Compte-rendu des journées d’étude « Rémunérations et usages du temps des femmes et des hommes dans le textile en Europe pendant l’industrialisation. Sources et méthodes de traitement »

Journées d’étude organisées dans le cadre du programme ANR TIME-US

Aix-en-Provence 20-21 octobre 2017


Ces deux journées d’étude, organisées à la Maison Méditerranéenne des Sciences de l’Homme dans le cadre du projet Time-Us, ont permis de réfléchir et de discuter des questions relatives au travail des hommes et des femmes dans l’industrie textile principalement en Europe du Nord (Angleterre, Belgique, Suède) et en Espagne de la fin du XVIIIème siècle au début du XXème siècle. Rassemblant des historiens de l’économie et des chercheurs en humanités numériques, ces journées d’étude ont permis d’aborder plusieurs questions centrales et essentielles aux réflexions menées dans le cadre du programme Time-Us. D’une part, l’ensemble des recherches présentées, menées sur le long terme ou bien nouvellement initiées, a mis en lumière le poids du travail des femmes aussi bien dans le développement économique au cours de l’industrialisation, mais également son apport financier non marginale au sein des ménages. D’autre part, ces différentes interventions ont abordé la question transverse de la temporalité. Certaines présentations ont mis l’accent sur la dimension temporelle propre à l’évolution du rôle économique des femmes au cours de leur vie et selon leur statut marital. D’autres ont axé leur réflexion sur la relation entre les cycles économiques au cours d’une année et la durée du temps de travail des ouvriers et ouvrières dans l’industrie textile.

La richesse de ces présentations a également permis d’ouvrir de nouvelles pistes quant à l’usage et à la nature des sources et des méthodes à mobiliser.


Manuela Martini – Université Lyon 2


Manuela Martini opened the conference by presenting the Time-Us project. The aim of the research program is to construct and analyse a documentary corpus on women’s and men’s work, their remuneration and household time budgets of textile workers in France between the end of the Seventeenth century and the beginning of the Twentieth century. She stressed two main questions which lead the Time-Us team’s researches: what is the link between economic growth and women’s contribution to household income? What is the relationship between paid work and women’s life cycle? The aim of Time-Us project is to renew interest in study of wages and wage differentials, but also to bring a new approach to the study of historical household budgets in the main French industrial cities (Paris, Lille, Marseille and Lyon). To lead the research project, different sources are mobilized such as accounting books, industrial censuses and survey, social conflicts and police and judicial courts records, trade organizations, guild sources and workers’ diaries.

As part of Time-Us project, several scientific seminars have been organized to promote, discuss and spread researches. The first one took place in Lyon in 27th and 28th march 2017 and was about uses of time and wages of men and women during the first industrialization (“Usages du temps et rémunérations des femmes et des hommes pendant la première industrialisation. Notions et perspectives empiriques”.) Furthermore, two international congresses are already scheduled : Manuela Martini (LARHRA), Anne Montech (TELEMME) and Ariadne Schmidt (University of Leiden) will organize session titled « Women’s wages and time allocation in Western Europe during pre-industrial and industrial times (16th-early 20th centuries) » at the European Social Science History Congress in Belfast (4th-7th april 2018). With Cristina Borderias (University of Barcelone) and Aurora Gomez Galvarriato (University of Mexico), Manuela Martini will coordinate a session during the World Economic History Congress in Boston titled “Coping with crisis: labor market, public policies and household economy. A comparative perspective on unequally industrialized regions from the mid-18th century to the interwar period – Mediterranean Europe, Central and Southern America” (29th july-3rd august 2018).


Peter Scholliers – Vrje Universiteit Brussel

A Gender Wage Gap in Cotton Weaving?  The Voorman Mill in Ghent, c. 1900

Debates on gender wage gaps in Europe (and, actually, the world) in the 19th and a large part of the 20th century have been blurred by studying very dissimilar categories of workers (with different tasks, working hours, skills, and labour market conditions). This has led to basically two views on wage inequality: the economic, and the social-cultural (or productivity differentiation versus discrimination / custom). Following recent research, this presentation focused on a single company (the Voortman cotton mill in Ghent), more particularly, its weaving section, aiming at making meaningful comparisons. Wage systems, working hours and actual weekly earnings of male and female workers has been studied between 1891 and 1914 (based on wage ledgers of the mill), including attention to the age of workers. Peter Scholliers’ study on the Voortman cotton mill in Ghent led to very interesting conclusions. He observed a small gender earning differentials which did not emerge out of working time or wage rates, but of working with different equipment. He emphasised the fact that the gap reveals very low wages of both men and women compared to other Ghent mills. To conclude, Peter Sholliers stressed that ideology of male breadwinner was unattainable between 1890 and 1914: women’s work was not additional, but fundamental for survival.


