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This is my (sometimes) daily A-to-Z drawing warmup. Currently a series of Victorian Working Women drawn from the 1881 Census, as a reminder to writers of Victorian-set stuff that most Victorian women weren't just divided between Prostitutes or Ladies! Between a third and a half of women of working age listed a profession on the census.
I can be found on Twitter at twitter/sydneypadua.

I am an animator currently drawing a graphic novel, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, for Pantheon Books.

N is for Newsagent!

A newsagent sells papers from a stand, just like they do now; a News Room, according to Household Words, was a little room you could read all the papers in for, obviously, a penny:

How so much paper and print could be spread open in such a space was a marvel… every number of all these was supplied on the day of publication; and there was such an embarrassment of riches that one was nearly smothered in paper. The readers sat or stood or screwed themselves up as they might…

A notable lady Newsagent: Anna Smith, who started a newsstand with her husband in 1795. He died shortly after and she built the business into a successful line of stationers and newstands, which is now, of course, W.H. Smith.

I’ve been forgetting to put these up on Tumblr! 

A little background- these are all drawn from the 1881 Census of women’s professions. There was not a single profession starting with K, by the way. 

Journalist: A notable Victorian female journalist: Margaret Harkness. Of course on the American side I hope everyone has heard of Nellie Bly, who went around the world in 72 days!

Locksmith: Locksmiths were interesting and somewhat shady characters.. and it never occurred to me to wonder who hung all the bells and strung the wires that criss-cross Victorian mansions, to summon servants and provide passage for poisonous snakes! That would be a neat character for a story.

Miners: Women were barred by law from working underground in 1842 (possibly not coincidentally, the highest paid job in the mines); but fought for the right to keep working above ground (and to wear trousers, also against the law) throughout the century despite attempts at paternalistic legislation. Some terrific pictures of the famous trouser-clad “Pit Brow Lasses” of Wigan here.

Pit Brow Lass

I is for Indoor Servant

The biggest category by miles, making up nearly 1 in 10 of working age women. Ubiquitous wallpaper in endless novels and the butt of a million Punch cartoons, but seldom seriously characterised. Rosanna Spearman in The Moonstone comes to mind as an exception.

'Innkeeper or Publican' was the first drawing I did as inspiration for this series, so I've put her in as well. My alternatives were slim— a smattering of Ink Manufacture Workers, India Rubber melter-downers, and the somewhat mysterious 50 'Inland Navigation' women who were not however Bargewomen (lock-keepers, perhaps?); and a few dozen 'Image Makers and Dealers' who are distinct from Photographers or Artists— printmakers I suppose?

H is for Horse Breaker!

Can’t believe it took me this long to get around to a chance to draw a bunch of horses! I suspect there were a lot more than 49 women working in horse training in a capacity not captured by the census; the ‘horsey’ middle- or- upper-middle-class woman engaged in horse-swapping, schooling, and dealing appears in a number of Victorian novels. I highly recommend The Irish R.M., which contains Miss Bobbie Bennet as a classic of the type.

A real-life version is none other than Ada Lovelace’s daughter Lady Anne Blunt, famous in her own right for her travels in Arabia— she was the first western woman to cross the Arabian desert— and for her foundational importation and breeding of Arabian horses (you’ll find her in any history of the Arab horse, with her famous Crabbet Stud).

Here she is:

I’m trying to wrap my head around a woman of the 1860s being described as a ‘remarkable long-distance runner’ in her sister-in-law’s memoirs, which also say, “while in the prime of her strength she habitually rode a buck-jumper, which afterwards “put down” the crack Australian rough-rider of the day. Perhaps this was her proudest achievement.” 

I doubt she described herself as a ‘horse proprietor’ in the census though!

G is for Grocer
A LOT of grocers, and that’s not even counting 25,772 General Shopkeepers and 6,855 Greengrocers.

G is for Grocer

A LOT of grocers, and that’s not even counting 25,772 General Shopkeepers and 6,855 Greengrocers.

F is for Fishing Rods, Etc. 

I’m enjoying finding out about all these random jobs the Victorians had, and this was nice excuse to watch a soothing video of someone making a fishing rod. Given the conditions of Victorian labour I reckon a maker of fishing rods wouldn’t have much time to get in actual fishing of her own, but she’s sneaking a little test-drive here.

It’s way easier to find the exact number of women employed making fishing rods, than it is to find the racial composition of England at the time, as the census didn’t include racial data. The best the National Archives can do is quote Lord Mansfield in 1772 as estimating some 15,000 people of African descent living in England, but right up until the 20th century the actual statistic seems to be a complete guess! The Old Bailey online, a wonderful resource, has some further reading.

How could I resist the Electrical Apparatus Maker? A bit more unusual than one of the 17,877 Earthenware manufactury workers or 2,550 Embroiderers. The 301 Engine Machine Makers sounded neat but I was a bit fuzzy as to what they would be doing. These little spark generators were popular toys and ‘medical’ devices so that’s what that is.. note she is also sporting a magnetic corset.

Dealer in Dogs

Bit of a rush job on this one, but the Ds are a bit dull I must admit— a dollop of Dye Makers and Dyers, and a few dozen Die Makers. If the Dealer in Dogs looks a bit shady I’m being influenced by Henry Mayhew’s entertaining writeup on 'Dog Finders' - through an odd loophole in the law, dogs were not actually considered property, so you could steal and resell dogs, even back to their owners, with relative impunity. This dog-seller looks like he’s doing well for himself though.

To be honest I think the majority of this statistic would have been Bird Dealers, but that doesn’t start with a D.

C is for Carmen, Carriers, and Carters

I’m going to tend to be biased towards any professions involving a horse, so here’s a Carter. I got the dog from this wonderful description of Carters and Carmen — “He is invariably attended by a dog, which might have been trained by Ducrow, for it is capable of riding upon anything, from a cask to the end of a sugar-cane, and all it seems to delight in is balancing itself on all kinds of imaginable things, and barking at every object that passes”. Women were a very small set of the 29,000 in this profession in England and Wales in 1881, they would have to be tough characters.

I bypassed the 302,367 women employed in Cotton Manufacture— the third largest group; also charwomen, costermongers, confectioners (13,051!), chandlers, chemists (631) coal-dealers, and a surprising number of Clerks- almost 6000, and another 3000 in the civil service, a profession I thought was all-male.

B is for Bookbinder

For today’s Victorian Working Woman, I could have done one of the 7,633 Bakers or 4,185 Brush-Makers or 3,496 Butchers. Or one of 3,728 Beer-Dealers. Or one of thousands of Button-, Brick-, Bolt-, or Blanket- Manufacturers. Or Worker in Brass or a Worker in Bone. There’s 347 Blacksmiths, 85 Brick-Layers, 86 Bank Service Workers, 76 Bicycle Makers! which I long to sketch. There’s even 5 Bankers. But I opted for a Bookbinder. 

1881 Census of Women’s Occupations

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