Women's occupations since the Renaissance

{See also Professions}     {See also Female sailors}      {See also Businesswomen}


It is a common fallacy that Victorian women either did not go out to work, or were domestic servants. In fact women worked in a very wide range of jobs. The lists and examples below were found in the 1881 Census.


Most common: catering establishment e.g. hotel, public house and eating and drinking places.

Women were also manageresses of: theatres, music halls, museums, skating rinks, Turkish and other baths, restaurants, lodging houses, licensed victuallers, inns, taverns, dining rooms, eating houses, coffee palaces, buffets, coffee taverns, cocoa houses, school tuck shop, yacht clubs, political clubs, gentleman's clubs, social clubs, masonic halls, town halls, temperance halls, nurses' institutes, literary institutes, girls' homes, residential chambers, telephone services, various institutions, steam laundries, other laundries, dyers, mantle buyers, dairies, farms, flour mills, sewing machine companies, clothing factories, weighing engines, plumbers, tea business, cigar factories, straw factories, pen factories, lime kilns, printing, mineral water, ivory business, truss manufactories, china factories, and shops (including baker, chandler, grocer, stationer, fruiterer, butcher, poulterer, oilman/colourman (i.e. artists' materials), baby clothes warehouse, draper, jewellery, India rubber, perfumery, ladies' wear, confectioner, fancy shop, glass dealer, greengrocer, shoe depot, toy business, gents' outfitters (managing 8 men), fancy dress, boots and shoes, oil shop, pawnbroker, wines and spirit merchant, silver plate warehouse).


cocoa factory, working men's institute, lunatic asylum, nursery, girls' reformatory, workhouse laundry, female labour in a workhouse, convalescent home, hospital, orphanage, preparatory school, girls' school, creche, school of cookery, school of music, training institution, prison, sanatorium, infirmary, Moravian chapel, missions, of hospital nurses, insurance company, college, home for 'fallen' women, home for 'reclaimed women', hotel, large lodging house, convent, seaman's rest, prison mission, alms houses, foreign governesses' home, home for destitute girls ...

Some specific examples:

Harriet Sheppard, 41. superintendent of Cheshunt College, Edmonton. Mary Anne Davies, 58, widow, superintendent of insurance company employing 34 men.
Georgina Allbourn, 18, assistant beer house manageress, Queens Arms, Broad St, Birmingham.
Eugine Allwright, 24, manageress of mission hall (chapel).
Amelia Burdett, 52, farm manageress (bailiff), Coomb Park Menagerie, Rugby.
Mary M. Chandler, 28, manageress of Albion Hotel, Hastings.
Hannah Cook, 25, manageress of skating rink, Coventry.
Georgiana Cox, 57, manageress of a restaurant for women, Kensington.
Hannah Henson, 46, manageress of Newport Pagnell Town Hall.
Emily Alexander, 21, manageress of Operations Room Exchange Telephone Co. Salford.
Mary Ann S. Swanboro, 77, manageress of Strand Theatre, London.
Isabella Bagnall, 29, manageress of Victoria Music Hall, 114 Grey St, Newcastle.

Public services telephone operator, telephone clerk, telegraphist, librarian, library assistant (in free public libraries), keepers or proprietors of private libraries, library label markers, museum attendant, museum assistant.

Helen Lindsay, London. Forewoman at Museum of Fire Arms.
Sarah Bates, 67, London. Attendant at British Museum.
Ellen Chapman, 33, Sheffield. Museum Caretaker Assistant.
Georgina Goote, 47, London. Writer at British Museum for the Canadian Government.
Mrs Charlotte Earl, 60, Eton. Keeper of Eton College Museum.
Mrs Harriet Foster, 46, London. Attendant at S.K. Museum.
Margaret Hollins, 62, Derby. Musician employed at the Museum.

State employees Postmistresses, sub-postmistresses, assistants and keeper-portresses. police and prison service as searchers (to search females). Civil servants: telegraphist and clerks. Workhouse staff: matron, nurse, schoolmistress, portress, work-mistress. Keepers of town halls, registrars of births and deaths...