Maria Ågren – University of Uppsala

The Uses and Usefulness of Language Technology to the Gender and Work Project

While small-scale individual projects are often of very high quality, some scholarly problems are simply too big to be feasible for one person only. Such problems require a large group of scholars making concerted efforts to achieve the same objective. Moreover, we need not only several researchers who can divide the general problem into a set of sub-problems; we also need a common strategy for data collection and data sharing.

The problem of how men, women and children supported themselves in the early modern period is a good example of such a big problem. For many reasons it benefits hugely from a collaborative approach. The lack of good early modern occupational statistics (for Sweden) and the problematic character of many occupational titles forces the researchers to look for other types of data, namely information on time use or practices. Culling information on time use from handwritten sources is, however, a very time-consuming task. It requires both collaboration between the scholars who collect the data and access to good research infrastructure, i.e. databases where the information can be stored and searched systematically.

But even with a collaborative team and good database facilities, finding out how women and men supported themselves in the early modern period remains difficult for conceptual reasons. It is difficult analytically to discern and define “work” as opposed to “non-work” because of the “entangled” nature of much early modern work. Since so much work (both men’s and women’s) was unpaid and performed in many different places, it cannot be identified as that for which somebody is paid or that which takes place in the workshop (or some other place). Moreover, the division of work was flexible: both men and women performed most types of work and no one was a specialist. The flexible division of work went in hand with a household model described as “the open house”. Commercial and cooperative activities involved both genders and transcended the borders of the household. Maria Ågren also stressed that the division of work was structured along lines of marital status rather than gender: married women were regarded as capable of governing. Nevertheless, men were overrepresented in certain types of work (military, administrative) and women were overrepresented among the poor.

In her presentation, Maria Ågren has also discussed some of these problems in relation to the database GaW and the so-called verb-oriented method used within the Gender & Work project at Uppsala university. She has also presented the main results of the project so far, and suggested directions in which research might move.


Eva Pettersson – University of Uppsala

Automatic Extraction of Verb Phrases Describing Work from Early Modern Swedish Text

In the Gender and Work project, historians are interested in what men and women did for a living in the Early Modern Swedish society. To find out, historians manually read a number of documents from the time, to find and extract text passages describing how different persons supported themselves. During this work, the historians have come to the conclusion that working activities often are described in the form of verb phrases, such as to ‘sell fish’, ‘chop wood’, or ‘serve as a maid’.

In her work, Eva Petterson presented a method for automatically extracting verb phrases that are likely to describe work from Early Modern Swedish text, with spelling normalisation as a core component. In the spelling normalisation step, the historical input text is automatically normalised to a more modern spelling. This enables the use of existing tools for linguistic analysis of the text, trained on modern language. Based on the linguistic analysis, verb phrases are then automatically identified and ranked so that those that are more likely to describe working activities are presented at the top of the results list (in their original, historical spelling). The aim is that instead of reading whole books in the search for relevant text passages, the historians would only need to go through a list of automatically extracted text passages, keeping those of interest, and discarding the rest.


Jane Humphries – All Souls College, University of Oxford

Benjamin Schneider – Merton College, University of Oxford

Spinning the Industrial Revolution

The prevailing explanation for why the Industrial Revolution occurred first in Britain during the last quarter of the eighteenth century is Robert Allen’s (2009) ‘high-wage economy’ view, which claims that the high cost of labor relative to capital and fuel incentivized innovation and the adoption of new techniques. This paper has presented new empirical evidence on hand spinning before the Industrial Revolution and has demonstrated that there was no such ‘high-wage economy’ in spinning, a leading sector of industrialization. The authors have quantified the working lives of frequently ignored female and child spinners who were crucial to the British textile industry with evidence of productivity and wages from the late sixteenth to the early nineteenth century. Spinning emerges as a widespread, low-productivity, low-wage employment, in which wages did not rise substantially in advance of the jenny and water frame. The motivation for mechanization must be sought elsewhere.


Carmen Sarasúa – Universidad Autonoma Barcelona

Remuneration and Working Time of Men and Women Textile Workers in Eighteenth-century Spain: Methodological Problems

The textile sector was the largest industrial sector in 18th century Europe, both in GDP and labor terms. Scarcely mechanized and very labor-intensive, it was also the largest source of employment outside agriculture. The textile labor force was also heavily feminized, with women’s low wages likely having a main role in this feminization.  Collecting data on textile wages poses however methodological problems that need to be addressed in advance. This paper has discussed these problems, focusing on the wool industry in 18th century Spain. 


