- Editors' Note
As we have come to appreciate over the past three years, one of the constant challenges of journal editing is the task of assembling a collection of articles that speak to each other with some sort of coherence or synergy. Special issues, of course—organized through calls for papers—are one strategy for making thematic connections across time and space, and we were delighted to present such a rich collection of work on women, material culture, and consumption in issues 3 and 4 of the last volume. Our next special issue, 19.4, is guest edited by Megan McLaughlin and Elizabeth Pleck and organized around the topic of domestic violence—a topic largely understudied by feminist historians. Special issues aside, however, it is usually very difficult to assemble clusters of articles that resonate with each other, especially given the broad range of work the Journal of Women's History attracts and the different and often unpredictable pace toward publication for each individual submission. We were thus quite excited to find in our "to be scheduled" drawer a wonderful collection of articles that speak coherently and powerfully to the topic of women and work. This issue brings new, fresh perspectives to that topic—perspectives that challenge geographical and political boundaries, move across time, defy the binaries that have tended to organize our discussions (like private/public, productive/reproductive), and set the agenda, both theoretically and methodologically, for future work.
The issue opens with Constance Hoffman Berman's "Women's Work in Family, Village, and Town after 1000 CE," which tells the "story behind the story" of the dramatic commercial revolution in the economy of the Middle Ages. Writing against an historiography, beginning with the 1930s work of Marc Bloch, that has viewed water mills exclusively in terms of the expropriation of income from peasants, Berman demonstrates the ways in which the development of the water mill freed women from the laborious task of grinding grain—time they then devoted to the preparation and spinning of yarn. This dramatic shift in women's work laid the foundation for the expansion of medieval European textile production, while dramatically sharpening the lines between slave women and free.
Sara Stidstone Gronim's "What Jane Knew," also tells a "story behind the story," but in this case, the author is writing against a history of science that focuses almost exclusively on the great work of great men thinkers. Gronim turns her attention to the life story of colonial New York's Jane Colden, who became one of the most accomplished botanists in the world. With close attention to the gendered landscape of eighteenth-century colonial [End Page 7] North America, to family and domestic space, as well as to Colden's own abilities at negotiating the parameters and strictures of her world, Gronim's account demonstrates the centrality of women to colonial knowledge making and, thereby, to the scientific revolution.
A very different approach to women's negotiation of male professional space follows in Julie Fette's "Pride and Prejudice in the Professions," which explores the world of women doctors and lawyers in Third Republic France. Based on a wide range of archival sources, Fette traces the dual processes by which professions were feminized and women were professionalized. Her account details not only the resistance women encountered, but how their gains were ultimately protected and consolidated by the republican state.
Although dramatically shifting our focus across space—to the world of nineteenth-century women brothel keepers in Hong Kong—Elizabeth Sinn's "Women at Work" shares with the previous contributions an interest in economic opportunity and in the role of the state in constricting and constructing women's work. Based on government sources and women's testimonies, Sinn explores the world of brothel keepers in terms of work and entrepreneurship and argues that, within the parameters set by the British colonial state, brothel keepers were able to learn a range of skills not accessible to other women—bookkeeping, credit, and management—and thereby gain for themselves an unusual degree of economic security and autonomy.
Patricia D'Antonio's "Nurses—and Wives and Mothers" also explores questions of opportunity and...