Resources for Life

It is very easy to obtain book after book on “The Sphere of Woman,” “The Mission of Woman,” and “The Influence of Woman.” But to a practical mind it must be evident that good advice is not sufficient. That is very well, provided the reader is supplied with the comforts of life. But plans need to be devised, pursuits require to be opened, by which women can earn a respectable livelihood. It is the great want of the day. It is in order to meet that want that this work has been prepared. The few employments that been open to women are more than full. To withdraw a number from the few markets of female labor already crowded to excess, by directing them to avenues where they are wanted, would thereby benefit both parties.

At no time in our country’s history have so many women been thrown upon their own exertions. A million of men are on the battlefield, and thousands of women, formerly dependent on them, have lost or may lose their only support. Some of the mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters of soldiers, may take the vacancies created in business by their absence – others must seek new channels of labor.

An exact estimate of woman as she has been, and now is, furnishes a problem difficult to solve. Biographies and histories merely furnish a clue to what she has been. Prejudice has exaggerated these portraits. Woman as she now is, save in fiction and society, is scarcely known. The future position of woman is a matter of conjecture only. No mathematical nicety can be brought to bear upon the subject, for it is one not capable of data. More particularly is it difficult to define what her future condition in a business capacity will be. Man will have much to do with it, but woman more. I know of no work giving a true history of woman’s condition in a business capacity. Socially, morally, mentally, and religiously, she is written about; but not as a working, every-day reality, in any other capacity than that pertaining to home life. It has been to me a matter of surprise that some one has not presented the subject in a practical way, that would serve as an index to the opening of new occupations, and present feasibility of women engaging in many from which they are now debarred….

The work of a single woman has never been very clearly defined. Those that are without means are often without any to guide them; and the limited avenues of employment open to women, and the fear of becoming a burden on others, have poised some of their best hours and paralyzed some of the strongest powers. There is a large amount of female talent in the United States laying dormant for the want of cultivation, and there has been a large amount cultivated that is not brought into exercise for the want of definite plans and opportunities of making it available. It exist like an icicle, and requires the warmth of energy, thought, and independence to render it useful. It shrinks from forcing itself into notice, like the sensitive plant, and may live and die unseen and unknown. Widen, then, the theatre of action and enterprise to woman. Throw open productive fields of labor, and let her enter.


While I would like to continue on with Penny’s preface to her work, I will instead tell you she details 516 specific employments open to women and also includes articles on employments for the blind, deaf and disabled (lame in her words) as well as topics related to women’s employment. In each of her detailed articles, she addresses the statistics for the employment such as the numbers of women employed and where, the wages paid, hours worked, expected skills and instruction if available.

The Employments of Women: A Cylcopedia of Woman’s Work, by Virginia Penny (Boston: 1863)

Published in: on February 12, 2014 at 1:31 am  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. What an excellent resource! Without asking permission, I shared this on the Facebook group ‘Society for Women and the Civil War’ of which I am a member. Thank you for your blog, your research and especially your willingness to share with the rest of us!
    Aunt Sally Ryan
    (from Gettysburg where the latest snow storm has now commenced…)

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