Her Honest Labor

Eleanor Hubbard

in City Women

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199609345
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191739088 | DOI:
Her Honest Labor

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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This chapter deals with the work that early modern London wives and widows performed for money. It argues that restrictions on women's work resulted from economic concerns, not sexual anxieties about working women's mobility, contact with the public, and independence. Instead, hostility to female competition kept women out of most occupations. Under these circumstances, women worked as craftswomen, marketwomen, hucksters, fishwives, nurses, midwives, charwomen, laundresses, starchers, the keepers of victualling houses, alehouses, inns, and chandler's shops, and more – often very public kinds of work. They took pride in their contributions to household economies, although the earnings they received in the over‐crowded female labor sector were always low. Even within these marginal occupations, they risked being accused of earning private gains that injured the common good. The chapter concludes by comparing women's work opportunities ca. 1600 to the situations in medieval and eighteenth‐century London.

Keywords: women's work; reputation; economic competition; early modern London; needlework; victualling; nursing; midwives; laundresses; charity

Chapter.  24582 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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