Women's roles in the 18th century

Updated February 21, 2017

Most of modern European and North American history has obscured the role that women played in social, political and military life. The 18th century is no exception. The role of women then was very different than it is in the 21st century. But that did not mean that women were not an important part of the development of history -- in fact, quite the opposite.

Domestic Work

The popular conception of 18th century women as mere domestic servants is misleading, but it is true that women were responsible for much of the domestic labour that took place during that 100-year span. This type of work sometimes included food preparation, child rearing and ensuring that the home was generally in order. However, household management was more complicated than just the dishes and food.

Running the Farm/Business

When women in the 18th century were running the family home, they also were running a business. In the 18th century, family homes were centres of production; households often had to produce their own food, clothing and many of their own supplies. Women were often in charge of coordinating and producing these materials and, thus, were an essential part of keeping the family alive and well.

Running States

Women in the 18th century were unlikely to be involved in state politics, but there are some important and notable exceptions. Significant female leaders, such as Anne Stuart of Great Britain and Catherine I of Russia, had long-lasting impacts on the countries they governed. Other females in leadership positions served as queen consorts to kings or empresses to emperors, and they had an important impact on their countries through their own political activity and through engagements with their husbands.

Travelling With the Army

Much of the 18th century in Europe and North America was spent at war. While soldiers during this time were exclusively male, women played an important part when travelling with the army. Women travelled with the army for a number of reasons, such as for security, for work and to follow their husbands; but they performed important duties while doing so. While in many instances they were allowed only to cook, find food and carry water, some women served as spies, gathering crucial intelligence for their side.

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About the Author

Harrison Pennybaker began writing in 2004. He has written as a student and a journalist, specializing in politics, travel, arts and culture and current affairs. He holds a Master of Arts in political science and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in political science.