The Industrial Revolution was an era of change within the ways and places that women in Britain worked. Beginning in 1760, an immense flow of women workers entered the factory industry. Previously throughout history in Britain and particularly in London, the primary focus for women was in the household. Women were expected to perform such duties as taking care of the children, cleaning the house, and cooking the daily meals. In London, women were supposed to take care of the sick and mend clothing as jobs during the initial stages of the Revolution. However, with the invention of the spinning jenny by James Hargreaves in 1764, the textile factories in London flourished, and women were brought in to work making these textiles. The remarkable social change brought about by this migration of women was that the focus of work soon moved from the home to the factory. Emphasis was placed on machinery work rather than handiwork, and women had a chance to venture out of the house and to provide for their families in ways not experienced in pre-industrial London.
Women dominated the textile industry by 1780, and although they were paid less than men for the same type of work, this new influx of women into factories created a sense of cohesion and strength. There were added stresses of working outside the home including longer working hours, crowded work areas within the factory, little food, and overall unsuitable working conditions. One unfair addition to the demands of women within the labor force was the expectation and added burden of society’s demand for children and the necessary care for those children. Women were then representing two roles within the industrial society, one as a factory worker and the other as a mother figure. However, the majority of women entering the textile labor force in London were single, and this independent work engendered a sense of emancipation within the female labor force. This idea of independence flourished during the continuation of the Industrial Revolution in London, and provided for new standards and ideals for women at the time. This textile work provided for some women a new, higher standard of living, and for most it allowed for the earning of independent wages. Women could now earn income for the family, and the patriarch was no longer the sole provider. Although women were performing duties both inside and outside of the home, their work in factories established an ideal of self sufficiency and independence, creating a new social reality for women during this era.
The novel idea of autonomy was a considerable social change in London during the early years of the Industrial Revolution, resulting from the migration of women from the home to working in the factories from 1760-1780. Women were now working outside of the home and providing for families with independently earned wages. This sense of work and value engendered new ideals of emancipation in women, providing for a powerful social change in the goals and principles of women in London, and altering their view of reality in the process.