What Types of Jobs Did Women Have in the 1800s?

by Chris Shultz

The place of women in the workplace has changed drastically since the 1880s. While women are said to be equal in today's society, this was not the case in previous centuries. Changing career roles have changed the status of women in society. In the 19th century, women's roles were drastically different from what they are today.

Daily Lives

Women's roles in the Western world during the 1800s were highly controlled and directed by men. A woman's ultimate purpose was to find a man to marry, and then reproduce. If a woman chose to remain single, she could be ridiculed as an "old maid" and become an outcast.

Underclass Women

Underclass women had a rugged appearance, and often wore dirty clothes with messy hair. They had no education or respectable job and relied on relief organizations for survival. When this was not enough, some resorted to prostitution to earn a living, as there were no other jobs available. Their lifestyle was a result of their collective lack of jobs, family inheritance and financial support.

Lower Working-Class Women

Most women were in the lower working class. Like underclass women, their lifestyle and income did not permit them to dress elegantly, and they often wore dirty and old clothing. They had no inheritance in most cases, and some started working as early as 8 years old. These women's jobs included domestic servant, farm worker, tailor and washerwoman. Lower working class women not only had to work their low paying jobs, but they were also expected to be mothers and housekeepers.

Upper Working-Class Women

The 19th century's most prestigious female class dressed elegantly, often covered in lace, corsets, veils and gloves. These women usually had an inheritance passed down, and wealthy men often courted them. They generally did not work, and while women weren't usually allowed to receive an education, upper working-class women sometimes received a general education of reading, writing and arithmetic. In the case that a woman had an education, she may have taken a position as a governess or lady's companion.

About the Author

Chris Shultz has been writing since 2005. He received his B.S. in economics from West Virginia University and is pursuing a master's degree in business administration. He has experience as an intern working with marketing research and logistics for an international food exporter and is working as a graduate advising assistant at the College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University.