Finding a woman or women working at all outside the home, much less in a male-dominated trade, most likely meant the dream wasn't shaping up the way they'd hoped. Though there was no system of standards governing the trades in the colonies, the method of learning a trade generally followed the apprenticeship guidelines established by the guilds in medieval England and Europe.Women were not excluded from membership in any of the earlier guilds.Journeyman Gayle Clarke is working in the James Craig silversmith shop on a typical July day in Colonial Williamsburg.
In easy times, journeymen were less anxious and might permit without complaint some infiltration by women into what they saw as their sphere of activity." Girls were apprenticed, too, usually in cases of orphaning. Snell's Annals of the Labouring Poor lists nearly 300 orphan girls apprenticed to trades in the eighteenth century in the southern counties of England.
Parish or pauper apprenticeships, as they were called, featured contracts that left blank spaces so the court or church official could write in "him" or "her," "she" or "he." K. But the guild system began to decline during the eighteenth century, and with it went the detailed records.
In spite of the Tidewater humidity, there's a fire blazing in the fireplace so Clarke can anneal the ingot when it's hardened. A woman looks around, walks into the back, peers down the hall, turns to her companions and says, "Oh, I guess none of the silversmiths are working today." Clarke laughs as she recounts the story, variations of which have happened many times over her nearly twenty-five- year career.
"I don't get much of an opportunity to talk to those folks," she says.
For most girls, becoming a blacksmith was probably not a dream.
Husband, family, home: those were the pursuits of a young woman of the eighteenth century.
Journeyman supervisor Ken Schwarz and his colleagues were often asked whether women were allowed to be blacksmiths.
"It's as if there were some law forbidding women from work, or the ever-present worry that this work was too physically demanding for women to carry out," Schwarz says.
Records of guilds and corporations frequently omit mention of female apprentices suggests Bridget Hill in Women, Work, and Sexual Politics in Eighteenth-Century England, because "the completion of a man's apprenticeship had political and social, as well as economic consequences (parliamentary franchise) that did not apply to women." Though apprenticeship contracts do exist for the colonies, they tend to be fewer and they are not as specific.
And without the meticulous record keeping of the guilds, what happened to a boy or girl once an apprenticeship began is difficult to track.
A 1770 publication called The Tradesman's True Guide or a Universal Directory for the Towns of Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Walsal, Dudley and the manufacturing village in the neighborhood of Birmingham carries exhaustive lists of tradesmen and -women alphabetically by name and by trade.