The scholarship is open to “women and those who identify as female both nationally and internationally and is part of the school’s ongoing efforts to increase diversification in the craft.”
The school and woodworking community worked together, raising more than $7,000 via a raffle. Prizes included handmade furniture, equipment and a deluxe copy of “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture”. Proceeds from the raffle will fund seven week-long class scholarships.
• Name and date of the class you’d like to attend (plus two alternates if your first choice is not available)
• 100-150 word description of why you’d like to attend
If selected, your scholarship will cover the full tuition of the class and, when deemed appropriate, a small travel stipend. Apply now through January 30. Scholarships will be awarded via email between December 31 and February 28. Check out all the details here.
To learn more about the Florida School of Woodwork and its founder, Kate Swann, check out Nancy Hiller’s two-part interview series here.
Wax production has been slow this fall because Katy’s class load is pretty heavy, and she’s taking art classes during the weekend (they’re making an entire board game?). But amidst all the teen-ager stuff, she’s made another 25 tins and put them up on her etsy site here.
The tins are $12 each for 4 oz. of wax, which is useful for all manner of things, from finishing the insides of a cabinet or other project, lubricating drawers or (as Raney Nelson pointed out) it’s a great lubricant for tools. He’s been using it on our dividers – the wax makes the action smooth but not sloppy.
Just as the craft guilds continued to limit or eliminate woman from the home-based workshop a change was underway in defining the roles men and women play in society. As the nature of each sex was defined, under a more secular rather than religious view, the economic opportunities and standing of women deteriorated. Even in an age of more enlightened thought about the nature of humanity, the work a woman performed, in the home or outside, was not valued as equal to that of men. Records (when they were kept) of women working in the woodworking crafts are harder to find, and when found the numbers are low.
An example of the newer thinking about the sexes is in the Dutch physician Johan van Beverwijck’s “Van de Wtnementheyt des Vrouwelicken Geslacht” (The Excellence of the Female Sex) from 1639. Beverwijck confirmed that a woman’s brain was the same size as a man’s. In fact, women were not inferior to men, not equal, but superior!
Women had the benefit of coldness, which cooled their brains and thus prevented overheating. Cool blood led to greater intelligence, where as a man had warm blood giving him physical strength. The cool brain of the female gave her a longer life because it did not burn down as fast as the male brain. However excellent or cool women might be they were still best suited for the home as wife and mother. The illustration of the woman on the turtle is included in Beverwijck’s work and is expained as: “the praise of a woman mainly exists in the care she gives to her household. For the turtle is always at home, and carries its house along under all circumstances.” The two spheres of life had been defined: the home for the woman and work for the man.
In late 17th to early 18th century London there were about 80 guilds (or city livery companies) with some taking over 70 apprentices a year. Records show girls could be apprenticed, albeit in very small numbers. Most mistresses of a shop were widows of masters and were also small in number. For records covering the years 1600-1800 there is one identified woodworking craft that included women as masters and also took girls as apprentices, the turners. Of the 7,304 turners, 179 (2.5%) were led by a mistress and 21 apprentices were girls. Unfortunately, we don’t have numbers on how many wives and girls were actively involved in home shops prior to guild-mandated restrictions to compare with these later period records.
Advancing innovation and capitalism in the 18th century and the rethinking of human nature did not mean advances in women’s employment in the crafts. Although all humans were seen as equal the division was not fifty-fifty. Characteristics attributed to each sex were the foundation that helped exclude women from legal rights, education and work. As men began to work outside the home there was a greater separation between home (the world of women) and the place of work (the world of men). Even if a woman’s role was supervisory she was becoming more isolated from the craft she and her husband might have previously practiced together.
In Europe and America the 19th century saw the switch to factory-based economy and the rise of a middle class. Men worked outside the home and as a matter of survival so did single women. Single women could work in a factory but were paid one-third to one-half of a man’s pay, which barely paid the rent. Poorer women could go into domestic service or sell goods on the street. One of the common street vendors was the chair mender with women usually repairing the rush seats.
The 19th century and the Victorians cemented the cult of domesticity for upper- and middle-class women that would persist well into the 20th century. Building on the idea of separate spheres for men and women much advice was handed out on how a woman should conduct herself and her relationships with men. Around 1845 Sarah Stickney Ellis wrote a very popular book, “The Daughters of England.” She wrote, “As a woman, then, the first thing of importance is to be content to be inferior to men – inferior in mental power, in the same proportion that you are in bodily strength.” Twenty years later John Ruskin, prominent art and social critic and a proponent for expanding women’s education, gave a lecture that continued the idea of the separate spheres of life for men and women: “The man’s power is active, progressive, defensive. He is eminently the doer, the creator, the discoverer…His intellect is for speculation and invention. The woman’s power is for rule, not for battle; and her intellect is not for invention or creation, but for sweet ordering, arrangement and decision.”
