Female Gentility and Wages
Posted by The Mysterious H.C. on July 12, 1998 at 08:52:40:
In response to Earning an income, written by Earlene on July 12, 1998 at 03:09:03
] I have always wondered about a woman earning an income during JA's time. If a woman was not able to earn an income during this period then, how were servants and barmaids able to receive payment for their services?
Women were allowed to receive wages (though if they were married, these would automatically belong to their husbands), but only a very few occupations were compatible with female "genteel" status. The prototypical genteel female occupation was governessing of course, but while governessing didn't compromise your gentility, it didn't give much respect or much income (if you weren't lucky enough to land a situation like Mrs. Weston ).
Beyond that, there was being a teacher in a girls' school (drawbacks much like governessing), or (if you had some talent) writing and painting (though more staid types would be likely to frown at a woman who made her name too public in the course of literary or artistic endeavors, particularly if she were never-married). And that was about it (seamstressing could sometimes be sort of semi-genteel, but not really). If a woman did anything else, she forfeited all claims to gentility, and her old aquaintances would consider her to have become lower class.
Of course, women who weren't born "genteel" couldn't suffer such loss of status, and among the non-genteel classes women frequently did run small businesses (in particular, widows who had inheritied their husband's business frequently ran flourishing shops).
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