In preindustrial Britain, women took on a wide range of jobs that were critical to the economy. The majority of women’s jobs before industrialization were in the home, and they were able to shift jobs more frequently than men. Katrina Honeyman claims that women’s work was much more flexible to meet their families’ requirements. In a “Family Industry,” “parents, as well as children, labored together,” women worked from home. Most trades were left to women even though they could be done in conjunction with their usual domestic obligations, which were more physically demanding than those undertaken by men in the workforce. The dairy and domestic service were two businesses where women had a significant presence.
Despite being disadvantaged, women’s work, particularly in upholstery, millinery, silk-making, pewter, and smiths, required considerable talent. Women dominated these businesses since they could be done at home. However, female labor and skill flexibility meant filling an apprentice position or serving as an additional hands-on field during harvest. When women could perform a wide range of tasks, they became a crucial economic resource for their families and the country. Many abilities that women might not otherwise have learned through formal education were honed by taking on all the responsibilities of their jobs and doing them well. Operating in a family business taught women a wide range of critical skills to the industry’s growth and development. There would be little money made if women were not actively involved in the economy, and the threat of depression would linger for a long time if males were the only ones who worked.
Women who worked in the trades had a lesser social position than their male counterparts, despite their role in the economy. Women had little opportunities to make a living because they were barred from working in men’s employment and had only a tenuous economic relationship with women who ran businesses. The practice of a widow running her late husband’s business was not uncommon. Still, it was rare for her to have long-term success. “Relatively weak earning capacity” and “unequal gender roles” are examples of this. “English mentality, tradition, as well as economic pragmatism” were to blame for “relatively low” women’s earnings. This idea was fostered since men’s jobs were more appreciated than women’s numerous tasks. The pay of skilled tradeswomen like milliners — who made between 5 as well as 8 shillings a week while tailors made between 10 – 15 — “showed the normal gender-based status gap,” even if they worked in traditionally female-dominated fields. Although more women worked in the field than men, men were paid twice as much as women for the same labor. Social conventions at the time dictated that women were inferior to males and thus earned lower compensation. However, this does not negate that woman have made a considerable economic contribution.
Depending on her age and stage of life, a woman’s contribution to the household economy varied. Even though poor earnings forced women to marry, young women who worked may gain the opportunity to “negotiate their marriage with some land and income.” For many centuries, women worked in the home. They used their children as a source of revenue, either allowing them to work outside herding livestock or bringing in crops or teaching them the trade to earn more money for the family once they were old enough. Female domestic workers are an exception to this rule. Having a place to live, food to eat, and a salary, trained staff may have saved money to become self-sufficient. “Economically autonomous” women didn’t depend on their husbands for financial support. In a poll of 712 female domestic staff, the vast were paid £5 10s or less, with 60% receiving between £4 & £5, a reasonable pay provided they didn’t have to supply their food and housing, according to the results of the study, which included “diet and lodging.” Female domestic staff, who are generally discouraged from getting married, would have had to give up their job if they were married. When they were expected to become mothers, raise their children, and keep the house, they were also expected to work in a domestic sector like spinning to help support their families.
As previously indicated, the most significant legal independence a woman may experience in the medieval countryside was granted to widows who took over as the head of home after their husband’s death.
Although it was socially expected that young ladies and widows should marry men who could financially support them, it was comforting to know that women could sustain themselves. Even though women’s labor was crucial to industrialization, particularly in rural regions, their economic contributions were undervalued because they were paid less than males for the same work.
Women were not freed from conventional home tasks even when the need for female work in industry outstripped the necessity for male labor. In the UK, a woman’s role was to look after her family’s primary source of income while also managing the home and raising her children. A woman was expected to earn “at least sufficient to fund her personal maintenance” when she was married. According to Pehr Kalm, a Swedish naturalist who traveled to England in 1748, females were “fortunate in having shifted the most of the weight of responsible management onto the men” this places women’s economic roles in a broader societal setting. In preindustrial civilization, women should have stayed at home and cared for the family while men performed outside the home. However, women were still actively involved in the economy, even on the smallest farms. Still, they appeared to be living a life of extravagance from the outside looking in, as Kalm argues that this is not usual in Sweden.
According to Kalm, women worked long hours cleaning the house and mending clothing. According to Kalm’s observations, the ladies were meticulous in their approach to every work they performed, demonstrating the wide range of abilities they learned just by doing their jobs well. In his travels in Africa and the Middle East, Kalm visited some of the world’s leading ladies and was struck by the enormous amount of work they performed. According to Kalm, “when one visits a house and sees the women cooking, washing floors, plates, and dishes, darning or stitching chemises, washing and starching linen garments, he has seen all their household economics and all that they do throughout God’s long day.” His claim that they appear to be living a more leisurely lifestyle than Swedish ladies is accompanied by the admission that they work very hard throughout the day to relax at night.
