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Sewing Machines: Liberation or Drudgery for Women?

Joan Perkin discusses the impact on women’s lives of the advent of the sewing machine.

Manchester factory girls making men's shirts on Wheeler & Wilson machines, 1909.The Scientific American (September 22nd, 1860) considered that, after the Spinning Jenny and the plough, the sewing machine was ‘the most important invention that has ever been made since the world began’. Despite laments that machines would destroy handicraft, most women welcomed the invention and wanted one, but how truly liberating were they?

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