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Woman's Work is Never Done

Women as Merchants


Madame Walsh MillineryMillinery shops were quite popular for fashionable lady's dresses, where shop owners influenced styles of dress. One of the most ornate millinery advertisements, this trade card is for Madame Walsh of Boston.
Taking in boarders or running inns allowed women to bring in income while staying at home to care for their children. This trade card advertises a boarding establishment run by a woman, offering "Partial or full Board, on moderate terms."
Mrs. Ely Boarding
trade card for Jane Eustis Women's primary work was within the household, but if the family's business included a shop, the women of the family might frequently be asked to help out. Some women did operate their own shops, and advertised their goods with trade cards, newspaper ads, and word-of-mouth. This trade card for Jane Eustis advertises imported goods from London sold at her shop in Boston. Trade cards were not originally called trade cards, but rather "shopkeepers bills," and sometimes doubled as receipts for customers, with the reverse side being used to total up the cost of purchased goods. This trade card includes a receipt for goods purchased on April 17, 1769. It is the oldest known trade card for a female merchant. Gift of Gary L. Milan. Click on the image to enlarge.


In seacoast towns, male shopkeepers were often mariners as well, which meant that they were out at sea for extended periods of time. This gave their wives and daughters the opportunity to run the shop alone. Many homemade items were sold in shops, including textiles, candles, soaps, and produce.

This is another early trade card for a female merchant who ran her own shop. Lydia Learned not only advertised her goods, but also the location of her shop by mentioning a nearby landmark. It was common to list a landmark or to have the shop's sign engraved on the card so that customers could locate the shop more easily.

Lydia Learned Trade Card
Family Newspaper Advertisement Newspaper advertising was an important way for merchants to reach potential customers. This ad for a "Family Newspaper" from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Feb. 2, 1861, states that it was successfully published by a woman. Notice the "agents wanted" section of the ad, which lists ladies along with the respected professions of teachers, postmasters, and clergymen.
Hannah Davis Trade Card Female merchants would have been at least semi-literate, and have had some understanding of accounting or a system of barter in order to properly keep account books. Barter was a common method of purchasing goods. This trade card from Jaffrey, New Hampshire advertises band-boxes made by a woman.


This image of a farmer's daughter on her way into the village to deliver poultry is called "Scenes in the Country." It was designed and lithographed by A. Kollner's Lithography in Philladelphia.

Scenes in the Country


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