Well, now. Perhaps this explains why archery was a favorite pastime of Victorian women. And to both Ellis and Ruskin I say “My nose is in great indignation” (especially because we are celebrating Shakespeare this weekend).
Another Victorian pastime that became popular, for both men and women, was wood turning. “The Handbook of Turning” was published in 1842 by a Miss Gascoigne and is possibly the earliest woodworking publication by a woman. And it was creative!
If you want to take a look the book is available online here.
Other than woodworking pastimes such as turning or carving there were some Victorian women engaged as carpenters and joiners in the building trades. Prior to repeal legislation in 1814 there was the English parish apprentice system mandated by statute in 1562. Records show girl apprentices were in 51 occupations including carpenters, joiners and shipwrights. Between the 17th and 19th centuries in the southern counties 34 percent of apprentices were girls. After the 1814 repeal master’s associations and trade unions could control entry into their industries through the apprentice system. Census records started early in the 1800s but not until 1841 were occupations recorded by gender. From 1841 to 1891 the percentage of female carpenters and joiners compared to the total was no higher than 0.3 percent. The actual numbers ranged from 151 (1861) to 459 (1841). Even as overall employment rates increased the number of women in wood-related occupations continued to deteriorate into the early 1900s.
Toward the end of the Victorian era some of the cast iron separation of the sexes started to crack. Instruction in woodworking became part of the education of girls and boys. The Educational Sloyd System was started in Sweden in the 1870s. In 1880 it was introduced in the North Bennett Industrial School in Boston and also in New York. The Sloyd System is still mandatory in Sweden and Norway.
The Manual Training School became part of the University of Chicago in 1903. Woodworking classes for making furniture and were offered for both sexes.
Another early 20th century bright spot was Juliette Caron the first female compagnon in France. In a recent feature on the Charente Libre website they gave her rate of pay at 2-3 francs per day compared to 6-10 francs for men. She worked on the featured construction site from 1910-1913. There are at least five different post cards of Juliette (Chris has a few of them). I always wonder how she felt about the postcards and if she received any of the profits.
The first wave of women in the woodworking trades in the 20th century was in World War I. Women filled in on the home front in many countries although there is a dearth of proper records and photographs. The photos here are from the Imperial War Museum and involve British women. Labor shortages were severe but employers and trade unions resisted recruiting for the building trades. Recruitment for munitions work seemed to be OK. Women were finally allowed into the building trades after a list of restrictions were drawn up. Women were to be kept in the semi-skilled jobs, paid less then men and were regarded as “dilutees.” Between 1914-1918 the number of women in the building trades rose to 31,400 from 7,000 .
After the war, employers and the trade unions helped to pass an act in 1919 to push women out of the war-effort jobs and back to their traditional female jobs.
In 1935 the United States started the National Youth Administration as part of the New Deal. The program was started to help keep kids in school and provide training for jobs through work study projects. Students were age 16-25 and were paid an hourly wage. Once the war broke out training was provided that could be used in the defense-related industries. Classes in carpentry and making furniture were included and offered to girls. The program ran until 1943.
The next wave of women in the male-dominated building trades was, as you may have guessed, World War II. Women were once again allowed in the lower skilled jobs and paid less than men.
When the United States entered the war and more Allied troops were sent to Britain the need for more workers to build troop housing and airfields increased dramatically. Britain already had a Women’s Land Army and created the Women’s Timber Corp branch in 1942. Women were trained for 4-6 weeks and then sent to do forestry work using 6 lb. axes to cut down trees. Timber was processed for use as pit props in coal mines and as railroad sleepers. Their living conditions were often primitive and they worked in all kinds of weather. They became known as the Lumberjills. One Lumberjill based in Scotland said she was responsible for bringing out 60 trees a day with her team of horses. The Women’s Timber Corps was disbanded in 1946.
In the illustration at the very top “La Femme de Charpentier” uses tools as props for her fashion shoot. She is posed in elegant fashion to contrast her femininity with the masculine tools of her husband’s trade. The Lumberjill, on the other hand, was the real deal.
