Jobs in the 1880’s

In the United States around the time of the 1880s one can see what the economy was like and therefore jobs by looking at an example of a neighboring state to Connecticut. In order to understand the economy I read parts of Alexander Kessayar’s book Out of Work, which gave details about the overall economy and what occupations were like for people at the time. For some background on how change occurred overtime it is important to note that around the time of 1812 the state of Massachusetts became heavily industrialized and this is something that could be seen in other major cities in neighboring states, although maybe not to the same extent of Massachusetts. This is important in understanding the change that took place in what occupations looked like for men and women, and turned to more industrial type jobs with the coming wave of factories. Kessayer also explains the economy as a whole from 1882-1885 there was a depression which would have affected jobs and wages at the time.

In 1887, William Eliot Barrows became the general manager of one of the biggest mills in Willimantic, Connecticut. Windham Textile and History Museum was first founded in 1822 and invested in by a man, Perez Richmond of Rhode Island, to help open up smaller mills around it so that business could boom (Eves). William Eliot Barrows helped the people that worked for him by making sure that they knew how to read and write and got coffee breaks (Eves). If the employees didn’t know how to read or write, then they were sent to classes so that they would be able to. Although the employees appreciate the help that they got, they couldn’t help but feel like they were being treated like a child(Eves). By the 1870’s the number of employees went up to 60 men, 30 women, and 20 children. They invested in cotton, thread, and, sewing machines to help with making clothing. The development throughout the 1800’s, especially in the 1870-1890’s, was massive because of the new inventions of machines to help make more clothing faster (Eves).

In Hartford specifically there was also a lot of development of industry in the city. Many major factories were located here. Some of the major industries that were in the city were things such as the Colt gun factory, the developed area of Pope Park were the Columbia produced bicycles were made along with steam, electrical, and gasoline powered automobiles, Weed a sewing machine company was also located there, and others such as Pratt and Whitney and Hartford Machine Screw (Mondany). All these industries contributed greatly to the jobs available for the people of Hartford and to the city’s economy at the time. This may relate to the case of Ada Brown because some of her neighbors may have worked in these factories, according to a census for the city of Hartford in 1880 many were listed as factory workers, along with occupations such as keeping house, cigar maker, dress maker, working in a soap factory, carpenter etc (Hartford 1880 census). We also discovered that Harrison worked as a car driver, Ada Brown’s late husband William S. Brown worked as a painter, Ada Brown was listed as keeping house, we are still trying to find Gregory’s occupation on ancestry.

Over the last couple hundred years, women have been able to get more jobs titles than before. Before women had the opportunity of getting jobs, they stayed home, tended to the needs of the family. This included cooking, cleaning, raising children (although the father also helped with this), and clothing preparation (O’Maley). Most families lived on a farm and the mother and father had to share the workload equally, although women in general are thought to be weaker and not able to carry on such tasks. As the market became a big thing, women were not needed as much because clothes were made and even food was pre-packaged (O’Maley). Since factories and mills started getting made in many places, women have had more of an opportunity with getting jobs and working.


By: Brenna and Jess


By Angela Modany, February 7, 2012. “Hartford, Connecticut: A “Places of Invention” Tour.” National Museum of American History. N.p., 07 Feb. 2012. Web. 04 Oct. 2016.


Keyssar, Alexander. Out of Work: The First Century of Unemployment in Massachusetts. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986. Print.


“Hartford 1880 Census.” Historical Records., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2016.


By 1880, Rows of Stone and Brick Textile Mills, Small and Large, Lined the Steep, Rocky Slopes of the Willimantic Gorge. “Captains of Industry | Windham Textile & History Museum.” Windham Textile History Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2016.


“History 120.” Exploring U.S. History. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2016.


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