Evidence of women’s waged work from household accounts, 1644 – 1700: three case-studies from Devon, Somerset and Hampshire
Date: 16 December 2019
University of Exeter
PhD in History
This thesis examines women’s waged work from 1644 to 1700 in the south-west of England. Household account books provide evidence for three estates: Leyhill (Payhembury, Devon), Herriard Park (Herriard, Hampshire) and Barrow Court (Barrow Gurney, Somerset). Three issues which affected women’s working lives in the seventeenth century, ...
This thesis examines women’s waged work from 1644 to 1700 in the south-west of England. Household account books provide evidence for three estates: Leyhill (Payhembury, Devon), Herriard Park (Herriard, Hampshire) and Barrow Court (Barrow Gurney, Somerset). Three issues which affected women’s working lives in the seventeenth century, and which to some degree remain in the twenty-first century, are explored and analysed. The first section looks at the gender distribution of labour and confirms that women were concentrated in the casual workforce. It also explores the gender division of labour, examining the tasks performed by men and women and concluding that the allocation of tasks in reality did not adhere to early modern gender ideology, with women working in every sector of the economy and a large proportion of female workers labouring in agriculture. However, within these sectors a flexible gender division of labour is present. The second section looks at women’s wages and the gender pay gap debate. It shows that men were paid more than women and uses a task analysis to show that the gender division of labour and differences in strength between men and women did not affect the wages paid to a substantial degree. An examination of marital status shows that the difference in wages paid to single women and wives was minimal, and therefore the caring and household responsibilities of women did also not affect their wages, suggesting that customary discrimination played a part in the gender pay gap. The third section explores how marriage, motherhood and ageing affected female employment. Using parish registers, it shows that not all young, single women worked as servants, with some being employed as day workers, and similarly that some married women worked as servants. Many women also migrated to find work and moved between several different parishes over the course of their life-cycle. By examining wider issues in a local framework, this thesis uncovers the nature of women’s work and shows that early modern gender ideology was not an accurate reflection of how women (and men) lived in practice. This method highlights the differences that existed between localities, and the variety of the female experience, whilst also confirming the underlying similarities that were present in most women’s working lives.
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