After the war women were expected to return to their homes or their more traditional jobs. Women that attempted to stay in the building trades were met with resistance, harassment and low wages. In the 21st century it is still a hard road for a woman to become a union carpenter and in the United States women represent only around 2% of the total.
A Medieval glass cutters guild didn’t allow women because they were too clumsy yet women were making lace and hand-spinning the finest silk thread. Centuries later women were working in munitions factories. Women were deemed too weak and frail for many jobs but could be found burning their hands processing silk cocoons. The poorest Victorian women worked in coal tunnels no higher than 18 inches pulling coal baskets harnessed to their foreheads, work no man or boy would do. In wartime they worked wherever they were needed and became known for the high quality of their work.
Today women can be found again in the home-based workshop and it just might be their own shop. They are carvers, turners, furniture makers and tool makers. They teach woodworking, write about it and one is the editor of a popular woodworking magazine! They are the daughters and granddaughters of woodworkers making their own tool chests and furniture. After work and on weekends they retreat to the shop and with their most excellent and cool brains they make something out of wood.
In the last quarter of the 13th century Etienne Boileau compiled “Livres des Métiers” which documented the codes and traditions of the more important Parisian crafts. About 500 years later an English researcher reviewed Boileau’s work and found of the 100 crafts, five were headed by women and in most of the crafts women were employed. Women worked the same hours as men, they could be apprentices and theequivalent of a journeyman. He noted “writing-table makers” could be male or female.
Further work on “Livres des Métiers” was done by Janice Archer for her 1995 PhD thesis. Archer created multiple data bases, deciphered some of the obscure terms and shed new light on the extent and kinds of work done by women. One-third of the women worked in the more traditional fields of food and clothing production and two-thirds worked in almost every other job that men did.
From the extensive number of occupations Archer listed here are the woodworking-related catagories in which women worked: wooden measures for grain, barrel makers, bed frames, tables, benches, armoires, doors, windows, carts, roofs, “everything else made of wooden boards,” strong boxes for travel, provider of wood for carpentry, builders of scaffolds, thatched roofs and wooden clogs to protect shoes from mud. Except for the possible exception of the clogs, sounds like what women in the 21st century are making, doesn’t it?
One point that is brought up in most of the research is the contrast in the availability of work for a woman inside and outside the home. For the wife, daughters and any other related or unrelated women it would be easier and safer to learn and perform the craft of the master in the home workshop. Even if a woman was not performing the same full work as that of an apprentice or journeyman (because of incomplete training or other household responsibilities) she could still contribute to the production of the shop via smaller jobs such as gluing, decorative work, painting or polishing. For a master involved in carpentry for a building site the female members of the household would generally not work at the site. As far as can be determined from studied records most female laborers on building sites tended to be related to unskilled male laborers, poor single women and widows and slaves.
Sometimes the master’s wife was prohibited to go outside the home to accomplish a task necessary for the workshop to function. In the mid-1550s the Worshipful Company of Carpenters decreed “…that no women shall come to the waters to by (buy) tymber bourde…” Apparently some wives thought it better to just get the wood needed for their business for on March 10, 1547, several master carpenters were called to the guildhall and told to “…warne ther wyffes that they schuld not by no stuffe at the waters syd upone payne of a fyne.”
Guild records about warnings and fines, complaints brought by widows and the increasing restrictions guilds placed on women have helped researchers determine the kind of work women did and their contributions to the various crafts.
Medieval European guilds and their codes and statutes were many and complex. Each city had its own guilds and through time related guilds might merge and later separate. Some guilds could have sub-guilds. Competition might result in highly specialized guilds: in one town a baker’s guild only handled dough that was already kneaded by the customer, the other baker’s guild only handled unkneaded dough! A city’s guilds could gain enough economic power to challenge the local government.
When the societal and religious views of a woman’s expected role (get married as early as possible, when widowed get married again as soon as possible) are combined with a guild’s control over trade, a woman’s economic status could very quickly be decimated. And that is what began to happen in the 15th century.
At the beginning of the 15th century Christine de Pisan wrote “The Treasure of the City of Ladies.” She had been married at 15 and widowed at age 25. For years she fought in the courts to recover her late husband’s land and was hampered by not knowing the full extent of her husband’s finances. In the “Treasure” she gave advice to women in all social classes about getting an education, learning the husband’s business and finances and protecting themselves if they became a widow. Becoming a widow, even to a successful craftsman, was a precarious situation. Earliest guild statutes did not place many restrictions on the widow of a master craftsman and widows could generally continue to run the husband’s business. One exception was if she remarried a master in a different craft she could not continue in the first husband’s business.
