Assume you were a member of a working-class American family residing in a major industrial city during the late nineteenth century. Describe the conditions under which your family would probably have lived.

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If you were part of a working-class American family in the late 1800s living in an urban environment, life would have been difficult. The breadwinners, primarily men, probably would have worked in a factory or at a trade. The upper working-class men could have been foreman in charge of the skilled or unskilled labor and would have enjoyed better monetary benefits. However, if you were an unskilled worker, wages were low and working conditions were poor and included working long hours. Industrial accidents were common, and the fear of injury or even death at work was an everyday worry.

If the women had to work, their jobs were limited to factory work or work as domestic servants or seamstresses. They faced the same difficulties as the men, such as low wages and long hours. Many children also went to work before the age of twelve. They could not work the machinery in the factories and were considered unskilled labor, working under extremely difficult conditions with little sunlight or exercise. Also, many children died in infancy due to lack of medical care and the spread of infectious diseases.

Lastly, you would have probably lived in a cramped apartment with nine to ten people jammed into a small area. These apartments would have been near the factories, so the neighborhoods would not have been pleasant. The biggest household expense would have been food, and your diet would have been limited. Life would have been a struggle at this time.

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For this assignment, you will need to use historical facts to imagine yourself living in a different time and place.  The rise of industrialism led to major changes in U.S. cities, such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.  Before the rise of factories and large machinery, goods were made by hand.  Cloth was typically made from hand spun wool and cotton threads using looms.  Tools were made by blacksmiths.  The development of factories meant that these items and others could be produced on a large scale by low wage, low skill workers.  More and more people crowded into cities to take factory jobs in the late 19th century.  Many of these people were immigrants.

Though many people were employed by factories, their wages were low.  People often lived in crowded, dirty tenement houses in the city.  It was common for many family members to crowd into a one small apartment unit.  Communal bathrooms in the hall were sometimes shared by several units.  Tenement houses were not always built according to safety guidelines.

It was common for both parents to work in order to make ends meet.  Older children also worked instead of going to school to help support the family.  Sometimes older children skipped school to watch younger siblings.

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