Industrial Revolution - Coal Mining

Jessica Hillman

During most of the industrial revolution women and children and men worked in the coal mines.

There were some differences in the jobs men, women, and children preformed in the mines. Prior to 1842, there weren't any protection laws or limits for the age of child labor. Peter N. Sterns, says children made up "30 percent of the workforce in coal mines, by the early nineteenth century... there was substantial utilization of young children as well- in a few cases as young as three, not uncommonly beginning a five or six." Mine owners wanted to cut the cost of labor and children's wages were much lower than adults. Many women would try to get a job for their young children where they worked because that way they could watch them while they worked.
One of the things women did on mines was use groups of women that would have to use a windlass (a tool used to move the coal, it consists of a horizontal cylinder, which is rotated by the turn of a crank or belt.) to lift coal and workers. Men refused to do such work. Most commonly, women and children would haul tubs of coal (using a rope and chain) Out of to mine shafts and illustrated bellow.
Coaltub.png
A woman pulls her coal up the mine

First accounts of mine workers:

Betty Wardle, housewife, (from) Outerwood, near Lever, was asked:
Have you ever worked in a coal-pit? -Ay, I have worked in a pit since I was six years old.
Have you any children? -Yes. I have had four children: two of them were born while I worked in the pits.
Did you work in the pits while you were in the family way (pregnant)? -Ay, to be sure. I had a child born in the pits, and I brought it up the pitshaft in my skirt.
Are you sure that you are telling the truth? -Ay, that I am; it was born the day after I were married, that makes me to know.
Did you wear a belt and a chain (used to haul coal wagons up to the surface)? Yes, sure I did.
(This interview was used in the 1842 British Parliamentary Commission investigating women's labor in the mines.)

Isabel Wilson, 38 years old.
"I have been married 19 years and have had 10 bairns [children]:...My last child was born on Saturday morning, and I was at work on the Friday night... None of the children read, as the work is no regular..When I go below my lassie 10 years of age keeps house..."

A fictional novel based on children working in the coal mines says...
"he was amazed by the strength and speed of the child, which was based more on skill than on muscle... It wasn't an easy trip. The distance from the coal face to the incline was fifty or sixty meters...(They) had to crouch and push on hands and knees to avoid splitting their heads open... You could see long pale cracks running right up the middle of them (the wooden props holding up the mines)... you had to slip along on your belly, with the secret fear of suddenly hearing your back snap in two... with her hands placed so low she seemed to be trotting on all fours, like some small circus animal. She sweated and panted, and her joints were creaking, but she didn't complain... as if it were mankind's common lot to live in this wretched, prostrate condition."
(Excerpt from the novel Germinal, by Emile Zola published in 1885)

While these accounts are slightly biased as they were taken or written with the intention of displaying injustices that occurred in the mines, they also portray a fairly accurate, if harsh view on many of the realities of coal mining during the industrial revolution.

BreakerBoys-Kingston,LuzerneCo..jpg
This photograph shows the youth and poverty of many coal mine workers

    • Out of the sinister caverns of Night,
    • Out of the depths where the Hell-fires are glowing,
    • Cometh a cry, floating up to the Light,
    • Here, where glad mortals are reaping and sowing:
    • 'Night ever over us, blackness to cover us,
    • Deeper we crawl than the graves of the Dead!
    • Sisters and brothers, whose fires burn so cheerily,
    • Fed by the coal that we work for so wearily,
    • Give us, in God's name, our wages of Bread!
    • 'Hell burning under us, gnome-like we dwell,
    • Store for your hearths ever scraping and scooping,
    • Stifling and thunderous vapours of Hell
    • Blacken our mouths, where we're stooping and drooping;
    • Terrors environ us, lest the fierce fire on us
    • Leap, as it leapt on our kin who are sped!
    • Children and wives wait our wages and cry for them;
    • Eager to toil for them, ready to die for them,
    • Darkly we grope for our handful of Bread!
    • 'Sooner or later Death cometh this way, —
    • Slain by his breathing our kindred are lying here!
    • Old ere our time, worn and weary and grey,
    • Bear we the burthen that's dreary as dying, here!
    • Pain is our portion here, gruesome our fortune here,
    • Still we're content when our dear ones are fed —
    • Sisters and brothers, while blindly and wearily
    • Ever we toil that your fires may burn cheerily,
    • Give us, in God's name, our guerdon of Bread!'
    • Out of the sinister caverns of Night,
    • Out of the depths where these weary ones wander,
    • Cometh the cry, floating up to the Light,
    • Up to the sunshine that never shines yonder:
    • 'Night ever over us, blackness to cover us,
    • Toil we for ever, less living than dead! —
    • Sisters and brothers, whose fires burn so cheerily,
    • Fed by the coal that we dig for so drearily,
    • See that we lack not our wages of Bread!'
(The Cry from the Mine by Robert Buchanan)