Louisa Rescorla, 33, searcher at police station, Finsbury, London. (Late husband was a brewer's labourer; she was also emp. as a searcher in 1871.) Sarah K. Ashworth, 18, 'telegraph clerk civil service', Liverpool.
Mary Ann Allard, 30, post mistress at Pershore, Worcs.
Harriet Potter, 44, shopkeeper and sub-postmistress, South Malling, Lewes, Sx.
Emily Woodward, 24, clerk to postmistress, 185 Dudley Road, Wolverhampton.
Hannah Bamford, 75, superintendent registrar of births and deaths, 17 Nottingham Road,Ilkeston, Derby.

Railways Women worked in operations as level crossing gate keepers; in workshops as machinists and French polishers, in the laundries, as ladies' waiting room attendants, in station refreshment rooms, as office and train cleaners, and as clerks, station mistresses and telegraphists. See A Century of Railwaywomen

Florence McCarthy, aged 70, machinewoman, Stratford Railway Works. 56 Windmill Lane, Stratford.
Ann Franklin, 61, waiting room attendant, Metropolitan Railway, London.
Rose Holland, French polisher, Great Western Railway, Swindon.
Hannah Sexton, 62, gatekeeper and pointswoman, Grassmoor Crossing, Chesterfield.
Elizabeth Austin, 25, booking clerk in ticket office, Towchester.

Theatre and music hall staff dressing room attendant, stage dresser, property maker, dresser, wardrobe mistress, stall keeper, box keeper, barmaid, money taker, housekeeper, cleaner, bill painter, artiste, comedienne, actress, chorus girl, soubrette, ballet dancer, dancer

Priscilla Carter, 15, Painter of theatre bills, Leeds.
Eliza Spry, 34, box keeper at theatre, 3 Chapel Street Holborn.

Retail - shops Women worked as shop assistants and cashiers in almost every type of shop from selling clothing in garment shops or gold and tungsten wedding bands in jewellery stores. Portresses at Covent Garden market.

Retail - hawking Women hawked goods in the streets, books, fish, vegetables, fruit, matches, ribbons, shoelaces ...

Manufacturing Women worked in workrooms, factories and at home. In the clothing trade they made: dresses, mantles, cloaks, corsets, stays; shoes, boots, slippers; hats, straw hats, caps, fancy caps, bonnets; oilskin suits; vests, waistcoats, shirts, underwear, nightshirts, hosiery, ties, braces, gloves, belts; lace, pillow lace; buttons, linen buttons; spectacles, bags, umbrellas, parasols, waterproof coats; trusses and bandages; musical instruments; trimmings; thimbles; toys, dolls; paper flowers; waterproof paper; paper boxes; wooden boxes; baskets; cigars, matches, matchboxes; sacks, waterproof covers, tarpaulin, rick cloth, waterproof sheets, tents; liquorice cake nets; brushes, brooms, matting; rivets, nails, steel pens; blue...

Processes connected with manufacture bookbinding, book-stitching, bookbinding, French polishing, boot and shoe repairer, coal loader or heaver, potato sorter, potters' paintress...

Mary A Cullen, widow, 57, coal heaver, 2 Glenny Street, Liverpool.

Agricultural Labourer

Catering Potato peeler, waitress, cook,

Religious employmentWomen were deaconesses, superintendent deaconesses, sextonesses, bible-women, bible readers, scripture readers, missionaries, bible-mission women, sisters of mercy, lodge keepers and portresses at convent gates, church caretaker, pew opener.

Harriott E. Drury, 53, parochial deaconess of Tankersley, Tankersley Rectory, Middlesex.

Private or charitable medical institution (lunatic asylum, hospital, infirmary) employeesNurses, portresses, housekeepers

Office workclerk, legal copier

This website is 'work in progress' and therefore pages may not yet be started, let alone finished.

All pages © Helena Wojtczak 21/9/2017 (ads). Corrections and additions are warmly welcomed. Email me