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Can anyone suggest documentation or literature that references the participation of women in historical blacksmithing shops?

I am beginning to demonstrate in reenactment settings here in Florida, and am hearing more and more questions about this subject. I have always assumed anyone in the vicinity of a blacksmithing shop that was able to do the work, or at least assist by working the bellows or swinging a sledge would be involved in some aspect of it, whether they were male or female. I'm sure it was less common for women to work in the shops, but believe it was more common than history tells us.

Has anyone come across readings or other references they could pass my way? 

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I don't have a site for you but I believe most nails and pins were forged by women. I don't recall specifically but I THINK the article said it was largely a way to make some money around the fire place, didn't require the strength and was acceptable as women's work. At least it wasn't public like working in a smithy would be.

Later during the industrial revolution such light and precision work was being done by women everywhere and various smithing jobs in factories were available.

Just don't quote me on any of that, it's what I recall from reading I don't know how long ago.

Frosty The Lucky.

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Well most of my information is for Medieval and Renaissance times what era are you re-enacting?

As I recall the guild laws in one place/time stated that Women could only work in the shop of their Father, Husband or Son.

There are several paintings that show women forging due to the urban legend that a woman forged the nails for the crucifixion. None that I recall show them in appropriate forging garb...

Women were also used in the small chain forging in England during the early industrial revolution.  Also look for their participation in the Sheffield cutlery industry; though as polishers IIRC.  (and you can always remind folks of Calamity Jane...)

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Some were i also came across an article suggesting that mail may have been made by women is some circumastances (after simi idustial iron works brought down the cost of soft wire and before mail became  Obsolite, of corse my old phone went for a swim and my mind is still some what addled after raising two girls ;-). 

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I believe there was a picture of a female blacksmith in one of the illustrated bibles from the 1300's. She may of been a chain maker or nailer according to some. There was a Welsh woman known for being a blacksmith, playing the harp, rowing men across a lake and only beating her husband twice. I can remember references where someone had looked back through records for England having females in the guild having male apprentices. That would of been in the 1800's, for those records. I can also remember another archealogist saying the Vikings definitely did not have women blacksmiths. I can not remember who searched any of that up though. Like Thomas mentioned I had heard of locations where the laws restricted women's participation to being an employee of usually a relative. Not much reason to restrict someones participation if there weren't people doing it.

Note unfortunately my memory of someone else looking stuff up is NOT historical documentation. But may hopefully give a help.

Edited by Rashelle
additional comment

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ok had a moment to dig and found Hedroit the blacksmith with his wife forging nails. 14th century AD:

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/426364289699405293/

This is one of the pictures I remember. though I was using it for documentation of my medieval anvil...

Edited by ThomasPowers

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If you google women blacksmithing pics you will get a lot of good pics.  Women were great chain makers for chain 1/2" and under.

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I've got a reference to a widow (who remarried) who sued some other smith for the right to retain her late husband's makers mark, in London in 1452.

This doesn't necessarily mean she was in the work herself, just that she was the proprietress of a forge.

From "Knives and Scabbards", J. Cowgill et al, Museum of London Publications, 1987 (please excuse wobbly reference protocol!).

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A smith's widow marrying his oldest/best Journeyman was fairly typical way for her to retain the business and him to get access to the capital to become a Master Smith. (in medieval/Renaissance times)

Edited by ThomasPowers

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If I can find it i have a copy of an academic report on women blacksmiths in the middle ages

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A smith's widow marrying his oldest/best Journeyman was fairly typical way for her to retain the business and him to get access to the capital to become a Master Smith. (in medieval/Renaissance times)

​In the case of the woman sueing for the touchmark, she had remarried a man of a different profession, a tanner I think it was, and by my reading of the situation it was one of the journeymen or apprentices who she was sueing. If the woman was wealthy enough, I guess she could retain the business anyway.

 

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Bit more involved that that with the guild system.  They controlled who could have a shop and in certain places and times could go tear down a "non-guild approved facility".

I would need to read the suit; but could it be that she was actually wanting to leverage more money from the shop and so wanting them to pay for the use of a known stamp?

