Street Vendors, Pedlars, Shop-Owners and Domestics

Some Aspects of Women’s Economic Roles in Nineteenth-Century San Juan, Puerto Rico, (1820–1870)
  • Felix V. Matos-Rodríguez


In this article, I will try to show the active participation and importance of women in the lower sectors of retail, in domestic work, and in the food selling and entertainment establishments and how plantation history has traditionally disregarded economic participation by women in the nineteenth century. In an urban context, the services provided by these women, the majority of them poor and coloured, played a crucial role in the city’s economic life. Domestic work, food preparation and small retailing were important components of San Juan’s ‘service’ economy. I also want to explore the repeated attempts by the state to regulate the economic activities of women, particularly those connected with what we would call today the informal sector. Women had to fight the efforts by local authorities to control various aspects related to their work and lives: prices, mobility, gatherings, housing, sexuality and family. Another topic I want to discuss is the heterogeneity found among economic sectors — like domestic work — traditionally associated with women. Not all domestic work was the same, and there were some important differences in the status, remuneration and quality of life associated with some domestic employment. Both the solidarities and the differences among working women need to be studied if their lives are to be truly understood from a historical perspective.


Domestic Work Late Eighteenth Century Domestic Service Street Vendor City Wall 
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Copyright information

© Department of History, U.W.I., Mona, Jamaica 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Felix V. Matos-Rodríguez

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