Effects of Industrialization on women and children during the Progressive Era

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The years between 1820 and 1920 represented a critical period regarded as the progressive era. Notably, the United States focused on rigorous reform activities during this period. A vital industrial revolution occurred during this period. The progressive agenda sought to transform the United States through rigorous processes of industrialization and urbanization. Moreover, the women’s suffrage movement emerged during this period and achieved numerous goals. The reform activities that took place during this period have been the subject of discussion among different historians. It is imperative to understand the political, economic, and social reforms that took place as well as their impacts. Women and children experienced the impacts of the reforms that took place during the progressive era. Particularly, industrialization allowed women to participate in the labor force. On the other hand, children also played a role in the provision of cheap labor. This paper will explore the effects of industrialization on women and children during the progressive era.


The rigorous process of industrialization compelled women to embrace a new attitude towards labor. Particularly, women saw the need for them to participate actively in the labor sector. In the previous years, women only focused on household responsibilities and were not active participants in the labor industry. However, the progressive era saw the emergence of women who were willing to take up different jobs and contribute significantly to the productivity of industries. Women were cognizant that industrialization created opportunities for women. The vigorous growth in the industrial sector necessitated the need for more workers. As a result, women left their homes and willingly took up new responsibilities in industries. They participated in coal mining and textile industries. The participation of women in the labor market was a significant change that altered their position in the society. Women were no longer household managers. It became explicit that they were capable of contributing to the growth of the nation.

However, the participation of women in the labor market exposed them to numerous challenges. The working conditions were extremely wanting due to the increased risks of injury as well as the unsanitary working environment. A great percentage of women occupied jobs in the textile industries that compromised their safety. The industries did not have formal regulations that established a safe working environment. Additionally, women also faced challenges due to the low wages they received. There was a common perception that women needed to earn lower wages because they only played supportive roles in the family setting. Due to the existing patriarchal attitudes, there was an assumption that men had the primary objective of supporting the family. Women only worked to complement what their husbands were earning. The discrimination in the workplace made the situation worse because it introduced barriers that served as a disadvantage to women. It was irrelevant to consider whether men and women performed similar roles in the industrial sector. Many employers ha the conviction that women deserved much less compared to what the male workers were earning. The participation of women in the labor sector registered economic benefits. There was a remarkable level of increased productivity in the industries. For this reason, women succeeded in their role of participating in the industrial revolution.

The progressive era also registered political changes. The women’s suffrage movement advocate for the rights of women to participate in political projects. The leaders of the suffrage movement demanded the rights of women to exercise their right to vote. For many years, women had been passive contributors to the political system because they could not vote. However, the suffrage movement represented different organizations that had a common agenda. The women’s suffrage movement created a platform for women to share their experiences and embrace a role in public participation. Women became vocal and contributors of shaping public policies. For women to participate in political activities and agenda, they needed empowerment. The women’s suffrage movement empowered women and prepared them for the new responsibilities in the political realm.

Industrialization led to increased cases of child labor. Child labor was a practice that compelled children to participate actively in the labor sector. The participation of children only served to compromise their dignity by exposing them to excessive labor. The practice of child labor was a form of oppression because it involved compelling teenagers and younger children to embrace adult roles. The development of child labor brought about a major controversy because women were determined to fight for the rights of children. The women’s suffrage movement comprised organizations that gave attention to the welfare of children. It was time to end the practice of child labor that affected the children adversely. The development of child labor was one of the adverse effects of industrialization on children. Some families faced the compulsion of participating in the labor market as a whole as a way of increasing family income. For this reason, the parents introduced their children to the labor market so that they could earn extra income. Child labor was a negative practice that alienated children from their families. Some children worked far away from their homes and performed tasks that surpassed their abilities.

The unsanitary working conditions compromised the health of children who participated in the labor sector. In the milling industry, children developed pneumonia and other respiratory diseases due to the lack of ventilation. In other industries, children strained as they struggled to complete tasks that were beyond their abilities, a factor that led to back injuries, and even paralysis. Child labor was detrimental to the society and affected the development of children. It was practically impossible for some children to experience a smooth transition from childhood to adulthood because the labor sector converted them into an adult way before they achieved the required age. Child labor denied the children an opportunity to access education. The women’s suffrage movement advocated for education for both women and children. Statistics indicated that about 20% of children aged between 10 and 15 were active participants in the labor sector by 1900. The working conditions only compromised the health and growth of children. For this reason, women who played an active role in the suffrage movement gave attention to the needs of children.

Industrialization compelled both women and children to take up new roles in the industries. It is unfortunate that women had to balance domestic chores and their job responsibilities. The patriarchal attitudes that were dominant in the society motivated some men to consider women and children as potential threats in the labor sector. Some men suggested that women did not deserve to take up some responsibilities. The male workers emphasized the need for reserving some jobs for men while women could only take up the less demanding jobs. Since women needed to achieve a measure of equality in the labor sector, the women’s suffrage movement helped them to champion for equal rights. As a result, they achieved certain reforms that allowed women to take up any jobs they liked in the labor sector. However, the reforms did not alter the attitudes of male workers who still considered women and children as inferior. The progressive era allowed women to challenge the existing perceptions that women could only take up domestic chores. The industrial revolution created opportunities for women to move beyond the household responsibilities and participate in the labor sector.


The progressive era was of critical importance to women and children. Particularly, women were able to explore opportunities outside the home setting. Some women moved to new cities in search of employment. As a result, the role of women in the society changed significantly. The women’s suffrage movement advocated for voting rights that allowed women to influence public policies. The empowerment of women during this era motivated them to become active participants in the social, economic, and political realms. On the other hand, industrialization resulted in child labor. Children faced the compulsion to work in unfavorable conditions that compromised their development. However, the women’s suffrage movement was against child labor and advocated for education opportunities among children. Undoubtedly, the progressive era represented a period in which many reforms took place. These reforms improved the position of women in the society and sought to protect the welfare of children. Women exhibited the determination to take up challenging responsibilities in the labor sector despite the patriarchal attitudes that governed the society.

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  2. Frankel, Noralee, and Nancy S. Dye. Gender, Class, Race, and Reform in the Progressive Era. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2015. Print.
  3. Link, William A, and Susannah J. Link. The Gilded Age and Progressive Era: A Documentary Reader. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Print.
  4. Marten, James A. Childhood and Child Welfare in the Progressive Era: A Brief History with Documents. Boston, Mass. [u.a.: Bedford/St. Martins, 2005. Print.
  5. Wilson, Jan D. The Women’s Joint Congressional Committee and the Politics of Maternalism, 1920-30. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007. Print.
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