From the Historical Research Files: Professional Women in Past Times
Women have always worked.
There. I know that goes against received wisdom for some people, but it’s a truth my husband and I often discuss when we talk about our mothers and grandmothers. Especially our grandmothers. For my maternal grandmother and my husband’s paternal grandmother, that work took place, as it often did, in the context of a family business, a family farm for my grandma, and a candy store for his.
But What about Regency Ladies?
Years of Regency romance novels have taught us that women in that period spent all their time buying dresses and going to parties, but it just isn’t so. Of course, it wasn’t so for the working classes, but it also wasn’t true for every single woman of the upper classes.
This is Sarah Sophia Fane, who I mentioned in an earlier post. Like her grandmother, Sarah Child, Sarah Fane was a senior partner at Child’s Bank. She was also the Countess of Jersey. Her path to a banking career is an interesting one involving her mother’s scandalous elopement to Scotland with a nefarious nobleman.
Lady Jersey’s story is one of many featured in a book I’ve just acquired, Women Who Made Money, by Margaret Dawes and Nesta Selwyn. The authors tell the story of 76 British women bankers spanning the Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian eras.
Like Lady Jersey, many of these professional women came into the business through family or marital ties. They were respected, professional partners within their marriages and family businesses. But not all. Some, like Margaret Campion and Ann Butlin founded their banks.
I’ve been so busy prepping The Viscount’s Seduction, Book 2 of my Sons of the Spy Lord Series and getting Book 3 ready to send to the editor that I haven’t had a chance to delve deeply into Ms. Dawes’s and Ms. Selwyn’s book.
But I’m looking forward to it. Who knows–perhaps one of my future heroines will be a banker!
Have you heard of other examples of women engaged in professional work in the Regency era? Please let me know in the comments below!