By the middle of the 15th century nearly every craft began to enact limitations on a widow’s ability to run her husband’s workshop. The restrictions began by limiting how long after her husband’s death a widow could run the business. A example of the escalating restrictions can be seen in German cities in the 15th and 16th centuries: the widow could operate the workshop for one to two years, the next limitation was no new apprentices or journeyman and operations for just a few months, next was to allow the shop to only finish any work in progress at the time of the husband’s death. An exception might be made if there was a son old enough to take over the business.
A guild might allow the widow to be a “placeholder” until a son reached his majority. The ability for a daughter to inherit a business was eliminated. The worst restrictions reached into the workshop and regulated against wives of masters participating in the business. Of course, there were exceptions because each city and guild was different. But the common thread in the transition from the Medieval era to Early Modern was to limit a woman’s economic work and try to confine her to marriage, children and household.
An exception to the strictures placed on widows is the case of Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselar (1526-1588) a wood merchant of Haarlem.
She was widowed in 1562 but continued in business. One of her exploits is the highly romanticized story of her defense of the city during the 1573 Spanish. The image to the left is presumed to be her, but you might also find her in paintings wielding some fearful weapons. Her business included owning a ship that made about five trips per year transporting wood to Norway. When her ship’s captain was taken hostage in 1588 she went to Norway to get her ship and disappeared, presumably the victim of pirates.
A widow could bring a complaint to continue operating the family business and many did. Extensions to the time limit might be made or the answer from the guild could be crushing. Merry E. Wiesner, an intrepid researcher in women’s working lives, uncovered a stonemason guild’s response to a widow in Frankfurt in 1642. The widow wanted to continue to work as her husband had purchased a large amount of stone prior to his death. The guild refused her request and gave six reasons for the refusal: 1. other widows would want the same rights; 2. her husband had been the most successful stonemason in the town and others felt bitter that he had taken business from them; 3. her husband had vigorously opposed widows working, why go against his wishes; 4. she could not oversee the shop well enough and work might not be done properly which could bring shame to her and the whole guild; 5. she could not control the journeyman who might marry, have children and later abandon their families and with no means of support they would be a drain on the public treasury; 6. because she couldn’t control the journeymen they would want to work in her shop and not for other masters.
The guild’s response (or six nails in the widow’s coffin) reveals their effort to eliminate competition, settle old scores, humiliate the widow and belittle her ability to run the business. If the widow had been allowed to continue the business I would think she would have encountered a concerted effort by others in the guild to block and undermine her workshop.
What was behind the restrictions on women in the craft guilds? Why stop wives, daughters, single women and widows from working? To quote Merry Wiesner, restricting women’s work was linked to “every major economic change going on: decline of craft guilds and rise of journeyman’s guilds, shift in trade patterns, the general inflation, decline of old manufacturing centers and growth of new ones, formalization of training requirements, rise of capitalism.”
If they were prohibited from working in the family shop how did women make money for their families and themselves? Well before restrictions came into play women were already paid much less than men and supplemented their incomes by making small items for sale. Pins, brooms, brushes, spoons and bowls could be made at home and sold from the home. Guilds did not try to regulate these activities. For the single woman and the widow with no families on which to rely the restrictions on their work had the greatest impact. They were left to find work in the lowest paid jobs with their opportunities becoming more limited as they aged.
A list of the many upheavals in the 15th through 18th century includes outbreaks of the plague, famine, catastrophic weather, war, more war and the crushing limits on a woman’s ability to work in a craft or outside the home. In his book “London-The Biography” Peter Ackroyd wrote, “It will come as little surprise that the desire to control women occurred at times of panic and low financial confidence.”
The last part of this series will cover a bit of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.
I am sorry to say that other than the two illustrations from the Balthasar Behem Codex mentioned in ‘Women in The Workshop’ I found no illustrations of Medieval or Early Modern women involved in woodworking. The closest thing was a woman holding an axe near a tree…wearing some interesting footwear…those clogs.
The “wooden clogs to protect shoes from mud” mentioned in “Livres des Métiers“ explained what the woman in orange is wearing with her shoes. I took a short detour from all this women in the workshops research (I needed a break!) to take a look at those clogs and found a pair in a Jan van Eyck painting. Very sensible and they also explain the Dr. Scholl’s phenomena several centuries later.
