Hostname: page-component-6b989bf9dc-lb7rp Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-14T17:48:45.280Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Women in the Underground Business of Eighteenth-Century Lyon

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 February 2015


Women's work has often been portrayed as unskilled and lowpaid labor done for the benefit of others. But the role of female enterprise in eighteenth-century Lyon presents another dimension: non-guild women workers who secured control of raw materials, labor,and distribution networks within an underground economy. In an unusual twist of fortune,a small but significant number of women in the silk,hat-making, and button-making industries turned to their own benefit the advantages customarily provided to male entrepreneurs. These women workers stole materials from the guild workshops in which they were employed. Having learned the technology needed to manufacture silk,hats,and buttons from guild masters,they set up clandestine workshops and trained their own workers. Even in the face of official guild protest,their low prices and competent workmanship induced some masters to buy their goods to reduce the cost of their own products. The women used a set of capitalist practices to survive in a difficult transitional era of superficially regulated norms.

Copyright © Enterprise and Society 2000

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Bibliography of Works Cited


Bennett, Judith M. Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World, 1300-1600. New York, 1996.Google Scholar
Berg, Maxine. The Age of Manufactures, 1700-1820. Oxford, U.K., 1986.Google Scholar
Bray, Francesca. Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in Late Imperial China. Berkeley, Calif., 1997.Google Scholar
Cockburn, Cynthia. Machinery of Dominance: Women, Men and Technical Know-How. London, 1985.Google Scholar
Garden, Maurice. Lyon et les lyonnais aux XVIIIe siecle. Paris, 1986.Google Scholar
Godart, Justin. L’ouvrier en soie. Lyon, 1899.Google Scholar
Howell, Martha. Women, Production and Patriarchy in Late Medieval Cities. Chicago, 1986.Google Scholar
Hufton, Olwen. The Prospect before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe, 1500-1800. New York, 1996.Google Scholar
Jones, P. M. Reform and Revolution in France: The Politics of Transition, 1774-1791. New York, 1995.Google Scholar
Kaplow, Jeffry. Elbeuf during the Revolutionary Period: History and Social Structure. Baltimore, Md., 1964.Google Scholar
Klimrath, Henri. Etudes sur les coutumes. Paris, 1837.Google Scholar
Levasseur, Emile. Histoire des classes ouvrières et de l’industrie en France avant 1789, 2d ed. 2 vols. Paris, 1901.Google Scholar
Minard, Philippe. La fortune du colbertisme: Etat et industrie dans la France des lumières. Paris, 1998.Google Scholar
Oldenziel, Ruth. Making Technology Masculine. Amsterdam, 1999.Google Scholar
Pariset, Ernest. Histoire de la fabrique lyonnaise. Lyon, 1901.Google Scholar
Rodier, Paul. The Romance ofFrench Weaving. New York, 1936.Google Scholar
Sonenscher, Michael. The Hatters of Eighteenth-Century France. Berkeley, Calif., 1987.Google Scholar
Sonenscher, Michael. Work and Wages: Natural Law, Politics, and the Eighteenth-Century French Trades. New York, 1989.Google Scholar
Stewart-McDougall, Mary Lynn. The Artisan Republic: Revolution, Reaction, and Resistance in Lyon, 1848-1851. Kingston, Ont., 1984.Google Scholar
Wiesner, Merry E. Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe. New York, 1993.Google Scholar
Wiesner, Merry E. Working Women in Renaissance Germany. New Brunswick, N.J., 1986.Google Scholar
Berg, Maxine. “New Commodities, Luxuries and Their Consumers in Eighteenth-Century England.” In Consumers and Luxury: Consumer Culture in Europe 1650-1850, ed. Maxine, Berg and Helen, Clifford. Manchester, U.K., 1999, pp. 6385.Google Scholar
Cavet, Jules. “De l’organisation de la famille d’après la coutume de Normandie,Revue de législation et de jurisprudence, n.s., 2 (May-Aug. 1848): 63127.Google Scholar
Cottereau, Alain. “The Fate of Collective Manufactures in the Industrial World: The Silk Industries of Lyons and London, 1800-1850.” In World of Possibilities: Flexibility and Mass Production in Western Industrialization, ed. Charles F., Sabel and Jonathan, Zeitlin. New York, 1997, pp. 75–152.Google Scholar
