Milliner and di­arist

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - YOUR PROJECTS -

The Di­ary of a Milliner, writ­ten by Belle Otis in 1867, pro­vides a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into the at­ti­tudes and ex­pe­ri­ences of a woman work­ing in the millinery trade in the 19th cen­tury. Belle was a widow, who sud­denly found her­self in need of work in or­der to make a liv­ing:“I am left a widow with the ne­ces­sity upon me of get­ting my own liv­ing, and an abun­dance of vi­tal­ity and en­ergy where­with to ac­com­plish it. There is a some­thing telling me it is for my good to be do­ing some­thing… But to do some­thing which earns a liv­ing will mark me mas­cu­line and vul­gar. I can live with my rel­a­tives, and re­tain my stand­ing in so­ci­ety… I am told that it is not gen­teel and fash­ion­able for young ladies to work.”

The strug­gle faced by Belle was not an un­usual one. There was sig­nif­i­cant prej­u­dice felt against women who en­tered into work, in spite of how wide­spread it had be­come for them to do so. Belle goes on in her writ­ing to con­sider the im­por­tance of women’s rights, and to ar­gue against the “mas­cu­line mo­nop­oly on busi­ness”.

Belle states that womenn of the 19th cen­tury were not brought up to go into work, but that the train­ing of women in skilled trades, such as millinery or dress­mak­ing, as well as busi­ness in gen­eral, would en­able them to sur­vive. As she pas­sion­ately de­clares: “busi­ness will be in­de­pen­dence”.

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