Guilds, gender policies and economic opportunities for women in early modern Dutch towns

van den Heuvel, Danielle (2013) Guilds, gender policies and economic opportunities for women in early modern Dutch towns. In: Simonton, Deborah and Montenach, Anne, eds. Female Agency in the Urban Economy: Gender in European Towns, 1640-1830. Routledge, Abingdon. ISBN 9780415537292. (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided)

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The Dutch Republic is widely regarded as one of the countries in early modern Europe in which women enjoyed exceptional freedom. This freedom was especially large in Dutch towns, where women not only formed the majority of the population, but also played an important role in economic life. It is often argued that the very liberal institutional framework, particularly the favourable treatment of women by guilds, resulted in high levels of female labour force participation not seen elsewhere in pre-industrial Europe. This chapter presents a reassesment of this notion by closely investigating guild regulation in one of the most important economic sectors for women: retailing. In most Dutch towns the retail sector was governed by local retailers’ guilds whose regulation prescribed who could engage in retail activities, and what activities one could engage in. It is generally assumed that retailers’ guilds were amongst the most accessible guilds, as they often lacked policies that discriminated according to gender. By assessing both written and unwritten guild rules, the chapter compares how access to the retail sector was regulated in different urban areas in the Dutch Republic, including towns in the liberal west and in the more restrictive east of the country. One of the most important findings is that even though the policies of many retailers’ guilds did not specifically exclude women, they seem to have had significantly fewer opportunities in retailing than men. Why was it easier for men than for women to become guild members even when guild policies did not explicitly exclude women? What does this mean for our understanding of the impact of urban institutions on the agency of women in early modern towns?

Item Type: Book section
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
Divisions: Faculties > Humanities > School of History
Depositing User: Danielle van den Heuvel
Date Deposited: 25 Sep 2012 10:39
Last Modified: 13 Nov 2014 16:10
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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