The gallery has a selection of women in other crafts and a listing of the resources I used for “Women in the Workshop” and this post.
Last week I discovered the Balthasar Behem Codex of 1505 (also known as the Codex Picturatus), a compilation of the charters and bylaws of the guilds of Krakow written in German, Polish and Latin. The Codex includes an illustration for each guild, including a carpenter’s workshop and a cooper. Finding the Codex was significant for two reasons: I haven’t seen too many early woodworking images from Eastern Europe, and both images show women working alongside men (my two Polish aunts are cheering!).
In the carpenter’s shop a women is using a bellows to keep the coals under the glue pot warm. In the cooper’s scene a women works on a large cask and a younger women (possibly an apprentice) works on a small bucket. In several illustrations for other guilds women are also working alongside men.
In illustrations from Medieval and Early Modern Europe women (other than the upper classes) are usually seen doing the arduous work of the farm: working in the fields and tending to animals.
When women were portrayed in a woodworker’s shop they are spinning, doing needlework and tending to children. Often, a similar scene is of Mary, Joseph and a young Jesus.
Were the women of Krakow an anomoly? No, they were not. Women can be seen working as stonemasons, blacksmiths, bakers, as well as in the textile trades. The various crafts and trades were family businesses requiring the work of all members of the family. In 1405 in Christine de Pisan’s “Treasure of the City of Ladies,” she advised: the craftswomen…”should learn all the shop details so that she can properly supervise the workers when her husband is away or not paying attention.”
Some of the early research on the role of women and the work they performed in Medieval and Early Modern Europe concluded it was only supportive in nature, or work only done until marriage. These conclusions undervalued both women and the work they did, and these attitudes persisted well into the twentieth century. In the last 30 years a huge amount of research has been done to uncover the details of the daily life of Medieval and Early Modern European women. As more city registries and other archives have been made available, and as more researchers have delved into non-English archives, a very different picture of women (single, married and widowed) has emerged.
The family workshop was a mainstay of the economy and master craftsmen were expected, or required, to be married. The wife was expected to balance her activites between working alongside her husband, manage accounts and sales, oversee apprentices and journeymen and also manage the household. Being the wife of a craftsmen conferred status and reflected her value to the business. In some German records the wife of the master was noted, for example as, “die Frau Bäckerin” (the wife of the baker). Daughters and household maids also worked in the shop. In periods of high demand other women in the community would be hired to work.
Some records show daughters were apprenticed to their fathers although there were few formal provisions for recognizing their apprenticeships as there were for boys. A daughter who had worked in her father’s craft was often viewed as more “marketable” as a wife.
City records and other archives in Spain, France, Germany and England have revealed women working with their fathers or husbands as masons, capenters, doormakers and other crafts in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. Women have been documented working on stone and wood structures as day laborers on construction sites.
One of the reasons early reseachers did not recognise the full extent of women working in male-dominated crafts was how women were noted in the records. Women might be documented with their father’s or husband’s name or in terms such as mulier, mullyer, dona, femme or wench. Medieval and Early Modern writers were also largely silent on women’s employment. A woman being fully engaged in an artisan’s workshop or working outside the home did not fit in the conservative and religious views of the the proper role of a women. As for the visual record of women working one has to consider who commisioned the illustrated manuscripts and seasonal calendars and their purpose. The patrons were usually aristocratic and religious figures that were paying for an idealised view of the their estate or world, not an historical documentation.
Another consideration as to why there are few women shown working in male-dominated occupations is the persistence of viewing women as dangerous, polluted and ruinous. An example of this is the blacksmith’s wife. As the story goes (and there are variations) the blacksmith was asked to make nails for the crucifixion of Christ. When he refused, his wife said she would make the nails. The image below is from the Holkham Bible (1327-1335) in the collection of the British Library. This is one of the more destructive images of a woman, as she is engaging in a man’s work, she is enabling a reprehensible act and it has helped perpetuate anti-Semetic ideas. What is factual, is women made nails and otherwise worked in the smith’s shop as part of contributing to the family business. Women continued to make nails as a means of income well into the 19th century.
In a few days or so I’ll continue this short series with the topic of women and the guilds. In the meantime consider this….at the end of the 14th century Giles de Benoyne was allowed an additional apprentice by the founder’s guild of York “because he had no wife” (he was likely a widower).
In 1889 the Balthasar Behem Codex was published in the original languages with black and white illustrations, additional commentary in German and you can find it here.