The sewing machine, introduced during the 1850s, revolutionized women’s lives, drastically reducing the time needed to mend the household clothing. At first, critics were concerned about working women losing their jobs to the sewing machine, but the popularity of the sewing machine quickly overshadowed this concern. Sometimes referred to as the “iron needle woman,” the sewing machine inspired poetry and song.
The sewing machine was praised as a liberating device for women, freeing up their time for intellectual pursuits. Many supporters of women’s liberation, however, were quick to assure the public that no one expected emancipated women to abandon their domestic duties.
The dismayed woman of the house saw her three days’ prepared work melting away before noon, as a three days’ April snow disappears in a few hours!
~ Henry Ward Beecher, “Our First Experience with a Sewing-Machine,”
in The Independent, December 16, 1858
What the telegraph is to the commercial world, and the reaper to the agricultural, the sewing machine is to the domestic. No one invention has brought with it so great a relief for our mothers, wives and daughters as these iron needle women. Indeed, it is the only invention that can be claimed chiefly for woman’s benefit.
~ “Story of the Sewing Machine,” in Friends’ Review, March 17, 1860