Recent Question We Received:
The majority of questions require an opinion (which will vary student to student) or an analysis of the reading. You should make sure that student know some of the attitudes behind the lower status and lower pay of women's work. Since the ideal sphere for women was suppose to be the home, or work related to home needs, this move into manufacturing was considered to be unfeminine. In the mines, for example, women were looked down upon for doing "male" work. They also were working in very close quarters with men. (Recall the concerns about hiring women firefighters in the U.S!.) Yet women were also specifically recruited into industries such as textile production because of their perceived greater abilities in these areas - and because women were supposed to be, and socialized to be, more docile and thus less demanding than men. Since the ideal was to have men the primary household bread winners, the work of both women and children was considered supplemental to his salary. Thus an employer felt justified paying women and children less. The jobs they were given were often gender differentiated - women being given what was considered less skilled work. The devaluation of women's labor - both then and often now - could be discussed in class.
Some questions require some research. The one asking the ratio of male/female wages in a factory today I admit is probably too hard to answer. Instead students could find out the wage differences in manufacturing industries in general. According to the UN's "The World's Women: Trends and Statistics," women everywhere earn less than men. In part, this is because women hold more low-level positions, and work in more part-time jobs than do men. Since 1970, the differences between female and male wages in manufacturing have narrowed. In the US, women's average wages in manufacturing as percentage of men's is 68%. Where the labor market remains segregated, equal pay legislation has little effect.
Other specific answers include: Coal was the dominant fuel in this period - used to produce steam, fuel in the home, cooking, etc. Provide students with images of the highly corsetted middle class women, whose fussy clothes took an enormous amount to time to maintain - some even needed a servant to help them manage all the buttons. In electronics industries today, eye problems (from looking intensely through microscopes) are very common. Also wrist and hand muscle and back problems.
The reference to women's "honour" going astray in the distressed seamstress song: Some young girls, who in increasing numbers were flocking to the cities, were unable to support themselves by low wage labor. Thus they were forced to turn to prostitution. This was a growing concern among both male and female reformers - whose ranks increased as a by-product of the industrial revolution.
More Information... Women During the English Industrial Revolution
The resources I am giving you have good primary sources, but some are old and I don't know where you are located. Also I am not terribly up-to-date on new scholarship. Anyway: Janet Murray, "Strong Minded Women & Other Lost Voices from 19th Century England," Pantheon Books, 1982. E. Hellerstein, L. Hume and K. Offen, "Victorian Women: A Documentary Account of the Women's Lives in 19th century England, France & U.S.", Stanford University Press, 1981. Angela John, "By the Sweat of Their Brow: Women in the Victorian Coal Mines," Croom Helm, London, 1980. Ivy Pinchbeck, "Women Workers and the Industrial Revoltuion 1750-1850," Routledge, London, 1930. This is a classic and worth it if you can get it. You also could track down autobiographies such as Annie Bessant's, or the Government Commision reports. The Fawcett Library in London, which has a WEB page, might be able to help you. You have, hope, already checked the information on women in the English industrial revolution on this site under "lessons."