what were the backgrounds of factory workers in the late 1800s

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appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Generally speaking, most factory workers at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution were from farming backgrounds. While some machinery was in use on some larger farms, most American farms were subsistence-based, and grew enough food for the family to survive and put aside for winter. Since the work was done at home the family unit was kept together, and children were under the supervision of their parents or older siblings or other family members icing at home. Most factory workers at this time would not have had formal educations or even basic literacy. The removal of the able-bodied adults from the home during daylight hours meant that there was soon a growing need for childcare; this was addressed by creating public schools that offered basic skills in literacy, social studies and math, as well as a structured place for children to be during the day while parents worked in factories. Because factory work usurped the time needed to work the farm, and children in school were unable to perform household chores during the day, families began to rely more upon store-bought food and less upon what they grew or produced on their own properties. The de-emphasis on farm work also caused the migration of families to urban areas; this also made it easier to get to the factories for work. It is also true that factory workers who did not live on farms but who lived in cities faced issues of not having adequate support for their children. There were many factories that employed children to do simple tasks. But the work was often grueling and dangerous, and children were hardly paid anything for their work, leading eventually to the implementation of child labor laws.