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female head of household

One of the strongest barriers for women trying to establish a permanent, stable partnership could be a social or economic necessity to be part of a male-headed household. This tag identifies discussions of the times, places, and circumstances in which female-headed households existed, and in some cases were considered unremarkable.

LHMP entry

The chapter opens with a tantalizing personal history that suggests, but never clearly demonstrates, lesbian possibilities. In 1722, Ann Carrack, a 30-year-old spinster set up in business as a milliner in London with Mary Erick. They rented a shop together and lived together above the shop. Several years later, they moved together to another location. After 7 years sharing a business and living quarters, they parted: Ann to work as a needlewoman and Mary to set up a shop in Chelsea. But 10 years after that, Ann resumed the partnership, moving in with Mary in Chesea.

There’s a rich amount of data on singlewomen and female-headed households in medieval Germany. Tax records for selected cities in the 14-15th centuries show between 17-25% of tax-paying households headed by women. Widows were often labeled as such in the records but it isn’t alway possible to clearly distinguish never-married women, though estimates suggest they may have been as many as half of these households. This continued in the 16th century with tax records indicating that 20-25% of tax-paying urban households were headed by women.

The actual demographics are hard to reconstruct (see previous entry), in part because attitudes towards singlewomen affected how records were compiled. The belief that women should be "under men" led to ignoring those that weren't. Tax records didn't list wage-earners so entire classes of single employed women might be absent. Marital status is not always retrievable from how names were recorded. A woman recorded as “X wife of Y” is clearly married, but “X the Occupation” might or might not be.

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