 Sophie McGeevor – The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, University of Cambridge

Imputing Wages for Housework using the Household Monographs of Frédéric Le Play

Frédéric Le Play’s household budgets and those of his followers contain systematic observations of the time-use of men, women and children in the mid nineteenth to early twentieth century. These budgets provide some of the earliest insights into the time-demands of women’s non-market work. In these budgets, Le Play imputes wages ‘in kind’ for some, but not all, housework. This paper has first explored why Le Play does this more than a hundred years before any economist is seriously considering the value of women’s housework to their families or wider society. Using Le Play’s English monographs, Sophie McGeevor has then demonstrated how contemporary sources of women’s wages can be used, in conjunction with Le Play’s household budgets, to create a more complete picture of the economic value of women’s work in this period. 


Amy L. Erickson – University of Cambridge

Fans and Fanny Burney: Hidden Manufacturing in Eighteenth-century London


The Burney family, including the writer Frances (Fanny) and the musician Charles, is one of the most-studied families of 18th-century England. This paper has introduced Fanny’s mother and grandmother – both fan-makers, although their trade has never been noticed in the extensive historiography. Managed in domestic workshops, there are no factory records or account books to help us understand the division of labour in fan-making. This presentation has used the discovery of one fan-making family through trade cards and tax records to open a window on the industry. Fan-making employed women as well as men, and the trade was managed by both women and men. London was a major center of fan production in the 18th century when the fashion was at its peak. (In a northern climate, fans were only ever a fashion accessory, but London manufacturers exported fans to Spain where they had more functional uses.) Fans were only one of many ephemeral luxury goods which produced a solid income for tens of thousands of women, and the tax records help us to model their numbers.


Tabitha Baker – University of Warwick

Re-assessing Women’s Work: Evidence from the Professional Embroidery Trade of Eighteenth-century France

Analysing the embroidery trade in eighteenth-century France necessitates a re-examination of gender roles in the world of early-modern work and artisanship. Frequently referred to as ‘women’s work’, ‘domestic’ and ‘feminine’ by both contemporary eighteenth-century commentators and modern-day scholars alike, such connotations neglect to account for the dynamic gender roles which occurred in this ancillary trade of the luxury market. During the early-modern period embroidery was increasingly professionalized as a result of the accelerated growth of luxury consumption across Europe. By the eighteenth century it was a well-established luxury trade in France and the rise in popularity of embroidered textiles from the 1770s onwards, particularly men’s waistcoats, opened up new opportunities for those working in the embroidery trade. However, it was men, especially in Paris, who dominated this activity which had at its core an inherently ‘female’ skill. How, then, did the professionalization of a traditionally domestic occupation affect women as wage earners and what sources can be used to interrogate this? Archival sources naturally promote the visibility of male embroiderers, particularly in Paris where the guild of embroiderers strictly regulated their trade and excluded women from the highest ranks of the occupation. Evidence of female embroiderers in the Parisian archives is scarce, and where they do appear, are mostly associated with their husband or father, or are the object of legal action waged by the guild. Yet in 1770, Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin declared in L’Art du brodeur that embroidery was an occupation in which women could earn one of the highest wages for their sex; as the only contemporary commentary on the trade, the way in which female embroiderers are portrayed in L’Art du brodeur is telling. Taking Saint-Aubin’s treatise as a useful starting point, this paper has investigated the accuracy of his assertions and has investigated the socio-economic reality of women in the embroidery trade of eighteenth-century France. With a comparative focus on Paris and Lyon, and using a variety of archival sources including legal disputes, bankruptcy papers, and the account books of merchants, T. Baker has examined the working practices, wages and career trajectories of female embroiderers in the second half of the eighteenth century. Finally, to what extent did the rise in popularity of embroidery in the 1770s equate to increased opportunities for women in the world of early-modern work? 


Malin Nilsson – University of Gothenburg

Seasonal Variation of Hours Worked in Home-based Industrial Production: Evidence from Sweden 1912

This study investigates patterns of seasonal variation in hours worked by women employed in home-based industrial production in Sweden 1912. Previous studies often describe workers in this type of production as the most flexible segment of industrial workers, and highly dependent on seasonal fluctuations in supply and demand. However, few have studied this empirically. This study relies on data from interviews with home-based workers. Principal Component Analysis is used to identify seasonal patterns and OLS regressions to identify the factors driving these fluctuations.

The results show surprisingly stable patterns in hours worked, most women worked 8 to 10 hours per day all year. Thus, while home-based workers were flexible in the sense that they all worked on piece-work contracts and provided their own means of production and place of work, their work was not essentially irregular or largely fluctuating by supply or demand-driven seasonal variations.

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