While doing research for Gunpowder and Tea Cakes: My Journey With Felicity, I discovered that a few girls in colonial Williamsburg may have been doing work I once thought was open only to boys. Cool!
Certainly, girls were involved in traditional roles. I had the chance to ask interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg questions about cooking, for example.
And I saw several young women working in a dressmaker’s shop. Milliners specialized in making hats, and mantua-makers stitched gowns and accessories. Like all skilled trades, this work usually required an apprenticeship.
Colonial Williamsburg has a modern program that allows men and women to become apprentices and learn a specific skill. After learning the basics, apprentices graduate to journeywoman or journeyman status. The most skilled may one day become masters and run a shop.
I also saw several women who were apprentices in nontraditional roles. The young woman below was in the 2nd year of a 7-year apprenticeship at a joinery. Joiners produced things like window frames, doors, and shutters.
I discovered female apprentices learning to make wagon wheels,
And this woman was helping a man make a saddle in the military artificer’s shop. (An artificer, pronounced ar-TI-fi-cer, had the skills to make different items the army needed.)
“There were women in almost all the trades, if help was needed and they could do the work,” one interpreter told me.
If you had lived in colonial times, would you have wanted to become an apprentice? What skill would you like to learn?
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