Men and women silk weavers in the workshops of Lyon in the mid-19th century

By Manuela Martini, Pierre Vernus

This paper proposes a gendered analysis of one of the most emblematic workers’ worlds of the 19th century: the Lyon silk weaving “Fabrique”. The silk industry organisation in Lyon allows us to study, on the one hand, the gendered division of labour in a multitude of highly specialised trades and, on the other hand, men and women at work in the same space and performing the same tasks. This occupational coexistence, which was not very common in mid-19th century workplaces, is the focus of this paper. The study reconstructs, first of all, the features of this mixed universe, at a pivotal moment in the economic transformation of the Lyon silk manufacturing industry, as it expanded into the surrounding hills and the Croix-Rousse area. It then addresses an issue that has received little attention in the vast historiography that has focused on the “canuts”: the diversity and heterogeneity of the group of workshop heads. To identify some of the key features of this diversity, this study zooms in on the family workshop, viewing marriage as the founding moment of a workshop and the strengthening of the professional ties that were essential for its operations.

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