Carol Gold. Women in Business in Early Modern Copenhagen, 1740-1835

Julie K. Allen
2020 Scandinavian-Canadian Studies  
Women have always worked-inside the home and outside the home, paid and unpaid, together with husbands or independently, legally and not. That this was also true of women in early modern Copenhagen is, in a nutshell, the point of University of Alaska-Fairbanks professor emerita Carol Gold's recent short book, Women and Business in Early Modern Copenhagen, 1740-1835, illustrated by several fascinating case studies of individual entrepreneurial Danish women, such as Elisabeth Christine Berling,
more » ... o ran Berlingske Tidende, the Godischeske Bogtrykkeri, and a brewery, and Elise Engelsen, who ran a school at the same address as-but independently from-her husband. Gold states her premise in the first line of the compact book and repeats it several times throughout, to make sure the reader has grasped it, arguing that the very ubiquity of working women in early modern Copenhagen explains their near-invisibility in the historical narrative (though she does not explain why men, who were also very present in the workforce of the time, are not equally invisible). Through meticulous archival research, Gold has been able to recuperate details of the lives of a great many early modern Danish women who worked for themselves, albeit only in the visible, legal economy, in Copenhagen between approximately 1740 and 1835. As Gold explains, her goal is not to offer a comprehensive survey of women's occupations in this period, but rather to provide a "study of those women who were legal and independent, whose work was registered in their own names. In other words, it is a study of the extent of the possible, of legal options that were available to women" (13). Gold has compiled a database of more than three thousand women who met these criteria, from which she draws her statistics, charts, and conclusions. In the book, she discusses several of the professions such women pursued, from lowly street vendors to market sellers, food service workers, producers, service industry workers (including midwives, barbers, schoolteachers, civil servants, and auctioneers), and business managers in many fields (e.g. printing, brewing, trade, manufacturing) who were prosperous enough to have substantial self-employment taxes required of them. She concludes that women were represented in nearly every professional arena of the day, except for the clergy, military, municipal government, and at sea. She also explores the ways in which these women's stories support and challenge the expectation that women primarily worked in family businesses. As befits a good historian, Gold spends a lot of time explaining her methodology and demonstrates comfortable mastery of the place and era she describes in such detail, making the book a pleasure to read for those interested
doi:10.29173/scancan190 fatcat:dntt2zpmfzefjjnxjg5dzjbapa