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Capitalism and Enlightenment Combine: Reform Catches On

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Capitalism and Enlightenment Combine: Reform Catches On

In the second half of the nineteenth century, after the abuses and social consequences of the Industrial Revolution became clear, a series of reforms occurred. The British Parliament passed laws, such as the Factory Act of 1883, which limited the hours of each workday, restricted children from working in factories, and required factory owners to make working conditions safer and cleaner. Meanwhile, labor unions were formed. The unions were vehicles through which thousands of employees bar­gained for better working conditions, or threatened to strike, thereby shutting down the factory. In addition, an increasing number of factory owners realized that a healthy, happy, and reasonably well paid workforce meant a productive and loyal one.

All of these developments combined, though slowly and sporadically, to improve not only the conditions in the factories and cities, but also the standard of living on an individual family level. The middle class became substantially larger. Public education became more widely accessible. Social mobility-the ability of a person to work his way up from one social class to the next-became more commonplace. In 1807, the slave trade was abolished, which meant no new slaves were transported from Africa, though the ownership of existing slaves continued. In 1833, the British outlawed slavery, and three decades later, it was outlawed in the United States.

As men earned more money, women left the factories and returned to their traditional roles in the home, which limited their influence socially, politically, professionally, and intellectually, even as democratic reforms greatly increased the power of most men, especially through the right to vote. In response, women began organizing to increase their collective influence. It wasn't until 1928, however, that the women's suffrage movement fully succeeded in giving women in Britain the age of 21 or older the right to vote.

Despite improvements in the overall standards of living in industrialized nations, by 1900 extreme hardships persisted. In many cases, Europeans dreamed of starting over somewhere else, or escaping cruelties at home. From 1800 to 1920, 50 million Europeans migrated to North and South America. Mil­lions fled from famine in Ireland, or anti-Semitism in Russia, or poverty and joblessness in general.

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