Whether it served as an additional source of income for women in the lower classes or as a leisure pastime for those in higher socioeconomic brackets, making butter and cheese was viewed as exclusively a feminine endeavor.
This implied that women who worked in the dairy industry also had other responsibilities at home, such as directing the household’s maids rather than performing any cleaning/cooking themselves. Almost everyone could find work in the dairy business. Any lady could produce her cheese and butter whenever she wanted as long as her family had a cow and the necessary tools. This would save money for the family, and any extras might be sold to the public. Dairying was likely just a hobby for upper-class ladies who happened to make money from it. Unmarried or widowed women could make a living selling their dairy products. Customers would buy cows for the women they looked after in rural areas where the cost of raising a cow was prohibitive. The dairy industry could not function without cows, the most critical equipment in operation. Dairy farming wasn’t the only thing people in rural areas did for a living. Dairy farming may have coexisted with other livestock raising/weaving activities. The family dairy was primarily run by the women, while the men were preoccupied with other aspects of farming. In the dairy industry, the reputations of the dairy mistress and dairymaids hinged on their abilities, and the women who controlled the dairies were held in great esteem. The women who worked at the dairy got the credit, not the cow’s food.
In contrast to popular belief, girls were essential to the family’s prosperity in various industries, including dairy or a combination of two or more. Considering dairies wanted to keep their reputations under wraps, hired women seldom resigned because they didn’t want to jeopardize the importance of many other farmers. Strong women became highly prized since they could milk the cows and transport the milk from the barns to the dairies. It would have been more successful for the family businesses if women could accomplish more independently. As a result, both men and women could work more efficiently at home.
Preindustrial Britain relied heavily on the contributions of women. To support themselves or their families if they were married/widowed, they were involved in many different parts of the economy. In some industries, such as domestic service, women could make a decent living even though their earnings were far lower than males’. According to class, women’s participation in the economy differed at home and the national level. Women from lower social levels were more likely than those from higher social classes to operate outside the house and oversee servants. If you’re in a middle-class family, you’re more likely than not to have a servant or two to help you manage the household that might or might not have included one. Equal pay for a similar effort was a strong demand of the earliest feminists. Women’s contributions to British industrialization would have been even more significant if this requirement had been in force at the time. They should have been allowed to work in the same areas as men and given the same training/apprenticeship opportunities as men in order to contribute to the family economy. While today’s mothers can leave their children with daycare or even a stay-at-home father, women of the working/middle classes wouldn’t have had this luxury in the past; they would have been forced to put their children in daycare or through a stay-at-home father. Without the formal training required for skilled/full-time employment, women have to multitask and learn a wide range of talents.
Hanawalt, Barbara A. “Women and the Household Economy in the Preindustrial Period: An Assessment of ‘Women, Work, and Family,” Journal of Women’s History vol. 11, no. 3 (1996): 10-16.
Honeyman, Katrina. Women, Gender and Industrialization in England 1700-1800. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000.
Kalm, Pehr. “Account of His Visit to England (1748),” The Past Speaks Sources and Problems in British History Volume 2. 2nd Edition: 31-33.
Kent, D A. “Ubiquitous but Invisible: Female Domestic Servants in Mid-18th Century London,” History Workshop 28 (1989): 111-28.
Valenza, Deborah. “The Art of Women and the Business of Men: Women’s Work and the Dairy Industry c. 1740-1840,” Past and Present (1991): 142-169
 Honeyman, Katrina. Women, Gender and Industrialization in England 1700-1800. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000.
 Honeyman, 19.
 Honeyman, 24.
 Honeyman, 20.
 Honeyman, 23.
 Kent, D A. “Ubiquitous but Invisible: Female Domestic Servants in Mid-18th Century London,” History Workshop 28 (1989): 111-28.
 Kent, 114.
 Hanawalt, Barbara A. “Women and the Household Economy in the Preindustrial Period: An Assessment of ‘Women, Work, and Family,” Journal of Women’s History vol. 11, no. 3 (1996): 10-16.
 Kent, 118.
 Hanawalt, 12
 Honeyman, 22.
 Kent, 115.
 Kalm, Pehr. “Account of His Visit to England (1748),” The Past Speaks: Sources and Problems in British History Volume 2. 2nd Edition: 31-33.
 Valenze, Deborah. “The Art of Women and the Business of Men: Women’s Work and the Dairy Industry c. 1740-1840,” Past and Present (1991): 142-169
 Valenze, 145
 Valenze, 147-8
 Velenze, 147
 Honeyman, 34.