<Standard WHII.8................................................................................................................................................Standard WHII.10>

Explain the impact of various social and political reforms and reform movements in Europe.

Topics on the Page

A. The Early Industrial Revolution
B. Liberalism
C. Child labor laws, and social legislation such as old age pensions and health and unemployment insurance
  • London Matchgirls Strike of 1888
  • The Factory Acts
D. The expansion of voting rights
  • Emmeline Pankhurst
    • 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Focus Question: What was the impact of social and political reform movements in Europe?

Anti-Child Labor Political Cartoon, 1913
Anti-Child Labor Political Cartoon, 1913

The Early Industrial Revolution

The early Industrial Revolution set in motion powerful forces for change and the clash of these forces shaped European history in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Agregateur_Poietique.gifFor more on the early Industrial Revolution, link to

The Industrial Revolution threatened the social spheres of both men and women, and public figures such as Friedrich Engels worried that industry "[unsexed] the man and [took] from the woman all womanliness."

primary_sources.PNGIn a critique of industrialism and capitalism directed towards women, Engels wrote:

"The moral consequences of the employment of women in factories are even worse. The collecting of persons of both sexes and all ages in a single workroom, the inevitable contact, the crowding into a small space of people, to whom neither mental nor moral education has been given, is not calculated for the favorable development of the female character. The manufacturer, if he pays any attention to the matter, can interfere only when something scandalous actually happens; the permanent, less conspicuous influence of persons of dissolute character upon the more moral, and especially upon the younger ones, he cannot ascertain, and consequently cannot prevent. But precisely this influence is the injurious. The language used in the mills is characterized by many witnesses in the report of 1833, as 'indecent,' 'bad,' 'filthy,' etc. It is the same process upon a small scale which we have already witnessed upon a large one in the great cities."
- Friedrich Engels, Condition of the Working Class in England (1845)

Check out this resource for a comprehensive and balanced take on women's role in the workplace and their changing lifestyle during the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, looking both at historical interpretations and census data.

Multimedia.pngClick here to watch a Crash Course History YouTube video about the Industrial Revolution in order to learn more information!


Liberalism was a political philosophy that emerged from the Enlightenment and the French and American Revolutions that held that people should be free and should enjoy basic rights and liberties.
  • The American Bill of Rights is a classic statement of liberal ideas with its statements about the rights of speech, assembly, and press.
  • Liberals believed in the separation of church and state and in freedom from arrest without protection the laws.
  • Importantly, liberals did not support wide democracy for everyone.
    • They held the right to vote belonged to white men who held property.
    • Liberalism was popular with the emerging middle classes who wanted ways to assert their power in society and not be controlled by aristocrats and kings.

John Locke's ideas on the way that government should be run were very influential to European society. He stressed that every man is innately endowed with certain natural rights and their right to property. He claimed that the government challenges these rights. These ideas were incredibly important to European liberalism and lead to future liberal thinkers.

The French Revolution, in particular, was a major test of this movement, as France had a long history of feudalism and monarchy that was threatened by a wave of Enlightenment thinkers that threatened nearly every major institution and social convention in French society.
  • French revolutionaries challenged the nobility, the Catholic Church, the monarchy, the practice of slavery, the treatment of religious minorities, and the judicial system all on the basis of liberal Enlightenment thinking and the natural rights of man.
    • The Abbé Sieyès strongly advocated for the rights of the individual and challenged rights of the nobility in his revolutionary pamphlet, What is the Third Estate?, although he would not prove as radical as other French revolutionaries in the future.
      • At the same time, Sieyès still did not fully advocate for the rights of women and he acknowledged that political rights were not universal.

See National Standards for Civics and Government (p. 26) for a further explanation of liberalism and classical republicanism. In this definition, "classical republicanism emphasizes the ideal of the common good while liberalism stresses individual rights."

The impact of liberalism can be seen in current European and North American governments. It led to the reduction or end of monarchies in Europe, or the creation of conditions that led to the end of the monarchical rule, for example, France in the late 18th century or Russia in the early 20th century. With some reforms--most notably, reforms in who can vote--liberalism was part of the foundation for constitutional democracy. Without this philosophy, and its resulting documents, we might not have our democracies today.

Click here for an AP European History page that provides thousands of links to great websites and primary source documents about European history including the rise of Liberalism and Enlightenment thought.

A child working as a chimney sweep, 1828
A child working as a chimney sweep, 1828

Child Labor Laws and Social Legislation

Children made up a large proportion of the early industrial workforce in the UK, particularly in cotton mills where their small size allowed them to move under machines to retrieve loose cotton.
  • By 1838, children made up 28 percent of the cotton factory workforce while being paid only 1/6 to 1/3 that of a male worker (The Essential World History, 2005, p. 397).
    • Children as young as five or six years old worked in factories where they were subject to unhealthy working conditions, dangerous equipment, frequent punishment, and low wages.

Click here for an overview of child labor issues from the UK National Archives.
Click here for Part 1 of The Children Who Built Victorian Britain.
Click here for Part 2 of The Children Who Built Victorian Britain.
Click here for Part 3 of The Children Who Built Victorian Britain.

Multimedia.pngClick here to watch a History Channel video about child labor laws and the fight reform these laws in order to protect children.

