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Women in the Underground Business of Eighteenth-Century Lyon

  • Daryl M. Hafter


Women's work has often been portrayed as unskilled and lowpaid labor done for the benefit of others. But the role of female enterprise in eighteenth-century Lyon presents another dimension: non-guild women workers who secured control of raw materials, labor,and distribution networks within an underground economy. In an unusual twist of fortune,a small but significant number of women in the silk,hat-making, and button-making industries turned to their own benefit the advantages customarily provided to male entrepreneurs. These women workers stole materials from the guild workshops in which they were employed. Having learned the technology needed to manufacture silk,hats,and buttons from guild masters,they set up clandestine workshops and trained their own workers. Even in the face of official guild protest,their low prices and competent workmanship induced some masters to buy their goods to reduce the cost of their own products. The women used a set of capitalist practices to survive in a difficult transitional era of superficially regulated norms.



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