There is no doubt that the coming of industrialization in New England dramatically altered the ways families of the time were connected, communicated, and supported one another. With the rapid shift away from more localized family-based agrarian or small business enterprises to one that required longer hours, often away from immediate family with work that was not of immediate importance to the family itself, the impact on the early American family cannot be underestimated. Before the onset of the Industrial Revolution in New England and early America, “The household was not only the industrial center but also the social center, for its members derived social satisfaction from working together and from rustic amusements enjoyed at home or on the village green” (Gray 1992: 244).
Despite Gray’s somewhat romanticized understanding of life in America before massive-scale industrialization, the fact remains that families and for that matter, standard gender, family, and rules for children and their place within the family structure were far more cohesive as they not only relied on each other for economic and social support, but on their communities as well. With new employment opportunities opening up for women, men and children in New England and America, families were now more free to split apart, move away, or engage in work that their gender or age might not have otherwise allowed. In addition to leading to families now having the opportunity to leave home to seek employment, the coming of the Industrial Revolution to New England sparked many changes involving the role and function of having children came about, as did other paradigm shifts in the way gender roles were perceived and even solidified.
Perhaps one of the greatest general statements to be made about the changes that resulted from the Industrial Revolution in New England is that families were no longer, if even by proxy, required to remain tight-knit and solely reliant on another. Before this time children worked in fields, women, as their gender roles demanded in this pre- Industrial Revolution society and family structure in New England took care of the home and men worked in the fields. “The industrial revolution spawned great changes in family structure. Industrialization and urbanization prompted a marked change in life and working styles. Many people, especially the young, left the farms to work in factories; this process led to the dissolution of many extended families” (Finneran 1994: 46). With the shift away from the traditional modes of cottage industry in New England before the Industrial Revoltion or highly localized familial production came a related shift of family values. Instead of being tied to the home because one was needed to assist with farm or family business tasks, young people were now more free to explore their own paths. Women, instead of being relegated domestic tasks were now granted an opportunity to earn an income, even if it was significantly less than that earned by male counterparts. Entire communities, comprised of family units and networks, were split and the traditional bonds of inter-family support that arose out of necessity, particularly because of farm-related and family business tasks, was now quite as essential. In sum, the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in New England, despite some of its drawbacks, brought with it opportunity and the potential to move away from traditional family networks.
The potential offered for all members of a New England family during the Industrial Revolution in America, for men, women, and even children, was not the only important paradigm shift that occurred. For one thing, the revolution changed the way families viewed themselves and new changes occurred in terms of both gender and generational roles. Before the arrival of industry and the possibility for work outside the home and family, most people “may have had life plans, they did not have careers. Fundamental changes in the nature of work as well as gender and work accompanied the Industrial Revolution. Moving from self- and family employment to a paid labor force led to the construction of career trajectories based on the (male) breadwinner model” (Hertz 2001: 111). What this suggests is that because of a more specialized nature of the work, particularly as the Industrial Revolution moved forward and more detailed skills were required that entailed training or certain talents, the concept of the “career” emerged.