Women and the Market Revolution

Women and the Market Revolution
During the nineteenth century, America went through a number of social, economic and political changes. Revolutions in manufacturing and commerce led to substantial economic growth. Several cultural movements reformed American society. Mary Paul, once just a normal girl from Vermont, led a life that was shaped by the changes of the 1800?s. The information gathered from Mary Paul?s letters to her father make it clear that Mary?s life experiences turned her into anything but an average woman. However, in the scope of the economic and cultural reforms of the nineteenth century, Mary Paul represents the average American.
Before the Marketing Revolution, women had a very limited role in society. They were in charge of child raising and housekeeping. They were financially dependent on their husbands because it was simply not their place to earn their own wage. At this point in history, Mary Paul would have fit the mold of a typical American woman. It is safe to assume that although Mary may have dreamed of economic independence and the ability to buy what she wanted, she would have followed in the footsteps of women before her ? getting married, raising children and keeping a home. When factories and new machines begin revolutionize the American economy, some women like Mary Paul are changed forever. In a letter asking her father?s permission to work at Lowell Mills, Mary writes, ?I think [working at Lowell] would be much better for me than to stay about here. I could earn more to begin with than I can any where about here. I am in need of clothes which I cannot get?? The Marketing Revolution creates opportunity for women to earn their own wages and buy things, like clothes, which they may not have been able to buy at their respective homes. In her first letter from Lowell, Mary writes, ?I like very well have 50 cts first payment increasing every payment as I get along in work?? Mary is very excited to be earning her own money. These payments represent a liberation for women from the economic constraints of American society. Mary Paul was just one of many women who experienced these historic changes.
Eventually, Mary Paul?s pursuit of success and happiness takes her in a different direction. She begins to show dissatisfaction with Lowell after working there for only a month. She describes the dangers of working at the mill, ?one girl fell down and broke her neck? The same day a man was killed by cars. Another had nearly all of his ribs broken. Another was nearly killed by falling down and having a bale of cotton fall on him.? Safety was one reason that Mary began to have doubts about working at Lowell. She also writes, ?I am very tired tonight? If I thought I could make a decent living at C[laremont] I would come back there.? The aspects of working at Lowell that once fascinated Mary Paul no longer fit her needs and desires. In a fashion similar to how the Market Revolution changed her definitions of happiness and success, a new revolution soon changed these definitions again.
During the nineteenth century several cultural reforms occurred in America. Some movement encouraged individualism, while others encouraged communalism. In general, these movements served to counter the growth of capitalism during the Marketing Revolution. Many reformers set up utopian societies, in which they would lead their reformed lives. Charles Fourier was a reformed who was against the system of labor for wages. In response to the capitalist waged labor, he created groups called phalanxes. The members owned all the property in common. In these phalanxes, women were treated fairly. Mary Paul was one of many women to join a reform movement. Mary explains to her father, ?I can get better pay without working as hard as at any other place? I should not be confined to one kind of work? [I] could have the privilege of doing? Housework if I choose? Both men and women have the same pay for the same work? members can live as cheaply as they choose as they pay only for what they eat?? The phalanx seems very appealing to Mary and many other women at the time. The freedom to do whatever kind of work one pleases ? which was certainly not available at Lowell ? is very important to American women. Economic equality between men and women is also a new idea to Mary. Mary?s attraction to the life in phalanxes serves as an example of how movements such as Fourierism affected the women of the 1800?s.
Mary Paul is the perfect example of how the Market Revolution and the cultural reforms of the nineteenth century affected women. Her needs and desires reflect those of women all over America. The Market Revolution allowed her to live out some of her dreams. The creation of utopian communities with anti-capitalist ideals changed the direction of Mary?s dreams. Like many other women at the time, she was drawn to one of these communities. Although Mary is somewhat of a poster child for both revolutions, her life as a whole was far from typical for women who lived through the changes of the nineteenth century. Mary Paul?s life was affected by the economic growth and the cultural reform going on at the time, whereas many women?s lives were only changed this drastically by one or the other ? or none. The extent to which the changes of the 1800?s altered Mary?s life is what makes Mary Paul?s story unique.

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