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The strength of a woman in early America was measured by how well she performed her duties. Although many expected women to do household chores, strong women took over their husband’s roles whenever necessary. 

colonial women’s life and work

Families in Early America

Society setup usually influences the nature of jobs available. In early America, there was a high birth rate. The average number of children per mother was seven. As a result, most women in the 1700s were domesticized and performed roles that were centered on their homes. Most often, their main priority was to ensure that the household was well run while their husbands went to work elsewhere.

Life in 18th Century America

An important characteristic of life during the colonial era was the existence of slavery. Both men and women were enslaved. Some came by ship from Africa, others were born to enslaved parents, others came from Europe, and some were Native Americans. Some of these slaves were skilled. Otherwise, they were sent to the field or households. Division of labor, whether skilled or unskilled, was often done according to gender.

Facts about Colonial Jobs in the 1700s

Colonial jobs in the 18th century had a few distinct characteristics:

  • They were divided into skilled and unskilled occupations
  • Skilled jobs required an apprenticeship
  • Skilled jobs were often taken by men, who made a profession out of them. However, there were some which were for women such as seamstresses, midwives, etc.
  • Even when women did some of these jobs alongside the men, they were not allowed to keep their wages.
  • Gender played a role in the labor division in this era. For example, nurses were typically women, while blacksmiths were typically men.
  • The courts were involved in ensuring gender roles were upheld at all times.  

City Women’s Jobs in the 1700s

Life in the city was quite different from rural areas. Women often worked with their husbands in their shops and businesses. However, they were not allowed to keep their wages. “Studies show that women today often receive more positive comments (excellent, good job, terrific!) during performance appraisal than men, but only 6% of these women can be termed as potential partner…needless to say, an accurate gender equality movements and the 4th wave of feminism are on their way change these statistics”, says Molly Ray, a recruiter at Skillroads. Just like a woman in colonial America, modern women do not receive enough recognition.

Gender roles in 18th Century America

Most homes in the colonial era engaged in agricultural activities to earn a living. Men were responsible for going out to the fields and doing the tougher duties, while women were left to do homework jobs for women such as cleaning, sewing clothes, cooking, and raising their children. The common belief was that women were weak and could only handle house chores and simple tasks. However, there were times when women took over men’s duties in the farms. This was more common during harvest time when there was plenty of work to be done.

Unmarried Women’s Role in Colonial America

Many unmarried women worked in households. They assisted the wife with house chores, and in cases where a family lacked the mother figure, they would take her place. Often, such women worked as governesses and raised children for families who could afford it. Unmarried women also taught in schools and ran them.

Colonial Jobs for Women

In the era before the industrial revolution, the expectation was that women would focus on traditional roles, especially those around the home. However, some reports indicate that women may have been taking on jobs that were meant for men. There were skilled jobs such as dressmaking that required an apprenticeship. They would make hats and dresses. An older female dressmaker would have young girls as her apprentices. Once they mastered the trade, these girls could become masters in their own shops and start the business.

Which of the Colonial Jobs in the 1700s Would You Do?

With the industrial revolution came opportunities for women to venture out of the home and have careers just like men. With increased mechanization, tough tasks became easier for women to do. Now with increased technology, there is literally nothing a woman cannot do. Which of the colonial jobs would suit you best?

The historical value of gender roles for work cannot be ignored. Women were homemakers, while men were breadwinners. Today much has changed as these roles are no longer tied to gender, women are homemakers just as much as they are professionals.