experimental stage found an enthusiastic worker in the person of Tench Coxe, known often as the "Father of American Industries," whose interest in the beginning was philanthropic rather than commercial. Bent upon employment for idle and destitute workmen, he exhibited in Philadelphia in 1775 the first spinning-jenny seen in America. He had already incorporated the "United Company of Philadelphia for Promoting American Manufactures," and they at once secured the machine and made ready to operate it. Four hundred women were very speedily at work at hand spinning and weaving; and though the company presently turned its attention to woollen fabrics, a large proportion of women was still employed.

Till the building of the great mill at Waltham, Mass., in which every form of the improved machinery found place, spinning was the only work of the factories. All the yarn was sent out among the farmers to be woven into cloth, the current prices paid for this being from six to twelve cents a yard. American cotton was poor, and the product of a quality inferior to the coarsest and heaviest-unbleached of to-day; but experiment soon altered all this.

To manufacture the raw product in this country was a necessity. For England this had begun in 1786; but she guarded so jealously all inventions bearing upon it that none found their way to us. Our machinery was therefore of the most imperfect order, the work chiefly of two young Scotch mechanics. In 1788 a company was formed at Providence, R.I., for making "homespun cloth," their machinery being made in part from drawings from English models. Carding and roving were all done by hand labor; and the spinning-frame, with thirty-two spindles, differed little from a common jenny, and was worked by a crank turned by hand.

Even at this stage England was determined that America should have neither machinery nor tools, and still held to the act passed in 1789 which enforced a penalty of five hundred pounds for any one who exported, or tried to export, "blocks, plates, engines, tools, or utensils used in or which are proper for the preparing or finishing of the calico, cotton, muslin, or linen printing manufacture, or any part thereof."

Nothing could have more stimulated American invention; but there were many struggles before the thought finally came to all interested, that it might be possible to condense the whole operation with all its details under one roof,—a project soon carried out.

Thus far all had been tentative; but the building in 1790 at Pawtucket, R.I., of the first large factory with improved machinery gave the industry permanent place. Another mill was erected in the same State in 1795, and two more in Massachusetts in 1802 and 1803. In the three succeeding years ten more were built in Rhode Island and one in Connecticut, altogether fifteen in number, working about 8,000 spindles and producing in a year some 300,000 pounds of yarn. At the end of the year 1809 eighty-seven additional mills had been put up, making about 80,000 spindles in operation. Eight hundred spindles employed forty persons,—five men and thirty-five women and children.

The first authoritative record as to the progress of the manufacture, numbers employed, etc., was made in a report to the House of Representatives in the spring session of 1816. In the previous year 90,000 bales had been manufactured as against 1,000 in 1800. The capital invested was $40,000, and the relative number of males and females employed is also recorded,—

Males employed from the age of 17 and upward 10,000 Women and female children 66,000 Boys under 17 years of age 24,000

For these women spinning was the only work. Hand-looms still did all the weaving, nor was it possible to obtain any plan of the power looms,—then in use in England, and a recent invention. Another mill had been built in 1795; and thus the first definite and profitable occupation for women in this country dates back to the close of the eighteenth and the early years of the nineteenth century, the history of its phases having been written by Tench Coxe. The village tailoress had long gone from house to house, earning in the beginning but a shilling a day, and this sometimes paid in kind; and in towns a dressmaker or milliner was secure of a livelihood. But work for the many was unknown outside of household life; and thus wage rates vary with locality, and are in most cases inferential rather than matter of record.

Cotton would seem, from the beginning of manufacturing interests, to have monopolized New England; but other industries had been very early suggested. In May, 1640, the General Court of Massachusetts made an order for the encouragement by bounties of the manufacture of linen and woollen as well as cotton. In 1638 a company of Yorkshiremen came over and settled in Rowley, Mass., where they built the first fulling-mill in the United States. Fustians and the ordinary homespun cloth were woven; but few women were employed, the work being far heavier than the weaving of cotton. It was hoped that broadcloths as good as those imported could be made; but American wool proved less susceptible of high finish, though of better wearing quality than the English. Various grades of cloth, with shawls, were manufactured; but the growth of the industry was slow, and constantly hampered by heavy duties and much interference. In 1770 the entire graduating class at Harvard College were dressed in black broadcloth made in this country, the weaving of which had been done in families. Yarn was sent to these after the wool had been made ready in the mills, and the census of the United States for 1810 gives the number of yards woven in this way as 9,528,266.

What proportion of women were engaged we have no means of knowing; but the census of 1860 shows that New England had 65 per cent of the total number then at work. The cotton manufacture had but 38 per cent of males as against 62 per cent of females; while in woollen, males were 60 per cent. In New England 10,743 women were in woollen-mills; in the Middle States, 4,540; and in the South, 689. For the West no returns are given. Many more would be included in the Southern returns were it not that most of the weaving is still a home industry, this resulting from the sparseness and scattered nature of the population.

Knitting formed one of the earliest means of earning for women, the demand for hose of every description being beyond the power of the family to supply. Knitting-machines of various orders were in use on the Continent, and had been brought into England; but any attempt to employ them here was for a long time unsuccessful. Yarn was spun especially for this purpose, usually with a double thread, and in the year 1698 Martha's Vineyard exported 9,000 pairs. The German and English settlers of Pennsylvania brought many handknitting machines with them, and were rivals of New England; but Virginia led, and the census of 1810 credits her with over half of the hand-knit pairs exported, Connecticut coming next. In Pennsylvania the women earned half a crown a pair for the long hose, and this in the opening of the eighteenth century; and the State still retains it as a household industry. The percentage for the United States of women engaged in it by the last census is 61,100.

The early stages of the industry employed very few women, the processes involving too heavy labor; and out of 159 workers in the first mills, only eight were women, these being employed in carding and fulling. According to our last census, 10,743 are employed in New England mills alone; but the proportion remains far below that of the cotton-mills, and at many points in the South and remote territories it is still a household industry in which all share.

Until well on in the nineteenth century the factory and the domestic system were still interwoven, nor had there been intelligent definition of the actual meaning of this system until Ure formulated one:—

"The factory system in technology is simply the combined operation of many orders of work-people in tending with assiduous skill a series of productive machines, continuously impelled by a central power."[15]

A central power controlling an army of workers had been the dream of all mechanicians; and Ure formulated this also:—

"It is the idea of a vast automaton, composed of various mechanical and intellectual organs, acting in uninterrupted concert for the production of a common object,—all of them being subordinate to a self-regulated moving force."

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