Factory Women in the Ottoman Empire

Cibali Tobacco Factory

Despite republican elites’ claims, women’s factory labour was not a novelty. Similar to the historical trends in Western Europe, female industrial employment emerged as a result of the transfer of home production to factories in the Ottoman Empire. Female employment in the factories was largely circumscribed within the bounds of the textile and tobacco industries. According to the 1913-1915 Industrial Census, almost one third of the total industrial workforce in the empire was female.

Cibali Women

In terms of ethnic composition, Muslim women made a small part of the total female workforce. With the Great War, the number of Muslim women on the shop floors started to increase. The increase accelerated after the 1923 population exchange with Greece. Worker statistics from the 1930s and 1940s do not specify the ethnic and religious identities of workers. However, given the demographic change explained above and women’s increasing presence in the public sphere under Kemalist modernism, it would be safe to say that the majority of women in factories in the 1930s and 1940s were Muslim.