Enterprising widows and active wives: women's unpaid work in the household economy of early modern England
History of the Family
Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
This article uses 75 matching pairs of probate inventories and supporting documents belonging to married men and their widows to investigate women's unpaid income-generating work within the household economy of rural and small town England between 1534 and 1699. The inventories are drawn from seven localities: county Durham, Cheshire, Chesterfield in Derbyshire, Stratford-upon-Avon, east Kent, Devon, and Cornwall, and are supplemented with evidence from wills and probate accounts. Evidence of work is inferred from the goods listed in the probate inventories. By examining widows' household economies in comparison to the economies of the marital household they shared with their husband, it is possible to discern not only those forms of work women felt able to manage independently during widowhood, but also to suggest their work activities during marriage. Widows' most common form of work activity was agriculture, followed by food processing and textile production. Widows also worked in retailing and inn- and tavern-keeping. Money-lending was the only activity that was more common in widows' inventories than the inventories of married men. While some women shared expertise with their husband, and continued very similar forms of work during widowhood, many women had their own occupations distinct from their husband's work. Widows' inventories record less valuable moveable assets than married men's inventories, and contain less evidence of work; this is explained largely by some widows' old age and widows' lack of property in comparison to married men.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from the publisher via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 19:3, pp. 283 - 300