The line Deeper we crawl than the graves of the Dead! shows the mindset of the workers and how they are crawling into the dark.
Sisters and brothers, whose fires burn so cheerily, Fed by the coal that we work for so wearily,shows how the wealthy sit comfortably at home (cult of domesticity) with the luxuries that come from their toil.
Give us, in God's name, our wages of Bread! Shows the desperation of the coal workers and how they were working simply to survive not so they could make any kind of profit.
Blacken our mouths, where we're stooping and drooping; Terrors environ us The people working in the mines were constantly surrounded by coal and got it every where, including breathing it in and damaging their lungs. They had to crouch or crawl through they tiny tunnels pulling their coal and fearing that any second the wooden supports would break and crush them, as they sometimes did. Many people and children also became deformed due to this constant hunched stature.
Children and wives wait our wages and cry for them; Eager to toil for them, ready to die for them, this shows the large impact women and child labor had on the industry and how even they would work in the mines if they had to in order to survive.
Bear we the burthen that's dreary as dying, here! Pain is our portion here, gruesome our fortune here, Many people died in the mines due to the unsfe working conditions and everyone was effected by the work.
'Night ever over us, blackness to cover us, Toil we for ever, less living than dead! — The workers saw nothing but black while they were mining, they usually worked insane hours, everyday and often for years and years with no improvements.
This poem is important because it shows an artistic view of the horrors coal miners encountered.

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Children working at mines

Health, development and education effects of coal mines:

Coal mining had a particularly significant effect on children. Because so many women had to work for a living they often resorted to bringing their children to work with them and trying to get them a job because their was nothing else the could do with them and they needed the money. Women were also working strenuously during their pregnancies sometimes right until they gave birth, often resulting in complications and health defects for the babies. Children often worked 14-16 hours a day and were beaten if they made mistakes or fell asleep. Mine operators usually used children to pull coal carts along the low passageways from the coal face to the mine shaft. Especially in areas they were too small or dangerous for men.

Health & Development-

  • Workers commonly had lung problems from breathing in the coal
  • Explosions were common killing or hurting anyone in the way
  • The tunnels sometimes collapsed crushing anyone in them
  • The damp air was bad and any injuries quickly became infected
  • Crawling and crouching for long hours daily for years often resulted in misshaped adults with stunted growth and arthritis.
  • Children often had little or extremely innutritious food resulting in malnutrition or under nutrition due to low wages and few food breaks.

Education-

  • Because so many children worked in the mines they did not attend school or only attended for a short amount of time, thus they were often uneducated and illiterate.
  • Because there were so many women working in the mines they were not able to really take care of their children or educate them or teach them morality or proper behavior.

Labor reforms and their impacts on coal mine workers:

  • The mines Act- passed in 1842 forbade the employment of women, girls, and boys under the age of teen down in the mines.
This had a huge impact on coal mines. While some mines overlooked this law it greatly reduced the numbers of children in the mines. This forced women to find other, usually safer work, and gave children more time for their education. The health effects were much less because they did not begin at such a young age.

Bibliography


Books Sources:
Laura L. Frader. The Industrial Revolution a History in Documents. Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.
Russell Freedman. Kids at Work. Clarion Books, 1994. Print
Hugh D. Hindman. The world of child labor: an historical and regional survey. Myron E. Sharpe, 2009. Print.

Website/ Online Sources:
Women in World History. “The Coal Mines Industrial Revolution” Web, 14 Feb 2012.
<http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/coalMine.html>
Kirby, Peter. “Causes of Short Stature among Coal-Mining Children, 1823-1850” Web, 14 Feb 2012.
<http://www.jstor.org/stable/2598130>
Buchanan,Robert. “The Cry from the Mine” Web, 14 Feb 2012.
<http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/buchanan/32.html>

Image Sources:
Image of A young "drawer" pulling a coal tub up a mine shaft’. Web, 14 Feb 2012.
<http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/History_of_the_Industrial_Revolution>
Image of Dust covered Breaker Boys at the Woodward Coal Mines, Kingston, Pennsylvania. The youngest coal mine workers started at this dirty, unskilled work. C. 1900. Web, 14 Feb 2012.
<http://www.superstock.com/stock-photos-images/4048-7390>
Images of kids at work on coal mine. Kids at work. Print, Feb 14 2012.