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The Industrial Revolution began in England in the middle of the 18th century, as water powered machinery was developed. These new machines could spin cotton and wool, producing yarn and thread much faster and more cheaply than before. Textile factories first came to New England in the 1790s. New England's Industrial Revolution created hundreds of mill villages and a number of larger industrial centers, like Manchester, New Hampshire and Lowell, Massachusetts. This early industrialization created shoemaking, hat making and clothing industries in which women worked at home. This flexibility provided women with an opportunity to contribute to their family income while retaining their domestic responsibility. At the same time, factories offered new employment opportunities for teenaged daughters of farm families. Many young women worked in the small mill villages throughout Vermont, while others traveled throughout New England to the larger industrial cities.

By the 1830s, through participation in temperance, abolition, and other reform movements, thousands of women had established a public presence. This increased public presence and the freedom brought about by the Industrial Revolution, opened the door for women to think about and discuss their position in American society. The general public sentiment was still that women, by nature, were nurturing, emotional beings and therefore belonged in the home. Women, however, began to question that assumption. Most accepted the premise that their primary responsibility was to their family, but not all agreed that earning a living outside the home or involvement in the political process contradicted a woman's dignity. In 1848, women and men packed the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York, where they signed the "Declaration of Sentiments" calling for women's rights and equality. This was the first woman's rights convention in the history of the United States. The battle for female suffrage had begun. Inspired by the convention at Seneca Falls, over 1,000 women and men gathered at Brinley Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1850 for the National Women's Rights Convention. Clarina Nichols of Brattleboro, Vermont, was one of only two Vermont women who signed in at this convention. These activists, many of them ardent abolitionists, resolved to carry forth the struggle for women's rights. Elizabeth Cady Stanton said that there can be "no happiness without freedom." Without the right to vote, women did not have full access to American freedom and equality.