How Did Gender and Family Divisions among Shoeworkers
Shape the 1860 New England Strike?


       The adaptation in 1852 of the sewing machine to stitch light leather and its use in early steam-powered factories resulted in the deterioration of the pre-industrial work of women shoebinders who sewed by hand at home in rural New England and in shoe centers such as Lynn, Massachusetts. Outworkers quickly identified and opposed the threats of mechanization and centralization to their ability to earn wages and contribute to the family wage economy. For other women, the emergence of mechanized stitching in small factories offered a chance of full-time work outside the home at relatively high wages for females. Like the women operatives in early New England textile factories, shoe stitchers, drawn to factories in Essex County, Massachusetts, demanded factory reform. Both groups participated in the New England shoe strike in 1860, the most powerful demonstration of labor unrest prior to the Civil War. The following documents demonstrate the potential during the process of mid-nineteenth-century industrialization of a gender/class coalition among women laboring at home and in shoe factories.


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