London Matchgirls Strike of 1888

Annie Besant in 1885
Annie Besant in 1885

Female_Rose.pngOne event in the push for rights for child laborers was the 1888 London Matchgirls strike.
  • Women and girls working for Bryant and May went on strike after workers trying to improve conditions at the match factory were fired.
  • Click here for a summary of the 1888 London Matchgirls Strike along with some primary sources from the strike and some fun student activities.
Multimedia.pngClick here to watch a YouTube video from the UK Salvation Army about the strike itself and the legacy/impact it had on matchmaking in England.

primary_sources.PNGClick here for newspaper accounts of the strike.

The Factory Acts

The “Factory Acts” in Britain little by little improved the working conditions of children and gradually restricted how much children were allowed to work.
  • The first Factory Act was passed in 1802 and laid out the rules for employing apprentices in cotton and wool mills. The rules were not very strict by today’s standards. For example, apprentices’ work hours were limited to “only” 12 hours a day.
    • The 1833 Factory Act tried to establish a standard work day in textile mills for children working there. Children aged 9-13 could not work more than 9 hours a day, children aged 14-18 not longer than 12 hours, and children were not allowed to work overnight.
    • The The Mines Act of 1842 prohibited all children under the age of 10 from working in mines or doing colliery work.
    • The 1844 Factory Act was important because it reduced work hours even further and also mentioned women for the first time. Children aged 8-13 could not work more than 6½ hour shifts, and only do two shifts a day, totaling 10 hours maximum, on alternate days. The 1844 Act also set rules for medical care, reporting of accidents, and school attendance. There were 8 Factory Acts in all. The impact of this early workers' rights legislation is felt through the present-day.

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.pngBritish Social Reform Timeline

Voting Rights and Women Suffrage

Millicent Fawcett, 1913
Millicent Fawcett, 1913

Agregateur_Poietique.gifFor more on the expansion of suffrage and women's rights in America, see United States I.23 and United States I.33

MAP.jpgSee also AP World History Key Concept 5.3

Women in the United Kingdom did not get the right to vote until 1918 (full voting rights came in 1928) but the struggle for political rights, called the suffrage movement, started years earlier with Millicent Fawcett's founding of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. This group organized marches and wrote letters to politicians lobbying for women's suffrage.

Female_Rose.pngMultimedia.pngThe Industrial Revolution as a catalyst for women's rights, rights for minorities, and factory workers in general. Here is a video on the same Triangle Factory Fire from PBS

primary_sources.PNGClick here to read Fourteen Reasons for Supporting Women's Suffrage developed by Millicent Fawcett and National Union of Women Suffrage Societies.

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.pngTimeline of Women's Suffrage

Emmeline Pankhurst, 1909
Emmeline Pankhurst, 1909

Female_Rose.pngEmmeline Pankhurst formed the Women's Social and Political Union in 1903, better known as the Suffragettes. The Suffragettes often resorted to more aggressive forms of lobbying, such as vandalism and arson, and many members served time in prison.

Multimedia.png This video tells the history of the Suffragettes in an entertaining fashion, that will engage the students, and help them remember the important history as well.

The impact of the suffrage movement was felt world-wide. It helped to foster a vibrant women's rights movement across the Atlantic to the United States, culminating in the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

womens history.jpg primary_sources.PNGThis link provides images of the actual petition sent by Susan B. Anthony to Congress in 1874 in favor of women's right to vote.

external image 34611-rbnz.jpg

Women's suffrage was a worldwide movement and phenomenon. The first country in the world to grant women's voting rights was New Zealand in 1893. The founder of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in New Zealand was Kate Sheppard, a leader who spoke publicly and wrote extensively on the topic of women's voting rights. She now appears as a national figure on New Zealand's $10 note (see left). The white camellia flower in the background was a flower given to Parliament members who supported New Zealand's suffrage bill and have since become an icon for women's suffrage.

This site shows when European countries gave women the right to vote.

womens history.jpglessonplan.jpgThe PBS provides a great lesson plan for teachers who are looking to teach about the women's suffrage movement in the U.S. This lesson plan is filled with several different documents that correlate with the movement and will help to show the similarities with the women's movement in Europe.

This lesson plan for Grades 6-12, is the fourth in a series of lesson plans that focus on expanding voting rights. The overall goal of the lesson is for students to explore the complicated history of voting rights in the United States. Two characteristics of that history stand out: first, more and more Americans have gained the right to vote. Second, over time, the federal government's role in securing these rights has expanded considerably.

After the lesson students will be able to:
  • Understand that until the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, many states denied women the right to vote
  • Use primary and secondary sources to understand the ways that women advocated for the right to vote
  • Evaluate the importance of the federal government in securing women's right to vote

Multimedia.png This video is a helpful representation and explanation about the emergence of women's suffrage in the United States from author John Green and his YouTube history series, "Crash Course."

primary_sources.PNG Text of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied
or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Barzun, Jacques; From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present; HarperCollins, New York; 2000

Gombrich, E.H.; A Little History of the World; Yale University Press, 2005; Dumont Literatur und Kunst GmbH und Co., Cologne, Germany, 1985

Web Sources
Looking at Victorian England (1837-1901) as a time for reform


On the industrial revolution in England

Essay on child labor in Victorian England

Life of an industrial worker in Victorian England

The Lack of Social Security in Victorian England

a huge amount of info on society in Victorian England and the lives of the people

Description of the match girls' strike

Profile of Annie Besant

List of links to info on child labor, such as the Factory Acts

Essay on the suffragettes

Essay on Britain's Representation of the People Act, giving British women the right to vote

Time line of Susan B. Anthony's life

Biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton


Interactive Constitution page on the National Constitution Center's web site

Listen to LBJ give his 1964 Great Society speech

Kate Sheppard and Women's Suffrage