Tag Archives: progressives

Women Factory Workers

Women and Work series, part 2

Continuing the discussion of women and work, today we take a look at women in factories. As soon as the first mill or factory opened its doors, women found themselves a part of this revolutionary new approach to production.  The growing need for a two (or three or four) income household as the nineteenth century unfolded meant that women joined the labor force in droves.  By 1900, 5.7 million women participated in the wage earning system in non-agricultural jobs. On average, their pay was one third of their male counterpart’s.

An excellent place to begin a discussion of female factory work is with the Lowell Mills.  Named after Francis Cabot Lowell, a leader in the sponsoring merchant group, these mills were one of the first successful large scale efforts toward American made textiles. One of the draws to mill work was the potential for independence from their fathers and brothers.

Lowell women at the loom.

By the turn of the twentieth century, factories became crowed, unhealthy, and dangerous places to work. The cartoon below is a commentary on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 that killed 146 women, many of them leaping to their deaths from ninth floor windows.  Owners of the factory locked workers in the building to ensure productivity, but after a fire broke out in the highly flammable workshop, the workers were unable to escape. This incident sparked fervent protest and increased calls for legislation to protect workers.

Workers in a Philadelphia factory, 1902


Cartoon: ‘Harvest of Death’ 1911.


Cartoon: A woman worker facing poverty, 1915.

Check out these great resources for more on the working conditions of wage workers:


William Jennings Bryan Beyond the Scopes Trial

William Jennings Bryan Campaign Poster

Title:  “No Crown of Thorns, No Cross of Gold…”

About the image: William Jennings Bryan on a 1900 campaign poster. Symbols of the plow and the rooster; trusts as an octopus’ tentacles over industry.

Why does Davis High School Teacher, Kevin Williams, find this image interesting?

I find this image usable in several different ways in the classroom.  First, it could be used as a warm up for the election of 1900.  From the image, students can be lead to identify three central issues:  farmers and monetary policy, American foreign policy, and the influence of trusts.  The words that appear on this document also provide fodder for discussion.  They are loaded and clearly show the biases of Bryan the candidate.  I ask students to determine Bryan’s stance on the issues using the images and words.

Second, the image is useful as part of an investigation on campaigns.  A comparison of this campaign poster and a McKinley poster shows the differences in campaigning techniques between 1900 and today.  (A great McKinley poster for comparison can be found here.) You could also ask students to compare this campaign material to the political cartoons published during the election cycle of 1900. The Harp Week website “Presidential Elections 1860-1912,” is a great resource for this.

Finally, this would be a marvelous source to bring into any discussion of the Scopes Monkey Trial.  William Jennings Bryan is possibly best remembered for his conservative role in the prosecution of John Scopes.  I want students to know that Bryan wasn’t simply a reactionary, but was considered somewhat radical and revolutionary at other points in his life. After all, he did promote government ownership of railroads in the election of 1908.  This campaign poster could create a more complete picture of a very complex and important historical man.

Related Topics/Themed Collections: National Politics, Gilded Age

Lessons in the Marchand Collection:


Resources Available in the Marchand Collection:

  • Brett Flehinger, The 1912 Election and the Power of Progressivism: A Brief History with Documents, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.
  • Ellen F. Fitzpatrick, ed., Muckraking: Three Landmark Articles, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1994.
  • Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, ed., Who Were the Progressives?, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002.
  • The Progressive Era: The Limits of Reform, Social Science Education Consortium, 1989.

Share your ideas! How would you use this image?  Click here to let us know.