The Hard Road to Business Success for Women part 2
II. Women in the Industrial Age & Beyond
The role and participation in the Middle and Medieval eras stagnated and women were relegated to focusing on home life duties. The thinking of the time may have largely been influenced by the Roman Catholic Church and its biblical interpretation but it also could be the result of the lack of industrial opportunity. There were simply just too many men in the workforce available to make room for women.
Granted the influence of the church did play a large role in keeping women at home but that was due to misguided thinking upon the part of the leaders of the church and not because the Bible explicitly taught that women were to remain in the home doing the household chores.
As we saw earlier, the Bible did not restrict women from working outside of the home. In fact, the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs has as criteria for a virtuous woman that the wife works outside of the home at different times. So if there is any religious influence subjugating women and oppressing them during these eras, it was due more to the personal references of the church leaders and not the teaching of the Bible.
We can see this type of thinking even in the American Old West of the 18th-19th centuries. While women did do some work outside of the home or with their husbands, most of their duties revolved around raising the children, cooking and looking after the needs of their men.
The industrial revolution changed a lot of this thinking. As early as the 1790s thinking about women in the workforce was beginning to change, thanks to a large part to Mary Wollstonecraft who wrote the book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Her work help bring the idea of women and equal rights into the thinking of society.
Her work was aided by Alexander Hamilton who wrote Report of Manufacturers. Unfortunately, Mr. Hamilton was not being altruistic. He was thinking more about a company’s profits than the welfare and equality of women.
The industrial revolution meant that there were more jobs available and that there were not enough men to fill those empty positions. Women were now being given a chance to work outside the home although it was not for the same pay as their male counterparts. The idea of equal pay for equal work had not reached the industrial revolution just yet.
But that situation did not last for long as in the early 1800s Sarah Bagley led the first woman’s union. The fight for equality and equal pay was on even though it would take generations before some of the workforce problems for women have still yet to be resolved.
What helped turn the tide, so to speak, for women entering the workforce was the Civil War. With the loss of over 600,000 men, through death or injury, during the War there simply were not enough men to fill all the vacant employment opportunities. Women started to take a larger presence in the American workforce. That larger presence led to women rising up to fight the deplorable conditions they had to endure.
It took over 40 years to get a woman’s labor division to be made part of the Department of Labor, the governmental agency overseeing regulations governing manufacturers and other businesses. Until that happened, women continued to join unions and other organizations to make conditions for female employees better and more tolerable.
Progress for women and work conditions took a hit when the American Federation of Labor leader decided that the woman’s place was in the home. The cycle of acceptance of women in the workforce had turned sour again for the female population and it was decades before the Equal Rights Act aided women and their working conditions.
Part of this downturn for women was not the work of leading men. The Great Depression wreaked havoc upon the business and manufacturing industry. There were no jobs for men let alone women. But the cycle’s downturn did not last very long as World War II started and one again the male workforce was called to duty to defend freedom around the world.
With the loss of men, businesses had no choice but to turn to the women of the nation to fill its ranks with workers. This boom time for women lasted the duration of the war where once it ended women were again forced to give up their employment in favor of returning veterans.
In a nutshell that is the history of women in the workforce. It is not a pretty history as women have had to struggle against unequal rights, unequal pay and unequal treatment throughout time. But where do women go from here? The struggle for equality and opportunity is not over and it is doubtful it will ever end? For some women it means following their passions and dreams and creating their own employment.
© 2019 David Thiessen