 

For a fun little example of the how things could work read in "A History of Western Technology" MIT Press, about the difficulties a red metal turner in Nuremberg had with the guild when he kept inventing better metal lathes.

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All I know about the case (possibly all that is known, I'm sure the author would have mentioned more if there had been more) is that she was a smith's widow, remarried to a member of the Skinner's guild, sueing for the rights to a stamp, her dead husband's, a double crescent, that was being used by one John Morth.

The Cutler's Guild petitioned the court on behalf of John Morth, but the suite was found in the woman's favour.  

I guess the suite was just about the use of the mark, who knows? I wonder what John Morth would think about the fact that people are still talking about him and that ******* mark!

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For a fun little example of the how things could work read in "A History of Western Technology" MIT Press, about the difficulties a red metal turner in Nuremberg had with the guild when he kept inventing better metal lathes.

​I've heard stories about how things were with the Trade Unions in this country in the 70's. Yikes.

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Yes, maximum brush and pait bucket sizes, cast iron sanitary pipe insted of plastic, max framing hammer size, no nail guns, cant work in the traid unless hou belong to the union, cant get into the union unless your sponserd in, all good stuff. Unfortunantly unions are needed to counter some bad players in the buisness sector, but this can be seriusly abused in non right to work states. Lots of things done for the comon good have become comon evils. 

Edited by Charles R. Stevens

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This has all been very helpful. Here are some really cool articles and songs I was shown on a Facebook forum yesterday-Women Do Iron, when I posed this question. These are in regards to women chain makers in the early 1900s in the U.K. Interesting component of this history is the huge wage difference, and debate over it. How silly of me to have not anticipated this aspect of the history I am searching for! Anyways- cool stuff to read with lots of first hand accounts of the work being done at the time by women- http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/mrc/explorefurther/images/cradleyheath/

So now that it appears some of this history has in fact been recorded, would anyone happen to have details on late 1800s and early 1900s history here in the U.S.? Also I'm wondering what the historical differences may be for these labor politics involving women in the south vs the north for that time period. Florida will be the area I am demonstrating most and would love specifics on the region.

Any history lesson on the subject is greatly appreciated of course and this thread is becoming quite a good read :)

Thanks all!

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Many if not most of the Black Country nail makers were women. Many of the terraced houses there had a forge out the back and the whole family were involved in the business. I have read of the children and women doing the light stuff while the husbands were at work in the large chain and anchor making factories. Most of the nail industry was done on tick. The iron masters provided the raw material and specified the nail size and the maker would deliver a sack of nails, collecting more metal and getting a bit of money on top.

The only woman master blacksmith I have heard of worked at Blenheim Palace and I was told her mark had been found on some of the gates there. I am on a slow internet connection on holiday here, but do search on woman blacksmith Blenheim Palace, probably don't need "woman". I think her name was Elizabeth Bennet, as in the heroine of Pride and Predjudice. 

The only other historical woman/blacksmith connection that comes to mind at the moment is that the wife of Jean Tijou was reported to have come back over from France to collect the money owed to him in England from his major works here.

For industrial revolution nail and chain making English references you could contact the Ironbridge Gorge museum, at Blists Hill, and the Black Country museum in Dudley.

Good luck, and let us know what you find out.

Alan

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Oh I just remembered one of the founders of the girl scouts, Name not remembered but went by "Daisy" I think was an accomplished blacksmith. Her family estate still has pictures of the gates she made. Something for me, at least, to dream of emulating.

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I was thinking that was a fairly recent picture due to the art; I like it a lot though.  And I have experience where working in an ice cold shop the warm anvil was a very nice place to sit waiting on a heat!

 

Funny thing I use a farrier's rasp to work down a couple of calluses on my feet on a regular basis....

Edited by ThomasPowers

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Funny thing I use a farrier's rasp to work down a couple of calluses on my feet on a regular basis....

​Do you keep this rasp seperate?

Please say yes.

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Separate from what?  (and yes this rasp is dedicated to the task---but it was a used rasp)

 

Charles you had a typo there; here I'll fix it for you: "always suspected you had cloven hooves!"

I once cast a deer's hoof in brass to make the foot of a staff so my footprints would look like I had someone with cloven hoofs walking by me....

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