GUEST CURATOR: Maia Campbell
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Wants a Place, a Young Woman who chuses to recemmend herself, as understanding Cooking for a small family.”
This advertisement does not sell a good, per se, but a young woman is “selling” her services. I found it interesting that this sort of advertisement would be included in a colonial newspaper. To me, it is an example of a woman having a level of freedom in the colonial area. This woman was able to put herself out there to do work for others. Now, she is still doing work associated with women and the household during the colonial period, but she now has the freedom to choose who she wants to employ her. Also, she has already chosen what work she will do for whoever hires her. She has, in a sense, laid out a contract for herself.
I do not usually associate the colonial period with women having the freedom to choose any sort of work that they will do, which is why I found this advertisement to be interesting.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Several scholars have demonstrated that advertisements help us to glimpse women’s work and the role of women in the marketplace in colonial America. I first began examining advertising in early America after reading Frances Manges’ “Women Shopkeepers, Tavernkeepers, and Artisans in Colonial Philadelphia” (a Ph.D. dissertation completed at the University of Philadelphia in 1958). Manges scoured newspapers published in colonial Philadelphia to find evidence of women pursuing a variety of occupations, culling a significant amount of her evidence from advertisements for goods and services. (Other sorts of advertisements, including legal notices and announcements by executors, also fleshed out women’s visible participation in commerce in colonial Philadelphia.)
Manges focused primarily on women identified by name in their advertisements and other parts of the newspaper. This anonymous “Young Woman,” however, certainly would not have been alone among the many job seekers, female and male, throughout the colonial period who placed advertisements seeking employment, listing their skills and qualifications, and giving directions for how to contact them.
Like so many other advertisements, this one hints at a story that will likely never be fully recovered. Compiling similar advertisements can produce a general sense of what some young women experienced and the labor they performed in colonial America, but broad patterns are not the same as individual stories. What kind of circumstances led this particular “Young Woman” to seek employment in someone else’s household?