The horrendous conditions of sweatshops in America, Canada and Montreal then and now

Carol RoachStarred Page By Carol Roach, 1st Apr 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Business>Ethics

In the struggle for women's rights which stems well over a century, some women made great strides in changing the social mores of the day. The plight of the poor is an ongoing topic in women’s issues and women’s rights. This series will look at early sweatshops.


The American unskilled laborer went from workhouse to sweatshop. Though the poor were no longer incarcerated in the prison-like workhouses and almshouses also known as the poorhouse, the conditions hardly improved at the turn of the century. Worse still is the fact that sweatshops still exist today.

Women paid less than men

Women traditionally have held the lowest paying jobs in America and so they also made up the bulk of labor in the sweatshops. The only real advantage over workhouses was that they got to crawl home at night, to their own beds, in their own homes, no matter how meager that home might be.

What is a sweatshop

A sweatshop is usually a factory where people who are unskilled workers labour long hours a day at menial jobs that pays next to nothing. Sweatshops were not government regulated at the turn of 20th century and so the workers had no benefits, no rights, and were at the mercy of their employers. Furthermore, the working conditions may lend to dangerous situations as we shall see when we review the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

The conditions in the sweatshop were atrocious; women worked in the sweltering heat with poor ventilation, dim lighting, and no standard breaks or proper lunch hour. Anyone who could not do the job was sent home, often without pay. The sweatshop bosses did not treat their workers with respect, they were yelled at, cursed at, and worse still they were often cornered in a back room some place where the boss would have his way with them.

the concept of a sweatshop originated between 1830 and 1850 as a specific type of workshop in which a certain type of middleman, the sweater, directed others in garment making (the process of producing clothing) under arduous conditions. The terms sweater for the middleman and sweat system for the process of subcontracting piecework were used in early critiques like Charles Kingsley's Cheap Clothes and Nasty, written in 1850, which described conditions in London, England. The workplaces created for the sweating system, a system of subcontracting in the tailoring trade were called sweatshops and might contain only a few workers or as many as 100 or more or even more.

Today a sweatshop would also include the definition of a factory that does not follow the labor code but at the turn of the 20th century there were no labor codes to follow.

The Montreal story is the same story of marginalized individuals all around the world.

All photos taken from the public domain

Do you have a passion to write? Do you want to share your words with the world while getting royalties on your work for years to come? Follow me here on Wikinut


American Sweatshops, Early American Sweatshops, Factories, Factory Workers, Illegal Working Conditions, Laborers, Poor Working Conditions, Sweatshop Conditions, Sweatshop Workers, Sweatshops

Meet the author

author avatar Carol Roach
Retired therapist and author of two books, freelance writer, newsletter editor, and blogger. I write, health, mental health, women's issues, animal , celebrity, history, and SEO articles.

Share this page

moderator johnnydod moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


author avatar Kingwell
2nd Apr 2015 (#)

An excellent article showing how bad labor conditions were, not only in the old world but in the new as well. Blessings.

Reply to this comment

author avatar Raz Schultz
4th Apr 2015 (#)

People forget why we needed unions. I know they got corrupt in later years, but we still need well run, decent unions for good workers in many jobs. I've seen it both ways - unions are better.
Very interesting. Thank you.

Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Can't login?