Women in the regional economy : the East Midlands, 1700-1830
This study explores the processes of economic change and their impact on women's working lives in the East Midlands region during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Drawing on a wide range of sources, for example, estate, probate, criminal and poor law records, it offers alternative perspectives on the position of women in the economy. The first part of the thesis looks at the wealth creating and income generating activities of 'middling' women living in urban areas. Inheritance strategies delineated in men's and women's wills do not indicate that women from the beginning of the eighteenth century became less able to hold property or engage in enterprise. Industrial development in this region encouraged women's economic participation and created additional opportunities for those situated in industrial towns to extend their interests. The value of estate records for the investigation of women's businesses is also discussed, and it is concluded that while they have their limitations, these records can provide valuable insights into women's commercial dealings. Part two is concerned with the effects of regional specialisation on the work of labouring women. There is very little evidence to suggest a shift in the sexual division of labour in agriculture from the mid-eighteenth century. The types of tasks in which women were engaged were generally no different in the early nineteenth century than they had been at the beginning of the eighteenth. The continued move to pastoral farming reduced the amount of agricultural work for women, especially for those in Leicestershire. The initial expansion of dairying while giving rise to more dairymaids can be seen as promoting growth in the domestic service sector rather than agriculture, since these occupations are so very closely linked. The majority of women appear to have been engaged in domestic service work prior to the eighteenth century, and limited work opportunities for women helps explain the emergence of redundant female labour prior to 1700. It is also argued that the expansion of domestic industry and a reduction in age at first marriage for women in the early eighteenth century noted by historians was largely a phenomenon generated by these conditions. This study also includes the trends in wage rates for women over the period, it shows that female real wages declined in comparison with those of males. The evidence presented also supports the belief that women were paid a customary wage. However, under certain circumstances some women could command wages comparable with those of men. Finally, it is argued that the intensification of the trends described, in addition to the inability of women to move between sectors of employment, led many women to employ survival mechanisms that included the greater exploitation of 'criminal' activities within the informal economy and their sexual relationships with men.