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Working Families

Working Families: Age, Gender, and Daily Survival in Industrializing Montreal

Bettina Bradbury
  • Book Info
    Working Families
    Book Description:

    Working Familiestakes the reader onto the streets of Montreal and into the homes of its working-class families during the years that it became a major, industrial city. Between the 1860s and 1890s the expansion of wage labour changed the bases of family survival. It offered new possibilities and created new points of tension within the families of the emerging working class. Here we meet the men, youth, and children who worked for wages. We see the women who stayed home with their young, cooked and sewed, planted gardens and tended animals, stretching their often meagre family wages into goods and services for survival. We also see the ingenuity and agony of women whose husbands lost their jobs, fell ill, drank up their wages, deserted their families, or died.

    Working Familiesexplores the complex variety of responses of working-class families to their new lives within industrial capitalist society, and offers new ways of looking at the industrial revolution in Canada.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8547-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-5)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. 6-7)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. 8-10)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 11-12)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 13-21)

    Families with more than one wage-earner are not a new phenomenon today, whatever newspaper and journal articles, government reports, or sociological literature dealing with the growing importance of married women’s labour force participation might suggest.² Over one hundred years ago, when factories were just beginning to replace small artisanal workshops in Canadian cities, workers’ families invariably included more than one earner at some point. Three and even more wage-earners were not unusual. François Lusignan, a fifty-year-old carpenter, for example, was the head of a dual-income family when the census enumerator called at his house in Saint Jacques ward in the...

  7. 1 The Economic, Geographic, and Social Context of Montreal Working-Class Life
    (pp. 22-48)

    By the mid-nineteenth century Montreal was the largest, wealthiest, most vibrant city of British North America, the tenth largest city in all of North America.² Characterized, like other nineteenth-century cities, by a jumble of contrasts, contradictions, and inequalities, Montreal was special because of its own particular place in the North American and Canadian economy and because of the patterns of settlement, conquest, and development that had shaped its social, political, and cultural heritage. Visitors were struck by the incongruities and dichotomies that seemed to typify and divide the city. Like William Chambers, quoted above, they invariably noted the linguistic divisions...

  8. 2 Marriage, Families, and Households
    (pp. 49-79)

    “Marriage is no uneven game. It is a tie,” suggested theMontreal Daily Witnessin December, 1879.¹ The legal structure, economic possibilities, and roles of men and women in nineteenth-century Quebec all suggest the opposite. Marriage created an unequal legal partnership sanctioned and perpetuated by the unequal alternatives and possibilities that the wider society and economy offered. Women over the age of twenty-one gave up whatever rights they had been exercising over property, in the courts, and in much of daily life. Marriage rendered a woman legally incapable in most public spheres, the judicial equivalent of minors and idiots. On...

  9. 3 Men’s Wages and the Cost of Living
    (pp. 80-117)

    Once married, a man was expected to support his wife with the necessities of life according to his position and means. This was no empty legal responsibility. Not doing so ranked equally with keeping a concubine in the family house, ill treatment, and grievous abuse as a legitimate cause for requesting “separation of bed and board,” the closest state to divorce recognized in Quebec.¹ Wives could and did take their husbands to court for failure to provide for them and for their children, although their chances of winning, and of receiving some form of support, were not good.² Providing was...

  10. 4 Age, Gender, and the Roles of Children
    (pp. 118-151)

    “Children aren’t pigs you know, for they can’t pay the rent,” went an old Irish ballad.¹ From the 1860s on the wages that children in working-class families could earn were increasingly likely to help pay the rent. The most striking change in the working-class family economy over this period was the growing number of offspring living with their parents who had some kind of formal remunerated employment. Once sons, in particular, reached an age where they could earn, their pay offered those families who had been struggling for years to balance food and housing costs against inadequate or irregular wages...

  11. 5 Managing and Stretching Wages: The Work of Wives
    (pp. 152-181)

    A “thrifty, economical and thorough good housekeeper who can lay out to advantage [a]... fair day’s wage, is just as essential to the well-being of the workingman as the fair day’s wage itself,” wrote a Montreal workman to the editor of the Knights of Labor journal during the 1880s. The editor described the ideal wife for a workingman: “Rosy cheeked and bright eyed,” she would know how to “darn a stocking and mend her own dress... command a regiment of pots and kettles, and be a lady when required.”¹ Such a wife was described with pride and explicitly contrasted with...

  12. 6 Managing without a Spouse: Women’s Inequality Laid Bare
    (pp. 182-213)

    Married, working-class women learned, even expected, to supplement their husband’s wages in a variety of ways when low wages, illness, unemployment, accidents, or drunkenness left them without enough money to make ends meet. Skills learned and developed during short and long-term crises proved invaluable for women whose husbands consistently failed to provide, deserted them, or died. Yet they were seldom sufficient. For while married women’s strategies, careful housekeeping, and occasional wage-earning could make a major difference to the standard of living of families with an earning male head, women could rarely earn enough to replace such wages. This chapter focuses...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 214-224)

    Working-class families in nineteenth-century Montreal were working families. The labour of husbands, wives, and sons and daughters largely determined their standard of living. The work that each member performed, however, was different. So, too, was the impact of the changes caused or precipitated by the development of industrial capitalism in the years between 1860 and the 1890s. To answer the question “What was the impact of industrialization on the family?” involves a much more careful consideration of the different effect of economic change on men, women, and children than sociologists and many historians have given. It involves integrating gender into...

  14. Tables
    (pp. 225-246)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 247-301)
  16. Index
    (pp. 302-310)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 311-312)