Not all women in the eighteen-century were able to marry a wealthy aristocrat, in fact very few did, the majority had to hold down a job as well as running the home and raising children. We thought today we would follow on from an earlier article in which we looked at eighteenth-century careers and have picked out a few of the career options listed in Joseph Collyer’s book of 1761, that were deemed suitable for girls and women, of which of course, there were only a limited number, far fewer choices than for men.
There are several sorts of basket-maker. Some who form baskets of green oziers (willow), chiefly for the use of gardeners. These are the most considerable branches; for some of the masters employ many hands, and also rent large ozier plantations; which not only produce sufficient for themselves, but many to spare. This part of the work requires no other abilities but strength and application. Another sort of basked makers make finer works with rods stripped, split, halved and dyed; or with split cane or dyed straw of various colours. The workers in the finer sort of baskets, which are chiefly to be found in the turner’s shops, require less strength and more ingenuity. This is chiefly carried out by girls and women who make the smaller wares.
This was once a trade of universal use, but now bodices are worn by none but the poorer sort of women and girls in the country. They are made of canvas and whale-bone or cane and sometimes leather. Women are principally employed in making them; they can get six or seven pounds a week and require no great qualification. Their apprentices are generally parish children, whom they take with little or nothing. As their dealings are mostly in the country, they require a pretty large stock; most of them now deal also in ordinary stays, by which means they make a handsome livelihood.
The greatest part of the mohair, silk and horsehair buttons are made in the county and sent up to shops in town. Those made here are chiefly livery buttons, or some patterns particularly bespoke. Those who work at this are chiefly women, who are paid by the dozen and are able to get but a poor living. The boy or girl designed for the business of making gold and silver buttons ought to have some fancy and genius, that they may be able to invent new fashions. They should also have good eyes and a dry hand. The lace-man furnishes them with all the material for his buttons, except the moulds and pays him for the work when done.
These are shopkeepers who make and sell caps for men or women to travel in and also men’s morning caps. They deal in many sorts of millinery goods, such as ladies’ hats, bonnets, cloaks, cardinals, short aprons, hoods, handkerchiefs, or almost anything made of black silk or velvet. Their apprentices ought to be smart girls of a genteel appearance, they should work well at their needles and be ready accomptants. They serve only five years and are kept the first part of their time close to the needle. Once qualified they may be cap-makers but may also be shop women to the milliners, the haberdashers or to any buying and selling trade proper for women.
Child’s coat maker
This branch of business is generally performed by women and is a pretty profitable employ. They take ten or fifteen pounds with a girl; who ought to be ingenious, handy and a tolerable needle-woman. The boning part is hard work for the fingers, but the rest is easy enough. As the apprentice must appear neat and gentle, and, when out of her time, must depend on a good acquaintance this trade is not fit for the children of people in low circumstances; but for those a little above the vulgar it is a very proper one. A journey-woman may get a pound a day in summer, but they are generally out of business some of the winter months.
Fan painting is an ingenious business and requires skill in drawing, in perspective, in the proper disposition of the lights and shades and in laying on the colours. This business is however almost ruined by the introduction of printers fan-mounts. Therefore it would be a pity that any ingenious girl, who has a taste for drawing should be put apprentice to it.
The gilding of metals is a very profitable and at the same time a dangerous business with respect to those who perform the work, occasioned by the quicksilver used in this art, which is apt to affect their nerves and render their lives a burden to them; whence the trade is but in a few and some of them women. Gilding is performed with the following amalgam of gold and Quicksilver. The gold is then heated in a crucible and when just ready to flow, three or four times the weight of quicksilver is poured upon it and immediately quenched in water, both together become a soft substance like butter. When the artist intends to gild, the piece is rubbed with aqua fortis and then covered with the amalgam. When is all covered over and smother it is held over a charcoal fire, by which means the mercury evaporates and the gold remains upon the piece. The artist then rubs off all the roughness and at the same time spreads the gold with an instrument called a scratch brush, the work is then burnished to give the colour wanted.
Quilting is chiefly performed by the women, but there are some masters, who employ a number of women and girls in making bed quilts for the upholsterers. The women of this business not only make bed quilts but quilted petticoats. They either take poor girls as apprentices, whom they keep for the sake of their work or have a small for learning those grown up, whom they afterwards pay about ten or twelve pounds a week.
These are more frequently women than men. They make tassels for pulpit cushions, window curtain cords and for a variety of other uses. These tassels are made of gold or silver thread, silk, mohair or worsted, worked over a mould. When tassels were worn by the ladies to their mantels, this was exceedingly good employment, and many families go a genteel maintenance by it, but now, I believe, it is hardly worth learning. The masters take girls out of the schools and parish children with little or no money who, if in good hands, may, when out of their time, be able to get six or eight pounds a week as journey-women, or may set up with a very little. All materials being found from the lace or worsted men.
Thirty years ago this business gave many women in London genteel bread; but now the ladies cannot be dressed with elegance, except by a French barber, or one who passes for such, by speaking broken English, adjust and curls their hair at the exorbitant price of a crown or half a guinea a time. Our grandmothers thought it bordered on immodesty to appear with their heads uncovered; but probably our grandchildren, despising such narrow prejudices, may not be ashamed of going naked from the waist upwards or of having men chamberlains or dressers. I believe the few women, who now cut hair, cannot live by the employment and therefore need to say nothing of the terms on which they teach others.
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