Crowston, Clare. “Engendering the Guilds: Seamstresses, Tailors, and the Clash of Corporate Identities in Old Regime France,French Historical Studies 23 (Spring 2000): 339-71.Google Scholar
Fairchild, Cissie. “The Production and Marketing of Populuxe Goods in Eighteenth-Century Paris.” In Consumption and the World of Goods, ed. John, Brewer and Roy, Porter. London, 1993, pp. 228–48.Google Scholar
Hafter, Daryl M.The ‘Programmed’ Brocade Loom and the Decline of the Drawgirl.” In Dynamos and Virgins Revisited: Women and Technological Change in History, ed. Martha Moore, Trescott. Metuchen, N.J., 1979, pp. 4966.Google Scholar
Hafter, Daryl M.. “Women Who Wove in The Eighteenth-Century Silk Industry of Lyon.” In European Women and Preindustrial Craft, ed. Daryl M., Hafter. Bloomington, Ind., 1995, pp. 4264.Google Scholar
Hanley, Sara. “Family and State in Early Modern France: The Marriage Pact.” In Connecting Spheres: Women in the Western World, 1500 to the Present, ed. Marilyn J., Boxer and Jean H., Quataert. New York, 1987, pp. 5363.Google Scholar
Hilaire-Perez, Liliane. “Le Vol de déchets dans l’industrie en France et en Angleterre au XVIIIe siècle. Jalons pour une histoire comparée de l’embezzlement.” In La Petite délinquance du Moyen Age à l’époque contemporaine, ed. Benoit, Garnot. Dijon, 1998, pp. 281308.Google Scholar
Kaplan, Steven L.Les Corporations, les ‘faux-ouvriers et le faubourg Saint-Antoine au XVIIIeme siecle,Annales E.S.C. 40 (March-April 1988): 253–88.Google Scholar
Kaplan, Steven L.The Luxury Guilds in Paris in the Eighteenth Century.Francia 9 (1981): 257–98.Google Scholar
Kaplan, Steven L.Reflexions sur la police du monde du travail, 1700-1815.Revue Historique 261, no. 1 (1979): 1777.Google Scholar
Kowaleski, Maryanne. “Women’s Work in a Market Town: Exeter in the Late Fourteenth Century.” In Women and Work in Preindustrial Europe, ed. Barbara A., Hanawalt. Bloomington, Ind., 1986, pp. 145–66.Google Scholar
Miller, Lesley Ellis. “Paris-Lyon-Paris: Dialogue in the Design and Distribution of Patterned Silks in the 18th Century.” In Luxury Trades and Consumerism in Ancien Régime Paris, ed. Robert, Fox and Anthony, Turner. Aldershot U.K., 1998, pp. 139–67.Google Scholar
Papier (Art de fabriquer le).Encyclopèdie méthodique: Arts et métiers mécaniques. Paris, 1788, vol. 5, p. 550.Google Scholar
Portemer, Jean. “Le Statut de la femme en France depuis la Reformation des coutumes jusqu’ a la reduction du code civil.Recueils de la société Jean Bodin: La Femme 12 (1962): 447–59.Google Scholar
Reyerson, Kathryn L.Women in Business in Medieval Montpellier.” In Women and Work in Preindustrial Europe, ed. Hanawalt, Barbara A.. Bloomington, Ind., 1986, pp. 117–44.Google Scholar
Rogue, . Jurisprudence consulaire et instruction des négociants, 2 vols. Angers, 1773.Google Scholar
Rule, John. “The Property of Skill in the Period of Manufacture.” In The Historical Meanings of Work, ed. Joyce, Patrick. New York, 1987, pp. 99118.Google Scholar
Samuel, Raphael. “The Workshop of the World: Steam Power and Hand Technology in Mid-Victorian Britain,History Workshop 3 (Spring 1977): 672.Google Scholar
Scott, Joan Wallach. “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis.” In Gender and the Politics of History, ed. Scott, . New York, 1988, pp. 2850.Google Scholar
Sonenscher, Michael. “Journeymen, the Courts and the French Trades, 1781–91.Past and Present (Feb. 1987), 77109.Google Scholar
Tortora, Phyllis G., and Merkel, Robert S.. “Siamoises.” In Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles, 7th ed. New York, 1996, p. 516.Google Scholar
Wiesner, Merry E.Paltry Peddlers or Essential Merchants: Women in the Distributive Trades in Early Modern Nuremburg.Sixteenth Century Journal 12 (Summer 1971): 314.Google Scholar
Archives Départementales de la Seine Maritime, Rouen. Google Scholar
Archives Nationales, Paris.Google Scholar
Archives Municipales de Lyon. Google Scholar
Bibliothèque Municipal Lyon. Google Scholar
Blonde, Geneviève. “Les Communautés rouennaises d’arts et métiers à la vieille de la Révolution et leur liqudation.Diplôme d’Etudes Supérieur d Histoire, Caen, 1962.Google Scholar
Ferguson, Dean T. “Association, Conflict and the Policing of Lyon’s Revendeuses.Paper presented to the Society for French Historical Studies, Scottsdale and Tempe, Arizona, 30 March 2000.Google Scholar
Hafter, Daryl M. “Guild Women and Industrial Workers in Eighteenth-Century Rouen and Lyon.” Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar