Thomas Hood's poem about working conditions, 'The Song of the Shirt'


This image is taken from the highly popular magazine Punch which, after launching in 1841, achieved huge success and influence during the 19th century as a satirical magazine. While free from scandal or vulgarity, Punch was highly popular for its political cartoons and commentary on the social issues of the day.

'The Song of the Shirt' by Thomas Hood takes the form of a popular verse and uses a female seamstress’s life of drudgery as its central theme: a tale of misery that echoes today’s concerns about the use of ‘sweated’ labour in textile manufacturing. In the text the cloth worker’s life is one of hardship: she is depicted as working from morning until night in a state of utter exhaustion, with nothing to show for her industry but ‘a bed of straw, a crust of bread – and rags’. While labouring away in a state of poverty she dreams of ‘one short hour of respite’ outdoors and pleads for her pitiful situation to be recognized by the rich. Needlework and embroidery stood as iconic symbols of how women workers were often condemned to drudgery in 19th-century jobs. By highlighting the embroiderer’s misery, Hood aimed to articulate concerns about the lot of working women in Victorian society and the oppression they often faced in the ‘sweated’ trades.

Full title:
'The Song of the Shirt'
estimated 1843, London
Periodical / Illustration / Image
Punch, Thomas Hood
© Punch Ltd
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© Punch Ltd

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