During the eighteenth century, a number of shifts took place in urban commerce. These were not uniform nor did they happen everywhere at the same time, but they included changing structures and operation of guilds, alterations to burgher rights and a growing commercial culture based on increasing trade and consumption. The world of business was increasingly cast in a masculine mould, while tract literature progressively more often described women’s ‘proper place’ as the world of home and children. At the same time, these changes altered the gendered characteristics of many town economies, and transformed the structures within women had to operate. Yet, many women consciously continued to work in the commercial world, projecting their own image of themselves and of their businesses, defining and shaping their commercial enterprises within the urban world. Clearly there were social differences in the impact of these changes, and had little effect on how many women related to the Scottish urban economies—they needed to work and continued to do so, often in time-honoured ways. Many were entrepreneurial in small ways, while others were able to utilise a larger array of resources to develop and sustain their commercial activities. This chapter probes some of these lives looking primarily at the ways such women positioned themselves in their working world. Thus, we can hear women’s voices through their activities in the commercial market, through the ways they conducted business and the ways they used the materials of the business world, such as advertisements. It examines the gendered context and the ways that the idea of the town and constructions of gender reshaped the urban terrain. It analyses how women operated as a significant part of the commercial community, how they occupied many key spaces within it and how their physical presence as businesswomen, workers and consumers contributed to shaping the identity of women as well as the public face of the town. Specifically it will investigate how women utilised the opportunities open to them and how they negotiated the challenges. The focus is unashamedly on the entrepreneurial strategies women used and how they were active agents on forging their commercial identities.
Women in Eighteenth-century Scotland, 2013
women; gender; urban history; Scotland; Aberdeen; business history; Eighteenth century; history