LIFE FOR WOMEN IN THE 18TH CENTURY
By Tim Lambert
In the 1700s girls from well off families went to boarding schools. Poor girls sometimes went to dame schools were they were taught to read and write. Also, in some towns there were charity schools called blue coat schools because of the color of uniforms. In Britain women were not allowed to attend university and the professions were closed to them. However in 1732 Laura Bassi was made professor of anatomy in Bologna, Italy.
There were many other famous women in the 18th century. Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) was a famous astronomer. Maria Kirch (1670-1720) was also a famous astronomer. Emilie du Chatelet (1706-1749) was a woman physicist and mathematician. Maria Agnesi (1718-1799) was also a famous mathematician. Catharine Macaulay (1731-1791) was a famous historian. In 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Hannah Glasse (1708-1770) was famous for her cookery books. Anne Seymour Damer (1749-1828) was a famous woman sculptor. Meanwhile Queen Anne was queen of Britain in the years 1702-1714. Catherine the Great was Empress of Russia in the era 1762-1796. In 1777 during the American War of Independence Sybil Ludington made a heroic ride.
Some women played a prominent part in religion in the 18th century. Anne Dutton (1692-1765) was a Baptist theologian. Sarah Crosby (1729-1804), Sarah Ryan (1724-1768) and Selina Countess of Huntingdon (1707-1791) were all prominent in the Methodist movement.
In the 18th century most jobs required a great deal of physical strength so men usually did them. Also housework was very time consuming. There were no convenience foods in the 18th century and no labor saving devices. Most married women did not work outside the home because they did not have time. Even middle class women were kept busy organizing the servants. However life could be hard for spinsters. Single women worked as spinners, tailoresses, milliners and washerwomen. Many women were domestic servants. Others were midwives and milkmaids.
In the 18th century pregnancy was difficult and hazardous. There were no anesthetics and women quite often died in childbirth. Infant mortality was high. About one child in four died before their fifth birthday. Most married women had several children but not all would survive.
Women wore stays (a bodice with strips of whalebone) and hooped petticoats under their dresses. Women in the 18th century did not wear knickers. Fashionable women carried folding fans. Fashion was very important for the rich in the 18th century but poor people's clothes hardly changed at all.In the 18th century pale skin was fashionable. So were dark eyebrows. Women also used rouge abundantly. Perfume was also common. In the early 18th century a new scent was made in Cologne. Later in the century it became known as Eau de Cologne. In the 18th century some women wore false eyebrows made of mouse fur. They were glued to the face.
Well off women enjoyed reading and playing musical instruments. They also went dancing and to the theater. Puppet shows like Punch and Judy also drew the crowds. Furthermore in the late 18th century the circus became a popular form of entertainment. Girls played with wooden or rag dolls.
Women in the 16th Century
Women in the 19th Century
Women in the 20th Century
Life in the 18th Century
A history of women's rights