Top of page

Exhibition Not an Ostrich: & Other Images from America's Library

[Occupational portrait of a woman working at a sewing machine], ca. 1853.Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

UNKNOWN PHOTOGRAPHER. Seamstress. ca. 1853

A dressmaker could earn a decent living in the mid-nineteenth century, but the lower-ranked and far more numerous impoverished seamstresses working 16-hour days were the norm. New commercially available sewing machines met the surging demand for ready-made clothes. A hand-sewn shirt took ten or more hours to complete, while a machine-sewn shirt could be finished in an hour.