Women’s Economic Participation in Colonial Philadelphia

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Throughout colonial history in America, the majority of women were characterized by a stereotypical profile which classified women as financially dependent. Earning a steady income and acquiring an occupation to fulfill such an income was uncommon. Women were typically setup for this situation. They often did not earn much inheritance due to the competition with their brother siblings and consequently relied on the income of their husbands. Taking care of the home and earning an income was perceived as too much for many women. The emergence of urban civilization revolutionized this concept of women not being able to provide for themselves financially. The urban setting and economy gave women more options in comparison to agricultural regions. This was exactly the case in Philadelphia where widowhood and being a single mother was often perceived as an economic dilemma since women had to generate much more wealth in the absence of a husband. More often than not, Philadelphia women managed just fine financially. Women called upon their own skills acquired through their experience maintaining the household to follow a career path fit for themselves as individuals. Many women became employed as white washers, painters, midwifes, and other positions of such nature of the household. Particularly, if widows weren’t employed under these gender- segregated occupations, they often found themselves continuing their husband’s work in a specialized field. A widow’s experience in helping her husband’s business often provided enough knowledge for a woman to carry out such operations like shoe making. Women who were employed or self-employed often ran businesses at a much smaller scale than men did. Over the eighteenth century, more and more women were becoming indentured servants and waged servitude became more prevalent. This caused the decline of indentured servitude within

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