Women have in the present day been accredited with playing a pivotal role in the building of our nation. This task did not begin in the recent past but can trace its birth back to the colonial American era where the traditional role of women was reinvented due to the realities of the new world. Prior to the colonial era, the roles of women were greatly limited by the traditional attitudes of women as the “weaker sex”. They previously clearly defined roles began to be blurred mostly as a consequence of the labor deficit in colonial America which led to a state where the contribution by the women was most vital for the survival of the family.
The lives of the women in Colonial American were therefore marked with multiple responsibilities and immense contribution in trade activities. This paper shall set out to document some of the typical trades that women were involved in. The ways in which women’s work differed from men’s as well as the manner in which women got involved in this trade shall also be articulated.
The building industry was of great significance in colonial America and as such, one of the trades that women were involved in was brick making. This was one of the less glamorous trades and most of the practitioners in this trade were slaves and poor unskilled free laborers.
Women were therefore initiated into this trade as slaves practicing for their masters or when they were poor and needed some livelihood. Brick making was labor intensive and laborers were expected to work for days on end. Women were therefore given the easier tasks such as stomping on the clay or arranging the bricks in the kiln. They also engaged in the relatively easier task of putting clay into wooden molds. Men on the other hand worked in the kilns and ensured that the fires were consistent for up to a week. While a vast majority of blacksmiths were men, women also ventured into this trade. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation reveals that the women who participated in this male-dominated trade mostly did so out of a lack of choice other than for the love of the craft. Also, women born into a family which practiced this craft but had no sons would be obligated to learn the techniques of the trade.
Women who wanted to become blacksmiths underwent apprenticeship under a seasoned blacksmith and only after mastering the craft could they practice on their own. Women were expected to fulfill all the duties that male blacksmiths fulfilled including smelting and hitting metal. Shoe making was arguable the most commonly practiced trade in colonial America. Women got initiated to this trade through apprenticeship which was normally from a male member of the family.
While shoe making was a male dominated trade, the craft relied more on dexterity other than sheer physical strength hence women were more adept to it than other male dominated crafts. Another craft that women engaged in which had similar attributes to shoe making was basket making. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation affirms that nimbleness rather than strength was required in weaving and plaiting therefore making this craft well suited for women.
The craft was passed on from women to their children therefore keeping the trade alive in the family. Some trades were exclusively run by males and women only got to be involved in this trades as a result of their husbands or fathers’ dying. Printing was one of these trades and women who run such businesses typically took over from their dead husbands. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation documents a number of famous printers including; Clementina Rind, Elizabeth Bushell and Jose Glover, all of whom inherited their printing businesses from their husbands or fathers. These women ran the businesses in a very capable manner therefore demonstrating that it was society and not women’s incapability that resulted in such trades being primarily run by men. One of the colonial occupations which had a high women presence was the running of taverns.
Taverns normally sold drinks and offered accommodation to travelers. Women who ran these taverns were mostly widows who mostly used their houses as the business premise (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation). The reason why women were preferred to run taverns was because they were highly skilled cooks and trained to be good hostesses from an early age.
This paper set out to document some of the trades that women were involved in so as to accentuate how they differed from men who took part in the same trades. To this end, this paper has reviewed some of the trades and highlighted how or why women got involved in this trades and the difference between their input and the input of men. From this paper, it is evident that in most trades, the women did not receive preferential treatment and that they were just as capable as their male counterparts.
However, society generally restricted women from running some businesses without males due to the patriarchal set up of the society.
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Colonial Williamsburg Trades. 2010. Web 10 Oct 2010.