All sorts of tools have been found in pre-Christian women’s graves. The only major craft which seems to have been restricted to men only was Blacksmithing. […]
Here are a few examples of jobs done by women in the medieval period:
brewer, laundress, barrel and crate maker, soap boiler, candle maker, book binder, doll painter, butcher, keeper of town keys, tax collector, shepherd, musician, rope maker, banker, money lender, inn keeper, spice seller, pie seller, woad trader, wine merchant, steel merchant, copper importer, currency exchanger, pawn shop owner, lake and river fisherwoman, baker, oil presser, builder, mason, plasterer, cartwright, wood turner, clay and lime worker, glazier, ore miner, silver miner, book illuminator, scribe, teacher, office manager, clerk, court assessor, customs officer, porter, tower guard, prison caretaker, surgeon and midwife. […]
There are records of women traders in 1205 in Genoa, Italy. In fact, 21% of people involved in trade contracts there in the 13th Century were women. Women also provided 14% of capital in seafaring ventures at the time.
Even earlier, in the 12th Century, there are records of women traders in Georgia, Eastern Europe. Paris tax registers for 1292, 1300, 1313 list lots of craftswomen, many of whom were in different trades to their husbands. […]
Girls might be educated at home, with private tutor, or at a Convent. There were also schools within towns. In some cases girls were excluded from these, or only allowed to enter elementary schools. In other cases they were allowed to enter secondary schools and obtain a much broader education, including Latin and other languages. Some schools were mixed, others were single sex. Town Councils and the Church had some control over schools and over the appointment of teachers. In 1388, a Jewish woman, Sarah of Gorlitz, donated a property to be used as a school for Jewish children.
Outside of the Guilds, women might be employed as unskilled labourers in vineyards, on building sites and so on. Many more women than men were employed because they could be paid less for doing the same work.
In Wurzburg, 1428-1449, for example, there are records of 323 female building site workers, paid 7.7 pfennings a day, and 13 male building site workers, paid 11.6 pfennings a day. In general, it seems that a wide range of professions were open to medieval women, although they were also subject to a variety of restrictions.
If anyone’s curious, uncovering the 19th and 20th century erasure of women’s contributions to the creation of medieval European illuminated manuscripts is what started me down my current slippery research slope sometime in 2009-2010. There was a school in Paris with a majority of women illuminators and scribes c. 1300.
P.S. Herrad Von Landsburg is my eternal fave:
A really important reminder for those of us who write fantasy or historical fiction…