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Working on the Railroad — in the Victorian Age

The women's right movements has firm roots in the Victorian Age.
Was there oppression of women? Consider the conditions under which men had to work, conditions that killed them in large numbers.


....continued from previous page

Working Conditions

In Canada, jobs were scarce at the end of the Victorian age, even though mechanization hadn't yet become the controlling cause of joblessness to the extent it is now.  Many providers went anywhere to find work, and many of them went to work at the steelheads of the various railway lines that were under construction.

Working conditions were appalling for those men, many of whom were imported labour during the first stages of those construction efforts.  The historian Hugh Dempsey reports Chinese merchants from  Victoria in British Columbia as saying that in 1882 alone 2,200 Chinese men died in the construction of the main line in British Columbia.

Most of those men didn't die in accidents, as implied in a vignette that is often shown on Canadian TV.  They died from the appalling conditions in the camps, from a combination of deplorable housing, malnutrition and diseases.

The Great West before 1900, the first in a series of history books produced by United Western Communication (which is also the publisher of The REPORT Newsmagazine) describes some of the conditions that prevailed during those days:  

Accidents on the Crows Nest line were frequent and never investigated.

One report was about 150 men suffering from diphtheria having been transported in open gravel cars.

A three man royal commission heard in their inquiry that resulted from persistent reports about such problems: ". . . of men being forced to sleep in the open without blankets, or in unheated boxcars or leaky tents; of being unable to get dry anywhere at any time or even to wash; of rampant colds and diphtheria; of inedible food; of bad medical care; and of frequent deaths, either from disease or accident."  The commissioners were unanimous in their decision about the veracity of these reports.  They agreed that they were all true.

Continued...

Back to first page and index


For other views of the circumstances that affected the position of the sexes and the esteem in which they were held, see:

The Wife at His Side, by Karin Jäckel, The Beginnings of the Women's Movement, and

The Great Train Robbery (it happened in 1855), by Michael Crichton

The Industrial Revolution and the Plight of Men

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Updates:
2000 01 12
2001 02 10 (format changes)
2001 07 14 (added introduction)
2001 07 17 (broke up page into seven pages)
2001 07 22 (added link to The Industrial Revolution and the Plight of Men)
2002 10 13 (minor changes)
2006 11 05 (reformated)