Thursday, June 29, 2017

Working Women All Through History: Blacksmiths, Silversmiths, Nail Makers

If you thought that "Kate the Blacksmith" was an anachronism in A Knight's Tale... she wasn't. (Well except for her dialect... and maybe her attitude...)  Despite the feminist mythology, women have engaged, openly and profitably, in almost every occupation in every era in the western, Christian world.

In the 14th Century Holkham Bible, this illustration shows a woman blacksmith forging a nail. Note the assumption in the caption, written by a modern author, that she is "the Blacksmith's wife".  Maybe she was and maybe she wasn't... what the factual record shows is a woman working at a forge with hammer and tongs.

In the brief article "Blacksmithing of the 18th Century", the author notes that the demand for nails was huge, and making them was a common sideline for people, including women - even those women who were not full-fledged master smiths.

The Bodleian Library blog has an interesting article about "Lizzie Bennett, Blacksmith":
" An account of blacksmithing work done in December 1708 by Eliz[abeth] Bennett at Blenheim ‘Castle’, her job included making 32 dozen holdfasts for the joiners (at 2 shillings a dozen), making new handles for three saws, mending a pump in the meadows, and making wedges and clouts (patches or plates) used in the stairs. But in addition to making items for a fixed price, she also charged for work by the pound weight. Twenty five pounds of iron works for a grindstone at 4 pence a pound earned her 8s 4d (100 pence total) and 31 pounds of wedges and clouts, also at 4 pence a pound, made her 10s 4d.The total for what would have been several days or weeks of highly skilled work? 4 pounds, 17 shillings, 2 pence. Not bad at all if you compare it to a female servant’s income at about that time – maidservant Sarah Sherin made £4 a year in 1717, while in the farming world, a female labourer called Goody Currell was paid 4 pence a day at an Oxfordshire farm in 1759, fifty years later."
An article from the Colonial Williamsburg journal:
"The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths in London lists sixty-five "brethren" and two "sistren" in its 1434 charter."
"A 1770 publication called The Tradesman's True Guide or a Universal Directory for the Towns of Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Walsal, Dudley and the manufacturing village in the neighborhood of Birmingham carries exhaustive lists of tradesmen and -women alphabetically by name and by trade. There are women listed in every trade from butcher to wire drawer."
"Only recently did a Colonial Williamsburg interpreter look closely at a nineteenth-century print that had been hanging on the wall at the Geddy House for years: a portion of Ben Franklin's Poor Richard Illustrated features a country blacksmith shop where four men are working, and in the right-hand corner, a woman hammers at an anvil rather inconspicuously. A 1505 Polish print is centered on a lovely woman at a spindle, but a careful inspection of the background shows a woman making a shoe on her knee."
The article notes the big error in modern & postmodern Feminist History: the idea that women "weren't allowed to work" doesn't hold up to scrutiny:
"What is more compelling is the lack of documentation that women were not allowed to work. Although religious practices and social norms might have restricted certain activities in some parts of the world, there were no laws prohibiting women from working a trade.
"Yet sometimes scholars and guests have a hard time accepting the notion that women did just that. Schumann says that "the greatest obstacle for the visitor is in accepting Rind as an eighteenth-century woman, and not a 'born-before-her-time' women's libber."
As I point out when demonstrating Letterpress Printing, an ordinary occupation of women since Gutenberg's time, women have always worked for pay - they had to make a living, then as now. This author agrees:
".... no matter what century it is, women have always done what is necessary to provide for themselves and their families."

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